Based on my experiences as a black woman and the conversations that I have witnessed, I think it is fair to say that there is a huge disconnect within the black community when it comes to the acknowledgement of colorism and its harmful effects. I don’t know about you guys but I’ve just about had it with the different variations of the same backhanded compliment: “You’re pretty for a dark/brown skin girl.”. Why can’t I just be pretty because I’m pretty? BECAUSE COLORISM, THAT’S WHY!
Countless amounts of debates throughout the web highlight the lack of representation for darker skinned individuals and these debates often turn into the oppression Olympics. What I mean by oppression Olympics is, rather than those who benefit from colorist ideals accepting it, they fight for their right to be oppressed. In their attempts at proving that they, too, face colorism, these lighter skinned individuals neglect to acknowledge the fact that the system of colorism actually favors them. It is undoubtedly true that ALL Black people face racism and discrimination, but colorism just isn’t something that disadvantages every last one of us.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the concept of colorism, it is defined as “prejudice or discrimination against individuals with a dark skin tone, typically among people of the same ethnic or racial group”. For years, colorism in the Black community has been overlooked or seen as “harmless” teasing but in more recent years people have been speaking out and have highlighted its disastrous effects.
Colorism has made a huge impact in the entertainment industry and all over social media. What has been causing a great deal of controversy, in more recent years is the snatching up of roles created for dark skinned women by their lighter skinned counterparts.
When faced with the opportunity to address the lack of role casting for dark-skinned actresses, actress Alexandra Shipp fell short with her response. Fans were highly disappointed and critical of the fact that the role of Storm, a superheroine who is described as an African goddess and known as the daughter of N’Dare, a Kenyan princess, was handed over to yet another light-skinned actress. The actress responded to the criticism with a series of tweets stating that she too has experienced racism “at the hands of fellow black people” failing to realize that this was a discussion of colorism, which though it is rooted in racism, is not the same therefore cannot be used interchangeably.
You wanna know what I’ve found interesting? That 90% of the racism I’ve experienced in my lifetime has been at the hands of fellow black people. It’s crazy! Why do this? Why tell a woman she’s not enough because YOU THINK SO??
— Alexandra Shipp (@AlexShipppp) December 14, 2017
One thing that is for sure, is that many well-known light-skinned actresses should be able to understand and see, that even though they are undeniably black, they have an advantage unlike those of us with darker skin. A great way to tackle the system of colorism would be for these talented and powerful women to take it upon themselves to use their advantage to speak up for their more marginalized counterparts.
A great example of using the power in your privilege for good is the amazingly talented and well-versed Zendaya speaking up on the importance of diversity within the entertainment industry.
“I am Hollywood’s acceptable version of a Black girl and that has to change. We’re vastly too beautiful and too interesting for me to be the only representation of that.” – #Zendaya in conversation with @BadAssBoz at #BeautyconNYC pic.twitter.com/wZaIrJm1Tw
— Danielle (@theislandiva) April 22, 2018
During a Twitter discussion about colorism, many individuals had the conversation twisted and a few of our light-skinned kinfolk actually took it upon themselves to input their so-called experiences with colorism. A user quoted a tweet speaking on the importance of addressing colorism by stating that light-skinned people also faced it. What I found interesting and slightly amusing about this, was the irony of how this user explained the colorism she faced. She stated that she was told that she would be ugly if she was darker and felt as though this was a display of colorism directed towards her. Not realizing that this was in fact the colorism we all were speaking of and that it still benefited her. She was seen as beautiful up until the moment DARK skin was added to the equation.
Even light skinned people face colourism. I was told that I’m ONLY beautiful because I was light skinned. And I’d be ugly if I was darker. https://t.co/BBjMUHFe4o
— RoyalEagle (@LeratoLilele) July 15, 2018
I’m not saying, nor am I implying that light skinned men and women don’t experience discrimination or racism, but to believe that they are negatively impacted by colorism is ridiculous. Just take a look at how great the presence of light skin is in almost everything while dark skin is demonized and dehumanized throughout media. We have a lot of work to do and we have to start with getting rid of the self-pity that is severely misplaced.
Now, I want to make it clear that this article was not an attempt at pushing the idea that light-skinned people do not face oppression outside of the Black community but that it is an attempt at highlighting the fact that the oppression they face, is not at the hands of their fellow Black people.
The questions that lie are: Why do light-skinned women feel that they are being attacked when asked to simply acknowledge that they do in fact have some privilege? Why is there this belief that colorism is a concept that can be applied to those on the opposite end of its sword? And how do we as a community dismantle the ideology of colorism?