Sunday, November 9, 2014

Colorism in the Black Community

I recently was at a gas station filling my tank when I heard someone at the next tank over speak such ear-wrenching sentences.  I couldn't help but to hear her.  "I said he was black AND ugly.  I'm sorry, I just don't like dark skinned men.  They're not good looking to me.  Lighter skin just looks better to me."  O_O   What irritated me was that she spoke so loudly as if she wanted other people there at the gas station to hear her.  I'm sure they did.   I couldn't help but to turn around to take a look at this creature speaking so hatefully.  I was so curious to see what this woman looked like to make her think that she could speak so negatively on her own people.  She looked like me-pretty average.  It bothered me so much because although I was very much aware of colorism, I had never heard a black person speak like that.   
Colorism. What is it? Who does it affect? Why does it matter? How on earth can we get passed it?  According to Jones (2001) colorism is where human beings are being treated differently based on the social meanings attached to skin color.  Let's not confuse this term with racism.  Racism is demonstrated based on the race of an individual.  Now can African Americans be racist towards other African Americans? Absolutely.  And it is sometimes the same case among other races.  This is where we can begin to tie the term colorism into this discussion. 

Just last year, I saw the documentary Dark Girls.  The intended message?  To confront the stigmas and limitations that blacks tend to place on each other based on their skin tone.   I noticed how children were interviewed during the documentary.  The few children that were interviewed did indeed imply that lighter skin was better.  I initially wondered if the children were instructed to speak like that.  But then I thought of my nephew who is 6 years old.  In the community that he lives, he has befriended children from diverse backgrounds.  My sister told me of a time when a dark skinned black girl his age tried to play with him but he ran from her immediately and ran to the Hispanic little girl next door.    My sister asked him why he didn't want to play and he said, "Duh! Because her hair is nappy!"  I must be honest. I chuckled simply because of how he said it.  But weeks later, I thought of it again and wondered if my nephew had begun to see color.  That may seem like a far stretch to some people but it still crossed my mind.  I don't want my nephew growing up thinking that dark skin and light skin are two different races.  I then thought about my father.
My parents divorced when I was just a baby so I never had that meaningful "father/daughter" relationship I always wanted.  My two sisters and I moved to my mother's home state, Mississippi.  My dad went on to El Paso, Texas to continue his marriage with his new wife.  Through the first years of knowing my stepmother, I don't remember noticing that her skin was not the same as mine...until I got a little older.  She had entered a marriage with my father along with her two sons.  She later had a son with my father.  It wasn't until I was 14 and had gone to El Paso alone to see my father when I noticed that he treated me differently from my brothers.  I was criticized  for my physical shape, my hair texture, and sometimes I really felt that he looked down on me because I was black and his new family was Puerto Rican.   Long story short,  I began to wonder over the years why the love of my father was at a minimum compared to his new family.  Without going into a long drawn out story about the specifics of my convictions, I've always wanted to express this to my father just to hear what he might say.  However, I've suspected that colorism is deeply rooted in his side of the family.  So where did this start?  Let's go back into history.  In many households during slavery, slaves typically were categorized based on their skin color.  Darker-skinned slaves reportedly faced harsher weather elements while they worked in the fields, while lighter-skinned slaves worked in the house and received minimal favorism as opposed to darker slaves.   This way of life (lighter is better) has penetrated decades as well as centuries for blacks.  
Now, I'm on the lighter side.  I have observed people who have favored me as opposed to my darker friends.  And I have also been ostracized for being lighter.  I have been told that I don't know what it's like to be dark.  And this is the message that I got from Dark Girls-light skinned girls don't understand what it's like to be black.  My friends have joked around while they had also thrown jabs because of my skin tone.  What they don't know is that I'm not even good enough in my father's eyes because from his actions, even I am not light skinned enough.  So how does this affect someone's love life?
Since "light is next to white" why is that I see more dark skinned blacks with white people in interracial relationships?  A little biased??? OF COURSE! I know that sounds bad!  But that's what I see.  In the majority of black/white relationships, I tend to see more whites with dark skinned blacks.  I've heard white men even say, "If I wanted a woman who resembled a white woman, I'd go be with a white woman."  That is the opinion of some people.  I've heard black men say that non black women are more domestic.  That is the opinion of other people as well.  And then I've heard some blacks express their love for their own brown skin and have no problem staying within their own race.  I've heard a lot of input from blacks and non blacks.  I'm a true advocate for interracial relationships and I know that I don't have to go around reiterating that just to prove a point.  What gets old to me is when I see people who turn to interracial dating just for the looks.  I'm disgusted by people who reproduce with others just because they think it places them in a certain status in society.  What kind of example do you set for your child when you do that? I'm curious.  Date outside your race because you're attached to that person's spirit, not because you want to look better to the people around you.  If you have gotten to the end of this long rant, please don't get the impression that I have bitter and deep-rooted issues about people who choose to go outside their race.  My point simply is that we should stop hating ourselves so much to think that we need another race just to validate ourselves... If you are in an interracial relationship and sincerely love each other, I fully embrace that and I thank you for having enough sense to open your eyes and look past color.  If you are dating outside your race because you think it makes you look ethnic or because you think that your child will have beautiful curly hair, then I pray that you find the proper direction within yourself.  If you are dating a light skinned person because you're afraid of having dark children, then shame on you.  If you are a dark skinned person because you want to look like a saint then you need to look within yourself and understand where the real issues lie...  When are we going to stop hearing of and seeing people in the entertainment industry denounce black for not being light enough?  I truly believe that the day we do actually confront ALL these problems, maybe then we can move a few steps ahead.

Jones, Trina (2001).  Shades of Brown: The Law of Skin Color. Duke Law Journal,            Issue 49. No. 1487.