Race

My Thoughts: Colourism

If you’re tired of seeing the word colourism your darker skinned counterparts are just as tired of experiencing it. 


FIRST OF ALL:

Screen Shot 2018-07-28 at 01.14.25

 

In my opinion this is a pretty solid definition. I underlined ‘typically among people of the same ethnic or racial group’ because this is what makes colourism so interesting yet problematic. The sheer fact that members of the same race are discriminating against their own is mad. It makes it difficult for us to pinpoint who or what exactly is accountable. I’m sure most would point the finger at black men or even lighter skinned women, but why is it that these groups are most likely to reject the existence of colourism altogether and what is the root of colourism in the first place? It has been said many a time that black men do not talk about black women the same way males of other races talk about their female counterparts.

In America colourism has roots in slavery. Lighter skinned slaves, who were typically the mixed children of their slave masters, tended to take up jobs in the house that were deemed more desirable than the outdoor jobs typically done by darker skinned slaves. However, colourism in the UK is notably different. Colourism amongst black Brits, particularly those of African descent, can be said comes directly from the home countries of these immigrants and can be also said is due to the lack of positive representation in the media of black women. It’s evident in a lot of shows/movies, you can see for yourself if there is a black lead she is usually of a certain complexion. As time goes on we are starting to see darker skinned women taking on lead roles, but this isn’t necessarily mainstream yet.

In Ghana, one of my own home countries, lighter skin has become so sought after that women in particular are going to extreme measures to attain it. Some women even resorted to taking pills whilst pregnant in hopes that their children would be born with a lighter complexion. Hydroquinone is the primary chemical in most topical skin lightening products (that is also said to be potentially carcinogenic) which thankfully Ghana has banned. This is a huge move as the skin lightening industry is worth billions, this is a step in the right direction for countries like Ghana that will hopefully set the example for other African countries to follow suit.

That being said, whilst the issue of colourism “back home” is slowly but surely being addressed the same cannot be said for those of us in the UK. Many darker skinned black women can name countless occasions in which they have been discriminated against or picked on because of their complexion. This is absurd. Many would respond and say that these women should call it out when it happens but many also seem to forget about the angry black woman narrative. A black woman, and in particular a darker skinned one, calling out colourism is often seen as bitter despite her objection of a comment being completely valid. It’s very easy to say what you would do in a hypothetical situation because the chances are you haven’t literally been in that situation. It’s also worth noting that colourist comments tend to be made in casual environments in which a dark skinned female calling it out may seem to be darkening the mood. I’m sure many of us have witnessed it first hand in secondary school; being called blick, “you’re pretty for a dark girl”, “she’d be peng if she was lighter”, etc. It may seem like it’s not that deep, but if you feel that way the chances are you’re not dark-skinned or you have made such comments yourself. Comments like these from a young age can be damaging to a black girls self-esteem and also paint a negative picture of darker skinned girls to the rest of us where darker skinned women are deemed unattractive (and not just in terms of looks).

It’s often the case when I have these conversations with my mates a few might say that these things were more prominent in secondary and eventually people grow up. At face value this claim seems fair but what is really being said is that “yeah colourism is bad, but eventually people grow out of verbally and racially abusing black women”. You might think this is an extreme way of interpreting this response but that is essentially it, if you are making comments towards someone of a darker complexion that are derogatory because of the fact they are dark, that is verbal and racial abuse. Abuse isn’t always beating someone up with a hammer and it is not a rite of passage. And yes, in secondary school people were made fun of for various different things and whilst people call this character building many cannot relate. Besides, in my opinion colourism is more destructive than it ever will be progressive. We need to change this narrative that making comments like this is normal when you’re young but the only way we can do this is by calling it out, especially if you are lighter in complexion because your fairness comes with a privilege that you should use.

I have also heard some talk about “reverse colourism” in which it’s said that lighter skinned folks are discriminated against and are bullied but this seems like the kind of response that is made to erase the severity of colourism against darker skinned people. Although, I read an interesting paper on extreme colourism in Tanzania where black people with Albinism are treated in horrific ways. That being said, this is still a black issue. In fact, colourism is also an Asian issue and a feminist issue. It’s clear that the victims of colourism tend to be females and dark skinned African females in particular, however, colourism in Asia is worth talking about. In Asia, there isn’t much regulation on skin lightening products. ‘Fair & Lovely’ products are extremely popular and it seems as though many don’t see an issue with using their products because they claim to not be physically dangerous. But the key word here is physical. Many asian women are used to seeing their favourite bollywood stars have light skin and be desired, in fact bollywood is saturated with actors all within one or two shades of each other. This lack of representation breeds self hate. Perhaps people should not take this too seriously, if you see a light skinned person and end up hating yourself that seems like a you problem right? Absolutely not. This line of thinking is problematic, self loathing takes time. It’s the little things like trying to stay out of the sun in the fear of getting too dark, or buying the foundation that doesn’t match you or it’s even being afraid to wear certain colours because you feel like it won’t look as good on your darker skin. All of this comes from wanting to be desired, it’s literally in our nature.

In light of this, this isn’t to say you should have a radar to detect colourist comments everywhere you go, but pay attention to what people say and also how they say things. Colourism is often closer than you think. 

Good reads:

The roots of colourism:

https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-colorism-2834952 (this is more on the American side)

Eyrams take:

https://wordpress.com/read/blogs/138319559/posts/92 (she has a fab blog, plenty of good stuff to read)

Extreme Colourism & Albinism in Tanzania: http://researchbank.acu.edu.au/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=9203&context=fhs_pub

Colourism in Asia:

http://www.womensrepublic.net/colorism-and-anti-blackness-in-the-asian-community/

http://www.herculture.org/blog/2015/10/8/colorism-in-the-s-asian-community#.W1u8EthKjxg

Ghana banning skin lightening products:

https://qz.com/718103/skin-lightening-is-a-10-billion-industry-and-ghana-wants-nothing-to-do-with-it/

(Also make sure you have a look in the comments and leave your own thoughts!)

Strong people stand up for themselves, but stronger people stand up for others.

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12 thoughts on “My Thoughts: Colourism

  1. Anonymous 2 says:

    I absolutely loved and ageeed with everything you said, and I think it’s something that people don’t talk about when it’s an everyday occurance. I can’t explain how uncomfortable I feel whenever I hear it, and unfortunately it’s very often in east London, and I don’t particualrly know how to react being a white female. There have been times where I’ve called out my friends on it only to be confronted with “why are you complaining it just means more black boys for you” or even one girl who thought I was “rubbing my privallage in her face” because she thought I assumed she couldn’t stick up for herself. And I compleatly understad that I’ll never be able to relate to that girl And she’s probably been through some stuff and so Misunderstood my intent on calling out the boy at the time who said “lighties is the only way to go, No darker than a late” and so perhaps I’m asking if you think there’s a better way to go about confronting it when you’re not on the receiving end?

    In addition, this wasn’t touched upon in your post but something I feel so strongly about that I personally thinks derived from colourism is the fetishisation of light skin/mixed race people. I think this is such an issue as I’ve seen posts on twitter where people who are clearly racist speak about mixed race people like they’re somthing made for their pleasure only, and then use that to claim they’re not racist. I haven’t done too much research into this tho so I can’t say more than I think it’s a problem that people don’t see it as a problem

    Love your blog so far though and can’t wait to read more, and please excuse how jumbled my reply is x

    • Calling it out is great, it’s a shame because doing the right thing doesn’t mean it will be received well and there’s nothing you can do about that. Don’t let anyone make you feel like it’s not your place just because you’re not the victim of the problem. If someone feels as though you’re rubbing your privilege in their face that really could just be on them but it’s worth considering that when you are speaking up for someone you don’t make them feel like the weak victim. Often times people may use this as an opportunity to come across as the hero of the situation which is extremely egoistic. You might want to respond by saying things like “what did you mean when you said that?”, that can often open up a discussion about colourism or you could even just say “what you said was racially insensitive” if you want to be more direct; but it all depends on the circumstance.

      And yes I’m glad you brought this up actually, there does seem to be parallels between colourism against darker skinned people and the fetishisation of mixed race/light skinned people. On one hand you have darker skinned people who are not treated fairly and and the other you have slightly lighter skinned people who are put on a pedestal and talked about in a reductive and quite shallow way. It’s interesting because although having the lighter skin comes with a privilege it’s often not the sort of privilege you’d associate with social mobility, it’s more about being desired. Although I wouldn’t want to say one problem is worse than the other.

      Thank you so much for your response and kind words, I really appreciate it and I’m excited to read more of your comments 🙂

  2. Anonymous says:

    Now not to go against anything I said in my previous comment but just to point out two things I’m a bit divided on in your blog; as a young black man I feel like you are not allowed, by the black female community, to state that you’re not attracted to black women. I agree a lot of black males take it too far by saying black women are ugly/unattractive and that is too far, however if you for instance prefer white girls it’s not always about the skin colour, other characteristics might just appeal to you more such as straighter noses for example and I think that’s fair right? Other people are allowed to prefer their spouse to be taller/shorter etc. I feel like this is accepted really badly in the black community and leads to unnecessary retaliation. Again if these men are saying anything bad about black women then fair enough but if not it’s unneeded. Another thing is the colour of clothes people wear. I don’t know if I’m being too literal here but some colours just go together more right? Not to say people can’t wear what they want but clothing might just look nicer on different coloured people, a white dress on a black woman (in my opinion) would look much nicer because of the contrasting colours, the same way a black dress would look nicer on a white woman for the same reason. The second comment is just my opinion and I admit it might go too far and I havent done justice in explaining it. I’m just trying to say some colours clash and some go well together meaning people trying to wear different colours is understandable to me. Thank you for reading.

    • I totally understand, although preference and colourism are very different things. Is your preference due to colourism? That’s a question you should always keep in mind. It makes sense to prefer lighter skinned individuals if from young you’re literally bombarded with them in the media, that’s not to say that a persons preference is not justified but just be mindful of that. Additionally, if you do have a particular preference just say what you prefer rather than saying what you don’t. You can say you prefer white girls without bashing black girls. Also, it’s worth noting that preferences are just saying “this is what I tend to be attracted to, although I could potentially be attracted to anyone else and give them a chance” colourism is something along the lines of “dark skinned girls aren’t really my type, I would never go for one I just think that they’re unattractive compared to light skinned women”. Like SIR, nobody asked you what you DIDN’T like. This might be too simple of an analogy but if your favourite slush is blue raspberry you don’t tell the ice cream van man that you really don’t like sour cherry, that isn’t helpful to ANYONE. I hope you see what I’m saying here.

      And I understand what you’re saying about colours and clothing although that’s not the direction I was necessarily going in when I mentioned it, the point was that due to colourism some girls may feel UNCOMFORTABLE with the fact that they thing certain colours will make them seem more unattractive. It’s not about what other people think and what their preferences are, it’s about the individuals feelings and what THEY believe other people deem attractive. This is often the case where a lot of black women are discouraged to wear bright lip colours because they might stand out too much when actually if you fancy wearing a bright yellow lipstick you absolutely should and if someone else doesn’t like it they should look away.

      Thank you for leaving a comment!

    • Jameelah Iman says:

      Your comment brought up a number of points that I’d like to discuss. Firstly, the reason why black men are bashed for saying that they don’t prefer black women/not attracted to black women, is because the statement is simply just odd. I saw a tweet quite a while ago where it stated that black men are one of the only races of men that would state that they are not attracted to their women. You’d RARELY hear a white man or a latino man say that they are not attracted to white or Latina women. Secondly, black women come in countless number of shades, body types and hair textures. The only thing that ties us all together is that we’re … black. So by someone stating that they’re not attracted to black women they are just saying that black is unattractive to them. Secondly, countless number of men will state that it’s just a preference however preferences do not appear out of thin air, there is a reason why you find lighter skin more attractive than darker skin and although colonisation, media presentation and colourim play a large part. It is up to you to be completely transparent with yourself and unteach yourself that narrative. Thirdly, the point you made where you said that complexion may not play a part and it may be just that they prefer a straighter/ thinner nose etc. Again, there is a reason why bigger noses are seen as unattractive. As humans, we are far more sensitive to our environment than we believe ourselves to be thus we have all been exposed to and internalised the narrative that Eurocentric features are the epitome of beauty.
      Sorry this is a bit rambly/ bad grammar/ has typos. I haven’t written anything this long since June !

  3. Anonymous says:

    Colourism is indeed a really big issue, and I agree with everything you’ve said from where it stems from to how damaging it can be to those who are victims of it. The thing about people “growing out of it” highlights that it should be tackled at a really young age, wether that’s in the media children are exposed to our just what people say around them. Things like albinism in Tanzania also stem from a lack of education and false belief that it relates to devils, black magic, witches, etc and leads to extremely graphic hate crime and is honestly so so sad (not to undermine colourism anywhere else). I believe further education and maybe even regulations on people being lowkey racist is needed just for comments and discrimination against others.

    • Yeahh definitely, I think this could even include things like WORLD history being included in the curriculum rather than learning the good parts of what our home nation has to offer.

  4. Migena says:

    YES! This was so well put and addressed so many different braches of coloursim which are certainly prominent topics talked about today. Love it. Well done jes x

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