Colourism: the many shades of prejudice

The experience of colourism is both pervasive, rhetoric and undignified in every way.

One of Dear White People’s biggest success’ was getting to the crux of colourism.

People of colour have either been culturally or personally affected by intra-racial discrimination. The relationship between skin complexion and social outcomes has morphed into the very thing keeping us bound and in cycles as a race.

We are excluding men from this conversation in believing that colourism is only a black woman’s problem. We have to start looking beyond our hair textures and skin tones and start antagonising our adequacy issues.

Colourism is often gendered because of it is so often used as a synonym for what is beautiful, which usually, although not exclusively, refers to women more than men.

Of course, colourism cannot just be about black women feeling that they are too dark to be treasured, and too light to feel black enough. It is not the cross for black women to bear alone. It is a lazed rampant setback leading us to our own detriment and failure.

The phenomenal Pulitzer Prize winner, Alice Walker.

The unapologetic Alice Walker in an essay she published in 1983 first defined colourism as the ‘prejudicial or preferential treatment of same-race people solely based on their colour.’ Although colourism is not racism, there is a clear relationship.

Written between 1966 and 1982.

She explores the pervasive nature of colourism amongst black women; both culturally and personally. And quite beautifully unravels our colour struck and the damaging hierarchies we have placed on our skin shades.

If black people also have a problem with dark skin, how do we expect huge brands such as H&M and Dove to respect us? Unfortunately, hedonism has merely encouraged a rise in self-worth, and self-value; where people are only focused on how to help themselves. We will not thrive as a people is we choose to disrespect the need for cultural liberation for all generations.

Here, three dark-skinned women talk about the frequency of colourism in music lyrics and music videos, on TV, in Bollywood movies, in cosmetics, and in dating and relationships for BBC Three.

Colourism has become more and more insidious in an age where beauty also means bleached skin, particularly popular in developing countries. While racism, whether institutional, structural or ingrained persists, so will colourism.

Example: in Ghana, there are numerous skin-whitening products, and adverts sending conflicting messages about identity, race, beauty and the social standing in West Africa. Photograph: Jane Hahn

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), 77 percent of Nigerian women use skin lightening products. The tendency for those with a lighter complexion to be privileged over darker skin shades in Hollywood and the media has illustrated a foul and false route out of poverty. Colourism is aiding and abetting engineered oppression and division amongst ourselves.

It is difficult to believe that although colourism has been exalted and cheered on by our media, and institutions, it has also been fortified amongst ourselves. Could it be that the beauty ideals presented by black media, promoted by the black community are just as narrow as the mainstream ideology? Or are we just so chastised by the inimitable nature of those around us?

Let’s become colour blinded to our shades of brown and see people for who they really are. We already pay enough for being black.

Love and Hip-Hop Miami’s breakout star, Amara La Negra

“We need to discuss certain things; we need to be judged off talent and knowledge not how we look.”

Love and Hip-Hop Miami’s breakout star, Amara La Negra

To properly address the opinion of the world, we must first forgive it for rooting us in slavery and colonisation. Colourism must become a thing of the old for our stories to be genuine, for our contribution to matter, and for our unity to become a force to be reckoned with.