A friend of mine recently sent me a link to a show on Oprah Winfrey’s TV network about colourism. Colourism is prejudice or discrimination against individuals with a dark skin tone, typically among people of the same ethnic or racial group.
We live in a world where discrimination and preferential treatment exists. Even though it is frowned upon, the truth is that it is very much a part of our society. This preference comes in different forms. It could be based on class, race, gender, tribe and even colour which is where colourism comes in.
Colourism has been rife in our society but only just started getting more attention. The talks on colourism were further ignited recently by “Mathew Knowles“. In a recent interview with Ebony magazine, he said that light-skinned girls receive more commercial success than dark-skinned girls. Mariah Carey, Nicki Minaj, Rihanna his daughters Beyonce and Solange were used as examples.
He also mentioned that as a young dark-skinned man, he only dated light-skinned girls’ and he was attracted to his ex-wife -Tina Knowles because he thought she was white. “I had been conditioned from childhood,” he said, with his own mother telling him ” Don’t ever bring no nappy-head Black girl to my house” when growing up. This resulted in years of dating “white women or very light-complexion black women that looked white”.
Is Colourism experienced by only females?
Can Colourism be said to be experienced mainly by females? Mathew Knowles is not the only man to admit dating only light-skinned girls, a number of guys also do. Most music videos feature only light-skinned girls and whenever a dark-skinned girl is used it’s mostly for something negative.
“You’re pretty for a dark-skinned girl” a lot of dark-skinned girls have been told this before. Beauty is being attributed to skin colour and light-skinned girls get most of the attention and success. Whilst it is more common with women, I don’t think it’s restricted to females as a number of dark-skinned men have also complained about it.
Why Colourism matters
Colourism affects Africans, East and South-east Asians, Latin Americans, the Caribean and African Americans. The danger of colourism is that it causes low self esteem. This is why some dark-skinned people bleach their skin.
Skin bleaching refers to the practice of using chemical substances in an attempt to lighten the skin or provide an even skin colour by reducing melanin concentration in the skin. Skin bleaching/whitening can be dangerous as some of the products used to achieve this contain toxic products that are harmful to the skin. In the UK, a Nigerian couple were recently sentenced for selling toxic whitening products.
Beauty is self-love and self-appreciation and it starts early, It is important to let our children know this from an early age. A light-skinned friend of mine shared with me how her darker daughter had told her a few times that she wished she was the same colour as her mum. She said her daughter would always want her hair done in a way that would cover her face. This broke her heart and she constantly told her how beautiful she was. She was worried about it affecting her confidence.
This is why these conversations need to be had, the narrative needs to change! Mainstream media, entertainment and social media etc need to give more dark-skinned coloured women opportunity and exposure. Whilst there are a handful of dark-skinned leading ladies, the same cannot be said of men.
Colourism and racism
Colourism came out of racism, it has its roots in slavery where light-skinned slaves were treated better than dark-skinned ones by their slave masters. This was because the light-skinned slaves were usually their relatives. While they didn’t officially acknowledge their offsprings from the African women, they were often given preferential treatment.
In the case, of Europe, Colourism was more of a class thing. The ruling classes were perceived to have fairer skin than peasants. This was actually because they spent more time indoors while the peasants were tanned from labouring outdoors. This resulted in light skin being associated with the upper class and the elite while dark skin was associated with the lower class.
Unfortunately, Colourism didn’t disappear with slavery. Light skinned African Americans received employment opportunity offers that were not given darker ones which is why most upper-class African Americans are light-skinned. The brown paper bag test also applies here where African Americans were refused admission into different societies and clubs if they were darker than a brown paper bag.
An American Senate majority leader once suggested that Barack Obama had a political edge over other African American candidates because he was light-skinned and had no “Negro Dialect. According to Stanford psychologist Jennifer Eberhardt, African-American defendants are more than twice as likely to receive the death penalty as lighter-skinned African-American defendants for crimes of equivalent seriousness involving white victims. Also, Lighter-skinned Latinos in the United States make $5,000 more on average than darker-skinned Latinos.
Colourism did not start today and it will not end if we don’t start discussing it openly. It’s unfortunate that children also see it and it affects their confidence. We need to let our children know they are beautiful no matter their skin colour, hair or appearance. It is important that they believe in themselves from an early age.
Buying them dark-skinned dolls as well as literature with dark-skinned heroes and heroines also helps. Luckily, there are so many books now with dark-skinned families and children and a lot of them teach body positivity.
I leave you with the beautiful song by Beyonce “Dark Skin Girl” it’s a positive message, one that we should all be telling our daughters.
Also look at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SdP5nGfWiy8
Recommend books for children:
- Who do I see in the mirror.
- Emi’s Curly, Coily Candy hair
- The colour of us
- Riley can be anything.
- My brown skin.