Over the last couple of years, there has been an increase in open discussions about race. Don’t get me wrong, these discussions have always been there but before they took a different form. In the past it was blacks, Indians and other people of color verses white people but now a new strain of the colourism virus is creeping into communities with people of colour. It’s us against ourselves. The idea that lighter shades of brown are more appealing and symbolize beauty is eating away at us.
Colourism by definition is prejudice against individuals with a dark skin tone, typically among people of the same ethnic or racial group. It is believed to have started during the days of slavery when blacks with fairer skin were made to work indoors while the darker slaves worked in the fields. With fairness, came privilege. However, we have evolved. We should know right from wrong. We need to unite and acknowledge the beauty that is brown skin in all of its shades.
The notion that lighter is better is taught from a young age within some families and friendships. My brother for example is considered light. How do I know this? I know this from the foot notes that are attached almost every time my brother is complimented. I’ve heard several comments in the last four years like “Oh he is so handsome – and light” and “Oh the girls are going to bring you trouble – because he is so light” and lastly, my “favourite” comment – “he is a yellowbone”. All of these footnotes take away from what has the potential to be a great compliment except for the last one. (I’m still struggling to understand its purpose) I know they mean well but that footnote changes everything. It makes it seem like he is only considered handsome based on the complexion of his skin. It makes me wonder how the compliments would differ if he were a darker and equally as beautiful shade.
It’s not only the lack of ability to see beauty in darker shades that bothers me but the fact that these people don’t see anything wrong with their comments. My brother is four years old. Four – the age where he is impressionable. I don’t want him growing up thinking certain colours of skin are better than others. I want him to treat everyone with respect. I never want him to feel superior or inferior. I want him to love his skin and other people’s too. However, your “compliments” take away from what I’m trying to teach him.
I’ve spent most of my life swimming and of course my skin has been bronzed by the beautiful sun. To me, there is nothing wrong with a change in the shade of my skin. It is expected but when I got to high school, I noticed that it bothered some people. I distinctly remember standing by the school pool one day waiting for my coach when an acquaintance shouted from the sports gate “ah you, you should stand in the shade or else you’ll get darker”. She seemed genuinely concerned and at that moment I couldn’t understand why. I let that one slide together with other comments about my “tan” until one day, a friend of mine who is “coloured” (mixed race) at the time looked at me and said “I need to put on sunscreen because I don’t want to get dark like you” it’s at that moment I realized that issues pertaining shades of brown existed in races other than mine. The irony is that sunscreen does not stop you from getting darker.
Her comment made me interested in researching on colourism and I became more observant during discussions and during my daily social media viewing. The issue of colourism exists amongst Blacks, Coloureds, Indians and pretty much any race with melanin. At my school there’s so much chatter about skin colour even from the people I least expected it from. A lot of people with darker skin carry a lot of insecurities. I have had instances where friends refuse to take pictures with me simply because they think I am lighter and if I do manage to get them to take the picture, it is usually drowned in filters to make their skin look less chocolaty, beautiful and natural. I recently found out that I too fall into the “light skin” category when I stopped swimming as frequently. It’s something I am not too happy about. To me it means nothing. To others it may mean everything! To me, it’s a sign of division amongst people of colour. Please note neither my brother nor myself have fair skin.
I have had to sit through conversations where black boys tell black girls that they are pretty “for a dark skin girl”. To me, that is an insult and I never imagined it would be difficult to explain to someone that that is a backhanded compliment – but it is. To some, having fairer skin implies that your life will be easier – they think you will get into relationships easily, get jobs easily, be thought of as sweeter because apparently meanness increases as the shade of brown darkens. Darker girls are perceived as aggressive, unfriendly, unattractive, unsuccessful, untrustworthy and undeserving of respect. In my life, I have come across mean girls from all the races, successful girls from all the races and down to earth girls from all the races. The color of your skin does not define your personality or your future, your heart does.
I am a girl crying for equality, unity and love amongst people of color. I am pushing for respect amongst us. Do unto others as you would like them to do unto you.
We are all beautiful brown Kings and Queens and don’t let anyone tell you any different! It doesn’t matter what percentage of chocolate you are – 60, 70%, 90%, 99%, you are fabulous!
Read the book; do not just look at the cover. There is more to a person than their appearance and not everything is as it seems.