Racism, a topic that never seems to cool off lately. Besides, there is another absurd collection of racist policies called Colorism. These policies focus on dark-skinned people, treat them differently than lighter skin people, make their lives more difficult than those of their white counterparts. Starting with the working condition, as Kendi states in his book: “Dark immigrants to the United States, no matter their place of origin, tend to have less wealth and income than Light immigrants” (Kendi 69). Or a reporter from The Guardian writes that “dark skin still not only comes with the expectation of lower-class but lessened beauty, not to mention uncleanliness, lesser intelligence…” (McClinton). Companies are willing to pay more to Light skin people because they think that white people always perform better. Moreover, these policies create some invisible barriers for certain jobs. For example, if you are a reporter or an activist, the police tend to focus their force on you rather than on other white folks. As the activist Clarissa Brook states in her report: “Black folks, in general, have anxiety around law enforcement. But when you’re dark-skinned like me, it seems to give cops a full pass to disrespect you” (Brooks). Imagine a situation where people are peacefully protesting for their rights and benefits, where we can raise our voices, but the ones who can actually do that without the fear of being harassed, or worse, being beaten, are the people with light skin color. “The legacy of colorism has meant that the work of certain activists has been minimized” (Brooks).
Another daily situation where we can see dark skin people are treated differently for their appearances is the beauty standard. Most people tend to think lighter colors give them comfort. They do not actually say out loud that white is more beautiful than black, but colorism is shown through their behaviors. The author Kendi, even proud of his history and culture, but when it comes to the beauty standard, he admitted that “I wanted to be Black but did not want to look Black” (Kendi 68). People can accompany well with black people, as long as they are “just friends”. But when it comes to a further relationship, it is harder for dark skin people to find a date, like the reporter McClinton states in her article: “We are not as valued as our lighter-skinned counterparts when seeking romantic partners, our dating pool constricted because of something as arbitrary as shoe size” (McClinton). People tend to prefer dating a black man/woman than their dark skin counterparts. It is not about the personality, not about height, not about weight nor academic level, Colorism simply makes us think that white is better than dark. McClinton writes in her article: “I’ve spent so much time trying to understand what is so unattractive about me that men shun me[…] The real issue is staring me right in the face: my deep mahogany skin” (McClinton). Treating and loving people based on their colors, not their actions, is helping colorism gain its purpose.
In order to stop racism and colorism, we all need to see people as who they really are and what they do. If a black person commits a crime, he should be apprehended and face justice in court, from the judge, not from some random police officers thinking that they are the law when it comes to black criminals. Ever since the end of the black slavery era, people have all tried so hard to prove that black, white, or yellow, we all can be good are bad, which can be seen through our behaviors. “It is the dark-skinned folks who are left with the burden of proving we are not the stereotypes that are forced upon us” (Brooks). Black people are trying harder than anyone else. Let’s say we all start with the zero point, but black people have to start with a negative point. First, they have to brush off the bad images that were implanted in people’s minds by Colorism, then they have to try harder to prove their values. Their efforts deserve to be acknowledged. Like Kendi says, “To be an antiracist is to focus on color lines as much as racial lines,…” (Kendi 69), we must see people as what they do, not where they come from nor what color their skins are.
-Brooks, Clarissa. “’Cops Only Tackled Me and My Friend’: Why a Dark Skin Tone Makes Activism Dangerous.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 10 Apr. 2019, theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2019/apr/10/dark-skin-tone-activism-cops-dangerous.
– Kendi, Ibram. How to Be an Antiracist. Bodley Head, 2019.
-McClinton, Dream. “Why Dark-Skinned Black Girls like Me Aren’t Getting Married.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 8 Apr. 2019, theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2019/apr/08/dark-skinned-black-girls-dont-get-married.
In Chapter 9 of his book How to be an Antiracist, Ibram X. Kendi speaks about the detrimental impact that discrimination based on skin tone has had on people of color. He defines colorism as “A powerful collection of racist policies that lead to inequities between Light people and Dark people, supported by racist ideas about Light and Dark people” (107). The consequences of such prejudices affect black people in all aspects of their lives, stretching from socioeconomic inequalities, a separation between light and dark individuals within the race, unequal representation in the media, and distorted perceptions of beauty.
To fully understand the adverse effects of colorism on the black community, one must acknowledge its roots dating back to slavery, when being black meant that one was considered property and not a person. In the article, “Why Black People Discriminate Amongst Ourselves: The Toxic Legacy of Colorism,” author Kaytlin Greenidge informs, “proximity to whiteness could increase your chances for freedom. If you had a white father, and more importantly, if you ‘looked’ white, the easier you could potentially claim some sort of freedom.” Consequently, skin tone became a deciding factor in whether black people were worthy of liberation. A hierarchical scale was essentially formed with white at the top, black at the bottom, and every tone in between grappling with identity and acceptance. In the article “How the Camera Sees Color,” author Kye Farrow contends, “This identity crisis caused many lighter skinned African Americans to make attempts at passing for white in public settings in order to compete for more opportunities, which led to increased tensions in the black community.” With that, black individuals were pinned against each other for a possibility of a better life.
In the early 20th century, the One-Drop Rule, a racist policy, was established by racist power to maintain white social and economic authority. This racist notion not only protected those in power but created a divide within the black community. Kendi states, “When emancipation in 1865 thrust all Black people into the land of the freedom…To maintain Light privilege, the segregated Light people further segregated their Dark brothers and sisters, preserving prewer racial disparities between Light and Dark people” (116). Such disparities benefiting those of lighter hues include higher incomes, lighter prison sentencing, better treatment in the education system, and even affected the possibility of receiving better parenting. Considering the harsh reality of what it means to be black in the U.S., lighter individuals who were not regarded as white struggled to preserve any kind of privilege and immunity by assimilating to white America, even if it meant turning their backs on their own people. And to reciprocate the segregation that they received, dark individuals as a result “degraded and alienated Light people with names: light bright, high yellow, redbone.” (Kendi 112). With this in mind, colorism has undoubtedly split black people, light, and dark into categories that create barriers and friction within the race.
Furthermore, these disconnects within the black community go beyond privilege attainment and trivial name-calling and reach into the scope of marriage and relationships. Greenidge states, “It is a sad and sobering fact to realize that color – how dark or light you are perceived as being by a prospective partner, who most likely is someone of your own race (Links to an external site.) – sometimes determines who in our communities is deemed deserving of romance.” Black individuals, especially black women, receive such scrutiny among their race, especially from their male counterparts, leaving them with few relationship and marriage prospects. Greenidge explains that “given the relatively low rates of interracial marriage for black women (Links to an external site.) in the US, we are talking about perceptions and prejudices within the black community – how we treat each other, our own internalized white supremacy.” Assessing the long history of oppression and trauma that the black race has gone through, it would be assumed that the black male would be the first and foremost supporter and protector of the black woman. However, this may not always be the case; the years of eurocentric beauty indoctrination have caused many black men to be one of the harshest critiques of their female equivalents, bringing the black women’s self-confidence down and further distorting the black perception of beauty.
But of course, the black man is not to blame in such matters. The concept that the ideal form of beauty equals whiteness dates back to the Enlightenment era when Enlightenment intellectual Johann Joachin Winckelmann determined that “African people must accept the ‘correct conception’ of beauty’…‘A beautiful body will be all the more beautiful the whiter it is’” (Kendi 114). From this initial attempt to bring down the self-esteem of the black community, further attempts followed with the inception of theatre and, most importantly, film. In early cinema, movies would almost always contain all-white casts, and if black people were hired for leading roles, light-skinned actors and actresses would be the ones to play the parts. Even with light skin, actors would frequently have to wear makeup to make themselves appear more white and lighter in tone.
On the other hand, while dark actors were also part of film production, their acting skills were devalued to perform racist stereotypes of black people. Farrow informs, “As black-owned theaters grew, people across the country were exposed to these exaggerated films and advertisements. Many young children and teenagers of darker complexion began to think that it was ‘bad,’ ‘evil,’ or ‘dirty’ to have dark skin.” With an inaccurate and warped representation in the media, black people from a young age adopted an untrue concept of beauty: the lighter one appears, the more beautiful one is. As a result, many, especially black women, to this day have resorted to extreme measures to reach a more Eurocentric appearance by using “harmful chemicals for the purposes of lightening their skin” (Farrow).
Considering these factors, the long dark history of colorism has incentivized assimilation and internalized racist ideas. A deep-rooted dislike and self-hatred towards their own skin have manifested within the black individual. One that can slowly be reversed with the realization that colorism is based on racist policies created to give more power to those already in control. Therefore accepting a more “diverse standard of beauty” (Kendi 114) and understanding that value is not based on color can help individuals accept and practice Kendi’s anti-racist ideas.
Farrow, Kye. “How the Camera Sees Color.” National Museum of African American History and Culture, 10 Jan. 2019, nmaahc.si.edu/explore/stories/collection/how-camera-sees-color.
Greenidge, Kaitlyn. “Why Black People Discriminate Among Ourselves: The Toxic Legacy of Colorism.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 9 Apr. 2019, www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2019/apr/09/colorism-racism-why-black-people-discriminate-among-ourselves.
Kendi, Ibram X. How to Be an Antiracist. Penguin Random House, 2020.