Why Are We Not Talking About Colourism?

“Sometimes my experiences are dismissed. For example, they say things like it didn’t happen which is quite funny because it’s coming from a place of privilege on their part.”

Colourism. The hideously ugly little sister of racism. It causes discrimination among people of the same race. Hatred and divide. It is an issue that when spoken up about, the first reaction is annoyance. Which is why I wanted to talk about it with different perspectives. It affects a lot of people, and although it is such an explicit issue, whether in the media, in music videos or in dating, it is barely talked about. And I wanted to start to figure out why. It needs to be known and spoken about more all around the world, not just in the black community.

Colourism from an International perspective

Colourism is a topic which annoys a lot of people. It is a sensitive topic and I wanted to break it down as well as I could. Subjects like these are topics that are important, but people seem to ignore because it’s uncomfortable. I first wanted to look at the definition of colourism.

The definition, which appeared in 1983, credited to Alice Walker, states that Colourism is “the prejudice or discrimination against individuals with a dark skin tone, typically among people of the same ethnic or racial group.” This explains it to a tee really. Colourism is a deep routed problem, and like it or not we can see this today in many ethnic minority groups.

One show that I really think explained colourism well was Black-ish. Although it is an American television show, it explains the problem in a simple and yet effective way that people across the world can relate to.

It stated that “Black people come in many shades, from Mariah Carey to Wesley Snipes. Because we look different, we get discriminated against differently. For example, in the case of OJ Simpson, they distorted the lighting in a magazine so that he looked darker to make him seem more guilty”.

“In Asian communities, some people use visors and umbrellas to avoid the sun. In Indian communities, some dark-skinned actors say that they struggle getting roles even in Bollywood movies. And in the Latin community, products that bleach your skin are becoming increasingly popular. Slave owners divided the black community in half, putting dark slaves on the fields, and fairer slaves in the house, which has created tension and divide up until this day.” I found this insight to be very interesting.

This image released by ABC shows Marsai Martin, left, and Tracee Ellis Ross in a scene from "black-ish." In the episode airing on Tuesday, Jan. 15, Dre, played by Anthony Anderson, and Bow, played by Ross, are furious after Diane, played by Martin, i

Being dark-skinned in the UK

As a Black woman in the UK, a dark-skinned Black woman, this issue is very personal to me. I personally cannot recall any explicit moments where I have been affected by colourism, unless it was tied into racism, which is a whole other topic. Being the only Black child of my year in my primary school, and then jumping from that to a primarily Black and Asian secondary school (but still very white overall), it was very difficult for me to navigate who I was as a darker skinned girl.

I have created this article to explore the perspective of young people on Colourism, as well as to address the stigma that Black boys don’t really care about Colourism. I believe there is some truth to this claim, for example Black boys starting to shift sideways as soon as you say the word Colourism. However, I wanted to hear other people’s perspectives on this topic.

Many of my brothers and sisters, however, have experienced more explicit examples of colourism. And I first wanted to give a voice to the women, Black women specifically. This is because we have to address the fact that the Black women are the most underappreciated of all, and that we have not been given enough of a voice.

A perspective from women: feelings of neglect?

It is not only my opinion that matters. It would be biased and unreliable to voice my opinion and my opinion only. So I went to look for other people’s opinions to develop a more grounded based foundation. I’ve kept them anonymous for confidential reasons. My peer replied to my question, and this is what she had to say on it.

She stated that “I get why some would say this, sometimes my experiences are dismissed, for example they say things like it didn’t happen which is quite funny because it’s coming from a place of privilege on their part”.

I understood this opinion loud and clear. As people of colour in general we are surrounded by our own issues and discriminations. However, we still face our own divides within our own community simply because we don’t address it enough. For example, fairer skinned women are considered to be more desirable in relationships, in the media. The list is endless. The rise of love and appreciation of dark-skinned women in music videos, television and on social media is lovely. But that doesn’t mean all of our problems have gone away. In order to move forward, we need to address these issues and not just ignore then because they’re not as bad and explicit as they used to be.

While reading an article by The Guardian, I stumbled upon an interesting opinion. A woman in the UK wrote that “many Black girls I pursued told me that they were only attracted to light-skin Black boys”, while another confessed that their mother was ashamed of their skin: “At school, in mosque and at family gatherings, I was demonised.”

A lot of Black women feel betrayed by Black men because of the suffering we have been through, and the fact that a lot of the time, they attack us the most when they should be on our side defending us.

Another peer of mine had something to say on this exact issue. She stated that “I think some people (boys) talk about it, but a lot don’t and they add to the problem. They don’t uplift women but instead manipulate and belittle us to make themselves feel bigger and more manly”.

I received an opinion from one of my close friends about the statement in the title of this article.

She said to me that “I agree to an extent. But its White boys too. And most Black boys actually go for dark skins. I feel like boys in general should be mentioned. Because Black boys got their struggles too with White boys acting the same but having less struggles. I would say that boys in general can be stupid and racist. You can mention Black boys going against the beauty in their own kind. But I’d say yeah all boys.”

Although I agree with certain elements of this view, to me it just seemed like it was dismissing the issue at hand. It portrays a view that just simply isn’t true (most Black boys going for dark skin girls) , and has been proved by history. This view presents an unintentional dismissal of what dark skin women face, as well as generalising the problem. While on the topic of generalization, my peer said this.

“I think the statement is quite diverse and when it comes to topics within the Black community, I think we should strive to promote unity instead of division. I think the major problem that people find with it is that SOME of them didn’t defend black women as often when they face disadvantages.” She also stated that “But always say ‘some people’ to avoid generalizing them all”.

Overall, I think that out of all the statements that I received, this one summed up the issue with the most eloquence. It demonstrates an opinion which is not closed minded, but firm.

A perspective from men: feeling attacked?

Colourism in general is a sticky subject. I knew that it’s a subject that annoys people and makes people uncomfortable. Like it or not, it is an issue that affects a lot of people. And it affects dark-skinned women the most. Features that are considered to be “dominating” and “attractive” on our male counterparts are considered to be “masculine” and “threatening” on us. The fact is that we are not only ridiculed for our features by other races, but by people in our own race.

While reading another article from The Guardian, I read a response that was surprising. A man stated that “As a medium-tone black man living in the UK, I have experienced and perpetuated colourism several times. As a teenager, many black girls I pursued told me that they were only attracted to light-skin black boys. For many black men, an attractive golden complexioned woman is a sign of success and status, as is evident from the skin tone of highly successful black sportsmen and entertainers in the UK and US. Many won’t admit it publicly, but it’s an uncomfortable truth”. It was surprising how to the point this was.

 I asked some male peers what they thought about the assumption I made, as well as the statement in general if it hadn’t of come from me. One mentioned that the assumption was “true” and that, “we kinda just shrug it off and say it’s not that deep”. What I found most interesting (but not surprising) was that most of the boys I asked disagreed with the comment. . Another stated “I don’t agree. I’m open to have a discussion about that, without acting like a brick wall. People do it, it happens, people discriminate against people in their own race”. A third one stated that “some boys get penalised for being a colourist when it’s just their main preference of girls. That’s why they get frustrated at the topic”.

Preference to me is the ugly little cousin of Colourism. It ties into favouritism, and can be highly deceptive. For me, you can have whatever preference (and I use that word very lightly) you want. That’s absolutely fine. But the issue arises when you state that you have your quote unquote preferences, and still go out of your way to bash dark-skinned women unprovoked.

The general consensus that I got was that it was a generalisation.

“I don’t think you can generalise Black boys. Of course, there are some that don’t care but there are many that do. Amongst the people I know though, Colourism has never been an issue, I just hear of things on social media more time”.

Finally, one said that “Colourism is a problem within the Black diaspora, but I feel like there has been a march of progress for the community, despite of the Twitter blasts and current examples of famous people sticking to a lighter shade. I also feel like Black boys understand the issue but some for some it’s not actual self-hatred just because it seems like Black girls don’t get the same love. Plus, I feel like the pressure and blasting is what makes Black boys turn into a brick wall as it seems too much and constant blasting towards them even though not all the facts are true”.

Conclusion, if there even is one yet

This array of perspectives to me honestly wasn’t surprising. It’s nice to hear a different perspective. Overall though, there has been a road blockage somewhere.

There is a gap. Black men say they would want to talk about it, but Black women feel as if black men have neglected this conversation. So, there is clearly something wrong here.

The fact that we can’t make a solid conclusion is something that can’t be ignored.

We cannot act like we stand together against the big sister called racism, when we continually ignore its little sister Colourism.

Written by Aleida Hammond


Aleida is a member of The RealTalk Blogging Team.
She is a freelance artist. Being a freelance artist entails many things, from being in charge of photoshoots to making portraits and digital commissions for clients. As well as this, Aleida is a first year student studying at Loughborough University. 
She currently has commissions open on her business page.
You can get in touch with Aleida directly via her platforms below:

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