"Colourism: Prejudice or discrimination against individuals with a dark skin tone, typically among people of the same ethnic or racial group." OxfordDictionaries.com
Personally I have never had to deal with colourism and as a result I was a little shocked to realise how big of an issue it was. Growing up I was a member of the only black family in my town so I had more issues with racism than colourism.
My family is very diverse and as such I have always been around family from all over the world and whom are all different shades ranging from white to black. As a child I was predominantly around my mixed race cousins and white friends but never was I made to feel ugly or less worthy because of my complexion.
This is more or less what my family looks like!
I later moved into the heart of London where multiculturalism is the norm and even then the only brief encounter I had with colourism was a myth (or at least that's what I thought it was back then...) that black boys only wanted to date mixed race girls. I believed it was a myth because I had many black male friends who all dated black girls and my black girl friends never had an issue finding a date.
Fast forward 10 or so years, I now understood complexion jokes in movies, "The darker the berry, the sweeter the juice" now seemed like a segregational statement, 'School Daze' was no longer just a funny movie and I become overall more conscious. This is when I truly began to understand just how serious and real the problem of colourism is. Even at this point however, colourism didn't directly affect me and seeing hashtags like #TeamLightSkin and #TeamDarkskin on social networks was as stupid and meaningless to me as the cinnamon challenge.
As I am currently at the age of settling down and starting a family, I have started thinking of issues that I could possibly face in the pursuit of creating a happy home. I've been thinking of parenting and the best way to raise a well rounded individual and issues that were previously of little importance to me are now up for review. It occurred to me that my child may be that 'silly' person that needs to tweet their every move to feel important or become obsessed with a celebrity or be that girl that believes a UK size 8 (US size 2) is fat; these are all things that I have never experienced or felt. How do you teach a child that self worth is not based on Instagram likes?
I have always found it ridiculous that people who looked black to the world would go out of their way to call themselves 'mixed' or tell you "My great-grandad was white/chinese/indian" but understanding the existance of colourism doesn't make it sound as silly to me as it previously did. Colourism, even in its Oxford Dictionary's definition, appears to only affect dark skinned girls but as I was watching 'Light Girls' after having previously watched 'Dark Girls' my heart broke at the idea that my little girl, whether her skin is light or dark, could one day face these struggles based solely on a genetic predetermination she had no control over. That my son could subconsciously have a negative outlook on black women even though he loved those in his bloodline. As if living with racism every day wasn't enough of a burden!
'Dark Girls' trailer (2011)
How am I to prepare my children against the same people they are supposed to be able to stand side by side with to fight for equality of races? How do you explain to a child that not only are other races going to look down on them but that there was classism based on skin tone within their own race? My mum is the colour of brown sugar and my dad the colour of chocolate, I see myself as a perfect blend of the two and have always been made to feel as such; how then can I relate to the feeling a person gets from being the 'wrong' shade of black?
'Light Girls' trailer (2014)
Colourism dates back before the brown paper bag tests (Google it!) and it angers me that colonialism and slavery has left such deep wounds in not only the black race but in other races as well. Finding a cream or lotion in Bankok, Thailand without a lightening agent is like finding money on the street, it happens but very rarely. Lightening products are sold just as freely in supermarkets in Abuja, Nigeria. India is notorious for its skin tone segregation especially when casting for Bollywood movies. In Japan people literally paint their faces white to remove the pigmented appearance of their skin.
I can't even imagine what hating the skin you're in feels like, it's a concept that is quite hard for me to grasp. Outside of the institutional racism that I face every day as a black woman, I have also experienced violent racism but never have I hated myself or my skin colour. Ironically, this could be BECAUSE I grew up around white people. The white people I encountered who were not racist were the first to comment on how beautiful my skin was so I grew up accepting that some caucasians would like me and some wouldn't, either way there was nothing wrong with me and unless they threatened my wellbeing, how they felt about me was their problem and not mine.
This is something I hope I can teach my children, how to love themselves irrespective of outside opinions and to allow others to live their lives as they choose instead of criticising or judging them based on their differences/choices.
"I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not
be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character."
Martin Luther King Jr.
First Published: Jan 27, 2015