Let’s Talk: Colorism, Revisited




The elephant in the room. It’s the reason your cousin around the way wants a light-skinned man to have babies with. It’s when that man starts feeling insecure because the rest of his brothers are much darker than him and because of the scars of his daddy telling him he wasn’t his daddy. It’s when “black,” no matter how light or how dark it may be, is abused, discriminated against, left out to dry and devalued. Not by white folks, not by any other group, but our own. And this elephant, our elephant, ain’t leavin’ the room any time soon. But why?


Yes, colorism has been around for years and years and years. Yes, the institution of slavery is the culprit. Yes, media outlets and other means perpetuate this dogged –ism. These are well known facts and go without question. However,  no one seems to be able to answer this one: After so much awareness on colorism as of late, after years and years have passed since the dawn of the Willie Lynch age (slave owner mentality of dividing and treating slaves based on color, among other things, that colorism can be attributed to), why are black people still perpetuating this evil?


I know I’ve talked at length about colorism. Ya’ll may be thinking “the children’s book, the documentary, the CNN spot and your big mouth haven’t said enough?” A conversation with a friend of mine over lunch the other day has (for me) shed some light on the daunting question. And got my gears grinding even harder.


“I haven’t been working out as much as I planned to. I love the spring time. It just feels so good and its better for working out outside,” he said. Your average lunch time small talk, right? “It’s so so hot this summer you know, I’m not trying to be out there and get any darker,” he added. My heart dropped and my skin grew goose bumps all over. My body reacted as if he had some disease I didn’t want to catch and my mind went into overdrive. Next thing I knew, my lunch turned into an interview. “Why don’t you want to get darker?” I asked. He told me he likes his skin the way it is and doesn’t want to change it. Your skin gets darker in the sun…that’s you and that’s how your skin is. Mine gets darker in the sun too.


Then he turned the tables and started asking me questions. Which I didn’t mind at all. “When you see a black person and you look at them as attractive, what shade have they been most often?” Ha. As if people of all shades aren’t attractive. He went on to tell me how he has always associated light-skinned people with attractiveness and how a lot of brown-skin people can be attractive. “How often do you see a dark-skinned person and think ‘wow, they’re really attractive’?” He is my friend but boy oh boy, does he not know me that well! But this isn’t about me. Keep in mind that the friend I’m referring to is dark brown-skinned/ dark-skinned himself.


And then we started talking about features. He said “dark-skinned people have more pronounced features. You know, big lips, big noses. Like look at my nose. And you see all these people getting nose jobs. Changing their body. Because people don’t like those features. How many times did Michael Jackson get a nose job?” And later, we talked about exoticism. He told me that “light-skinned people are more likely to be exotic, to have more culture in them and you know people really like that. Again, keep in mind that he is not light-skinned nor does he have a small, European nose.


You know I was on my soapbox. I told him about self-love. I told him about the history of slave rape in the African-American bloodline we’ve been taught to value and a few other things. I told him that I go outside and go to the pool with the intent of getting dark and getting my summer glow. I told him how I have big ole thick lips that I love. I schooled him on colorism and how light-skinned people are also discriminated against because of it. And I also told him about my short-lived childhood hair complex – when I was 4 or 5 I walked around saying I wished my hair was “straight and long” and I showed my mom magazine pictures with white women with straight long hair, asking her to make my hair like that instead of its natural look and texture. But yet and still, he was not moved. His argument in the conversation was that colorism doesn’t exist, and that our color issues are really preferences that are being over-exaggerated.


My revelation from this conversation simply put: Many of us don’t like being black, and most of us that don’t like being black don’t even know it.


People are thinking What’s the remedy? Where’s the cure all? What class do we sign up for to treat this? Where do we buy the book that teaches us to love our black bodies, our skin (whether it be light, dark or in-between) and everything else we have to offer?


It’s not that easy. Black people need a COMPLETE overhaul. Our standards, our comparisons and our constructs of beauty need some reckoning with. It’s easy to sit back and critique society (I know, I do it a lot too), but what are we DOING to make it better?


Lena Horne said “It’s not the load that breaks you down, it’s the way you carry it.” Many of us don’t even know the extent of the load, and even more aren’t aware of the load, period. We gotta do something, ASAP, because too many of us are walking around loving to hate ourselves.