For years, I understood the undercover battle of light-skinned black folks versus dark skin black folks. I knew it existed; had seen it, heard it and even indulged in it, but never knew it had a name; not until recently.
Colorism — prejudice or bias against persons on the basis of their skin color or complexion, often among persons of the same racial identification.
Merriam Webster doesn’t even have a definition for this word yet.
Another definition of colorism defines it as prejudice or discrimination against individuals with a dark skin tone, typically among people of the same ethnic or racial group.
I think, that at one time, the latter definition was strictly the case, but over time colorism has morphed into prejudice on the basis of skin color within one race.
Why would a race of individuals be prejudiced against their own over something as trivial as having lesser or greater amounts of melanin?
For African-Americans, issues like this are all related to the trauma associated with the capture and enslavement of our ancestors.
Capture and enslavement, you may ask? But it’s 2019, how is that having an effect of people who weren’t even alive to suffer that demoralization?
The same way that a child sexually abused in 1969 can affect the future of their children and grandchildren. Trauma proliferates in a cyclical manner; meaning it travels in generational cycles. For the decedents of former slaves, the trauma still exists and will continue to exist until we, as a race, identify it, and counter it by embracing each other in all of our various shades and facets.
House slaves or house Negroes were such, because they were the offspring or relatives of the slave master or of a slave master on a neighboring plantation. Their lighter skin made them more favorable to work in the master’s house, and allotted them the opportunity to become skilled artisans, and to have better clothing and living arrangements.
Field slaves were chattel; made to work, be bred, traded and killed, if need be.
The division is obvious, and one can see how treatment and skin color relates to the overall perceived worth of those individuals, at the time.
The truth is that no one had a choice in these situations. Slave females did not choose to be sexually, accosted, assaulted and reproduce with slave owners. Their biracial children did not choose to be born, nor did they choose to be given advantages, because of their appearance and relation to the slave owners.
Now, let’s get into the side effects of those forced couplings. The more obvious effect, of course, is lighter skin. Another is straighter, less coarse hair, or what many over the years have deemed ‘good hair’. A thinner nose is another accompanying characteristic, along with thinner lips and a more demure body shape. All of these characteristics are European in origin, and quite the contrary to females with more African features. Although, I think that the exoticness of slave women is what caused them to be at the sexual disposal of slave owners, their features were highly sexualized and regarded as freakish in nature. I am especially talking about their large round butts and their accompanying thighs. The socially and globally acceptable standard of beauty, both then and now is not what most African-American women see when they look in the mirror. But I digress.
With all trauma, victims tend to internalize the beliefs of their abusers. If your mother, father, or spouse spend X number of years telling you that you ain’t shit and you ain’t never gon’ be shit… eventually that becomes your truth, even if it’s not true.
This is what happened to African-American’s post slavery. Their coily, kinky, curly hair that does not drape over their shoulders is bad. It’s needs to be tamed, fried, and straightened at all cost so that it is acceptable by the majority. Why is it necessary to put on a girdle to pull in ones thighs and ass? If that’s naturally what you have, then learn to deal with it. But if it is not deemed as acceptable or beautiful, it has to be hidden.
And finally, dark skin… darker skinned children have been catching hell in the African-American community for years, because of the proliferation that dark equals bad; dark equals shiftless; dark equals unintelligent. These ideas of beauty and worth have been passed on for generations; coloring (no pun intended) how we see ourselves.
Oh, and it colors how other races see us to, because aside from the institutional racism that plagues this country; that cycles through the generations of Caucasian Americans, like the PTSD of a sexually abused child, colorism is practiced by Caucasian Americans as well. If someone has their implicit bias in full swing, they will chose a white man from the same frat over another white man who never pledged. They will choose that white man that never pledged over a black man. And they will choose a lighter skinned black man over a darker skinned black man. And unfortunately, the true yet, destructive cop out to explain it, is that it is what it is.
Here is another example of the pervasive and pernicious infection that is colorism.
Beyonce is one of the hugest stars in the world. She started out in ‘Destiny’s Child’, which is probably one of the biggest girl groups of all times, but Beyonce stepped out front, took the ball and ran with it. Played the game and became a mega-star. Her fellow group member, Kelly Rowland who is darker and I would argue a better singer, did not rise so high or shine so brightly. Why do you think that is? I think Beyonce’s lighter skin was more sellable to the international masses. And this isn’t to down Beyonce. She is a Tina Turner quality performer, but her rise to stardom was highly influenced by the psychological trauma (damage) woven through our society.
. . . .
Let me take this opportunity to say that… Colorism and its sordid history is a bunch of bullshit.
African American people suffer so much for something that we cannot help, being born black; and most of us, those of us who aren’t weighed down with self-loathing, would not want to be anything other than black.
So, us hating ourselves because of greater and lesser melanin, and because of standards set by muthafuckas, who bought, sold, exploited, abused and murdered our ancestors, is a bunch of bullshit.
We have got to stop killing ourselves in effigy, because it kills us in reality. It kills our ability to unify. I think that many African Americans, especially younger ones, 45 and younger, see the need for this way of thinking to be eliminated. This need is part of why “Black Panther” did so well in the box office and pissed off so many. It displayed that black people of all shades can function as a unit, can display positive pride, courage, dignity, honor and above all else… power. The power to destroy and to bring life, healing and innovation, not just to their home, but to the world. Although African Americans know this to be true, know that things of this magnitude are what we are capable of, and what many aspire to; those who shit on Black Panther did so because we have the audacity to want better, rather than stay in the spot where we were placed in so long ago.
Straight is straight. It is not good.
Curly is curly. It is not bad.
Light-skin is light skin. It is not favorable.
Dark-skin is dark skin. It is not unfavorable.
Black is black in all of its shades, shapes and textures.
It’s time that we abandon this. Racism hurts us enough. We can’t continue to hurt ourselves because of colors. We cannot continue to hurt ourselves, based on an antiquated system of pain and division. We cannot continue to offer up ammunition to be used against us.
If we don’t stop hating ourselves because of our negligible differences, why would anyone else?