If we’re going to talk about BLM we need to recognise the issue of colourism
If this is the first you’re hearing of it, this is what you need to know
We’re talking about race more than we ever have before, but not enough people are talking about colourism. A lot of people don’t even know what it is. I’m about to break down what it is and why it is such an important issue.
I personally benefit from colourism and am disadvantaged by it as a brown skin individual; my skin has been both a shield and a weapon used against me. I have still been called racial slurs, been followed around by security in shops for no reason, and not been expected to speak “so white” (which is just an ignorant way to well spoken). Despite this, I’m not judged as harshly as dark skinned people by my white peers, I am not stereotyped to be “ghetto” or “ratchet”, and I have probably been given more opportunities because of this, whether I know it or not.
If this is the first you’re hearing about colourism, this is everything you need to know:
What is colourism?
Colourism is the differential treatment based on skin colour, especially favouritism toward those with a lighter skin tone, including the mistreatment or exclusion of those with a darker skin tone, typically among those of the same racial group or ethnicity.
Where did it start?
For the black community bias toward lighter-skinned people dates back to, yes you guessed it, slavery. Skin complexion was often a big determining factor of what type of jobs slaves would be given. Lighter skinned slaves often worked in the house where as darker skinned people were made to work in the fields. Due to the difference in labour and treatment of the slaves, a hatred started to grow between the groups.
But the unequal treatment didn’t end post-slavery, skin complexion was still used to determine a person were worthy of receiving an education. In later decades, universities and other social institutions were known for using the “brown paper bag” test(in the US). Those with skin lighter than the bag were in.
Where can we see colourism?
You only have to look as far as digital screen to see colourism. Hollywood may have become more diverse but even that shows limited representation. Time and time again light (and brown) skin actors and actresses have been cast in roles that, in the books, had been dark skinned. The most relevant example of this within our current political climate would be Amandla Stenberg’s casting in “The Hate U Give”; their performance was amazing and yes seeing a family film targeting racism in the US and showing protests was great representation for young black people, but it is not enough.
Social media apps often have filters that lighten the skin, it may not be intentional but can be damaging to the self esteem of young people. It could make them associate looking lighter with looking “better”- lightening of black skin has also been seen time and time again in the media. The media have also been making people, specifically dark skin women, appear lighter in magazines, from Brandy on the cover of YRB magazine to Lupita Nyong’o in Vanity Fair. The experiences of dark skin people are often overlooked and covered up with a “we’re all black” mentality.
Does colourism only affect the black community?
In most, if not all, ethnic minority groups colourism is something that is very prevalent. European features: straight hair/ looser curls, lighter skin, and slimmer proportions have been considered the epitome of beauty. We are socialised into thinking that “looking white” is looking right. In 2017, the global skin-lightening industry was worth $£3.4bn, and is predicted to increase to over £7bn by 2027 due to a growing middle class in the Asia-Pacific region.
How does it manifest now?
A law professor at Vanderbilt University conducted a study of over 2,000 immigrants from around the world and found that those with the lightest skin earned on average eight to 15 per cent more than their similarly qualified immigrants with darker skin. A 2006 study concluded employers prefer light skinned black men to dark skinned men, regardless of their qualifications.
As we can see, this isn’t just “team light skin vs team dark skin” it is eurocentrism vs the masses. This impacts the socioeconomics, judiciary treatment, and the ideology of self. Skin tone is assigned stereotypes that we benefit from or are used against us.
What does black is beautiful mean?
“Black is beautiful” is something that we tell ourselves, we buy products that remind us that we can be “Dark & Lovely” and yet we are pushed to conform to eurocentrism and it’s ideology of beauty. Rashad Robinson (president of Color Of Change) said colourism is “part of white supremacy, or holding up whiteness over other backgrounds”, having “deep implications, historical implications in the black community from beauty standards to professional opportunities to how families have treated one another”.
Abraham Lincoln once said: “A house divided against itself, cannot stand.” If society has managed to divide our communities, how can we stand together against our oppressors?
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Featured image via SWNS