You’re Pretty for a Dark Skin Girl: Colorism in the Black Community
“As I began to love myself I freed myself of anything that is no good for my health – food, people, things, situations, and everything that drew me down and away from myself. At first I called this attitude a healthy egoism. Today I know it is “LOVE OF ONESELF”. -Charlie Chaplin
Around the world colorism plays a huge role in the perception of value and beauty. Wherever you go, the lighter you are the better regardless of the culture. It’s no different in the Black American community. We are still so strongly plagued with self hate towards our skin and our hair it’s sometimes still eerily reminiscent of the early 1900s. As a race that stems from years of oppression and hatred through slavery in many ways we still hold onto those ideals. However, I will say there has been a strong focus on showing the broad spectrum of black beauty and that it is not only synonymous with lighter skin tones. And as a community we are working on moving away from the self hate that black can only be beautiful in its lightest of forms.
Colorism is the practice of discrimination when those with lighter skin are treated more favorably than those with darker skin. I thought I’d write on this topic because it was brought to my attention how this is still relevant to us as a culture. I was watching my guilty pleasure of Love and Hip Hop: Miami and Amara La Negra was discriminated against because of her skin and her hair and in so many words was told she needed to straighten her hair and asked if that was her real skin complexion. If you don’t know who Amara La Negra is, she’s an Afro- Dominican singer who has beautifully chocolate skin and wears her hair naturally in a fro. I love this season because for me it’s bringing awareness to a topic that is very much taboo in many ways because people choose to brush over it and act as if it’s not still an issue in our community when it most definitely is. I love Amara La Negra who is soooo pro Black and embraces her skin and her hair and everything about her, but also makes it very clear to others that she’s Latina as well and the two can co-exist.
Where Colorism Stems From
Let’s start with the history of colorism. During slavery there was the field negro and the house negro. The field negro was the slave who had to work outside picking cotton and do all the other tasks the slave master had them do. The house negro was usually of mixed blood and was a lighter complexion. The light complexion was acquired because slave masters often took it upon themselves to rape the women slaves and then they would give birth to mixed children who were nevertheless still slaves, but received the “perks” of being a slave in the house versus the grilling southern sun. This is where the divide in the Black community began. Because of their skin they were perceived to be better for the simple fact of their skin being closer to white. Which is how the saying “white is right,” was coined. Moving into more recent history, there was “The Paper Bag Test” which continued to divide the black community. If you were darker than a brown paper bag, you were not given the same privledges of their lighter skin peers. This is just one example of an internal caste system within our community showing how divided we are.
My History with Colorism
Growing up I had intense insecurities about the color of my skin. The age old story of the black girl who prayed to wake up light skin. I truly don’t remember how it started, but I do know once it started it was a vicious cycle of self doubt from that moment on. In complete transparency it followed me into early adulthood to really believe that my skin color was beautiful.
If I had to guess where I found my confidence and belief that I too had beautiful skin it had to be when I was attending Spelman College. Walking onto campus as a freshman and seeing such a wide array of strong beautiful black woman who came in every spectrum of the rainbow was definitely a turning point for me. In a sense it was giving me permission to think my skin was beautiful too and I didn’t need to prove it to anyone.
I remember when I was in high school and I was on the golf team. Being from Houston, Texas and playing golf in the Texas heat means an immediate tan. I remember coming home from practice one day and my fam was like, “oh you got tan, it looks really good.” And of course they meant nothing behind it, they sincerely were giving me a compliment, but I remember cringing on the inside at the fact they were saying I got darker. At that time of my life I just couldn’t find the beauty in being darker and definitely didn’t want to be told I was getting darker.
Current Day Colorism
Colorism currently is still alive and well especially in the black community. Most people don’t realize how societal standards and things that happened to our ancestors have been passed down to us generation by generation and mainstream media definitely hasn’t done anything to help either. Although we were not slaves, we still carry many of the pressures and complexes that our ancestors had. Currently, you will see many black men who don’t want to date black women or if they do she has to be light skin or little brown girls who hate their skin and are very vocal about it. Although strides are being made in the right direction in my opinion, there are still a lot of negative connotations that still exist. In the media, there will be recurring sightings of dark skinned people portrayed negatively, while their lighter skinned counterparts are viewed more positively. We as a people have been conditioned to perceive ourselves as such, fairly recently Kodak Black made a comment that caused him severe backlash from the public when he said, “I Love Black African American women it’s just not my forte to deal with a DARKSKIN woman.” And then he goes on to say, “We too gutter. Black people, my complexion, we too gutter... Light skin women, they’re more sensitive. [Dark skin women], they too tough. Light skin women, we can break ‘em down more easy.” Him saying this shows how broken down as a race we are. And of course I understand everyone doesn’t think like this, but there are still people who do and that in itself is the problem and will only continue the cycle. Kodak Black has been conditioned as many people have to believe the lighter you are the better you are, and the self hate he has for himself is also dictating the value he places on women who look like him. To make such a vast generalization that all dark skin women are “gutter” is ridiculous. And with him being apart of mainstream media he is only helping to further these stereotypes not just to adults, but even worse to young kids who may look up to him and look like him. Although he was the one to receive the backlash publically, unfortunately he is not the only one who holds these same or similar values.
There have been several studies conducted that had children choose between a black doll baby and a white doll baby and almost every single time the child chose the white doll to be the prettiest, nicest, and smartest while the black doll was ugly, and mean, and less intelligent. The Clark Davis Doll experiment that was conducted in 1939 brought lots of awareness to the issues of colorism in the black community. Clark asked black children between the ages 5-9 to choose between a black doll and a white doll and asked the following questions:
- “Show me the doll that you like best or that you’d like to play with,”
- “Show me the doll that is the ‘nice’ doll,”
- “Show me the doll that looks ‘bad’,”
- “Give me the doll that looks like a white child,”
- “Give me the doll that looks like a coloured child,”
- “Give me the doll that looks like a Negro child,”
- “Give me the doll that looks like you.”
The last question really shook up the children because most of them had already stated that the black doll was the “bad one.” So when they had to say which one looked like them they either started crying or didn’t answer.
I know you may be thinking that this study is almost 80 years old it can’t possibly be relevant to current day life, however in fact it is and more recent studies have been performed in the past 5 years and have received similar results.
As a race and a culture we have come so far especially within recent years, however we still have a lot of work to do. I pray that the next generation of black children don’t take 2 decades to find beauty in themselves and their skin. I hope they aren’t biased as we were to believe that one end of the spectrum is better than the other. I hope they have the self confidence I have now, but they believe it as early as the age of 5 not 25. I know I will continue to do my part and speak on the beauty of black people as a whole and that regardless of where you fall on the color spectrum doesn’t make you better or worse. Black is beautiful. Period.