You won’t see any protests or hashtags demanding we put an end to it, but there is a silent killer of the black community. Colorism, the idea that lighter skin tones are more desirable than darker ones, has kept our community divided for decades, yet we’ve remained quiet about its destructive nature. To find a solution, we must be willing to address our internal problems that are so hard to accept.
Colorism is how racism and white supremacy have manifested themselves in minority communities. In her book “Color Matters: Skin Tone Bias and the Myth of a Post-Racial America,” law professor Kimberly Norwood writes that “the closer one’s skin color is to white, the closer one is to being treated with an elevated status: that of an ‘honorary white person.’”
If you’re a black person living in America, it’ll do you good to be on the lighter side of the spectrum. Supposedly diluted shades of black are at an advantage. Half-white actress Amandla Stenberg has oddly become Hollywood’s spokesperson for speaking out against white privilege. The “Natural Hair Movement” consists almost entirely of light skinned men and women with loose curls while neglecting kinkier hair textures considered too “nappy.” In our very own community, we celebrate and give a voice to those who are as close to the white standard as possible.
Economics sophomore Vincent Njoku also believes that light-skinned black people, particularly women, are given more representation.
“They’re portrayed more in the media,” he said. “It’s not that there aren’t fine dark women, but you see them less.”
This, however, is just one side of the story. It’s true that darker-skinned people have to fight harder than their lighter counterparts to be seen, but it’s important to know that colorism doesn’t just negatively impact darker skin tones.
When I was in high school, a black boy told me that I was beautiful because I wasn’t dark like the other black girls. In my naïvety, I accepted this as flattery.
I’ve grown enough now to know exactly why this wasn’t a compliment. My beauty had to come attached with an explanation because saying a black woman was beautiful didn’t make sense on its own. To him, I was beautiful because he could separate me from the “other” black girls, the “too black” black girls. In his eyes, I might as well have been a different race entirely.
If you’re a black person with a light complexion, you’ve probably been faced with the challenge of having to prove your blackness. To be light skinned is to be constantly trying to occupy an uncomfortable space that reminds you that you’re neither white nor black enough. You may have been countered with the question, “What do you know?” when speaking on discrimination — as if you aren’t black enough to know what it’s like to be put down. Ben Carson’s recent comments questioning President Barack Obama’s ability to relate to the black experience exemplifies this struggle.
The black community may be many things, but we are not monolithic. There are thousands of shades of black, and not one is better than the others. If we want to spark change and stop racial injustice in America, we can’t keep dividing ourselves. #TeamLightSkin vs #TeamDarkSkin, who cares? Black is black. And all black is valuable.
Brookins is a is a psychology junior from McKinney. Follow Brookins on Twitter @Kenneteaa.