For roughly a month, my blog posts have been dedicated to sharing my journey through the rocky terrain of class and color in my community. I didn’t emerge completely unscathed, but I did survive. But what to make of it all? What does one do with the burden of such pain and anger in the end? For me the answer was burying it and joining the conspiracy of silence that shrouds the topic of Colorism. For fifteen years I avoided discussing it. I told myself it was no longer my problem. As long as I isolated myself from my own culture, I reasoned, it couldn’t touch me. However given that my family is African-American I could not totally isolate myself culturally without also losing them. Over the years current trends and news would filter back to me through casual conversation, and I learned that little changed.
There are those who claim that if we simply cease to even acknowledge the existence of the plague of Colorism it will magically disappear forever. Just close your eyes, tell yourself that the beast is gone and it will be. I sealed my lips and shut my eyes, but when I opened them it was still there. My silence wasn’t working. My silence didn’t keep the team darkskin and team lightskin hashtags from emerging on Twitter. My silence didn’t cause Black male entertainers to end their obsession with color. I listened to them say they “don’t do dark butts”. I listened to them scornfully rap: “How do you say what’s never said?Beautiful black woman? (I) bet that bitch look better RED!” I cringed when a singer stated “all the prettiest kids are light-skinned anyway!” I shook my head when a comedian sent a tweet calling sistas like me “broke ass dark hoes”. I find it quite telling that dark-skinned women in particular continue to be singled out for derision while our lighter-skinned sisters are exalted. When I made hesitant steps towards addressing this mentality, however, I found I was often shouted down with the following statements
You’re taking it too seriously; it’s not that deep!
All you dark girls are just jealous and wish you could be light-skinned! You’r all always hating on light-skinned women!
You dark women bring it on yourselves; if you would just love yourselves this wouldn’t be a problem.
Colorism is a thing of the past; if you paranoid dark women would stop bringing it up it would go away!
Why don’t you lighten up? Can’t you take a joke?
The last statement was the straw that broke the camels back. I was trying to reason with a group of Kevin Hart stans regarding Hart’s comments about dark women and one of them told me that. It was too much. Not only was I supposed to be silent about Colorism; I was also supposed to join in the fun and laugh when other Blacks insulted my skin tone! My anger flared, and I was struck by the ridiculous double standard that was in force. For when a white celebrity appeared in blackface or referred to black women as “nappy headed hoes”, we’d be out for blood. We’d demand an apology and threaten a boycott. But black entertainers making offensive statements that about dark women? Oh that’s HILARIOUS! That’s to be supported and applauded. Everyone loves a good “yo mama so black” joke.
I couldn’t play along. Sure I was good now. Yes,I may have pieced together the jagged fragments of my own self-esteem in early adulthood. But what about the black children whose minds were being instilled with this mentality? The stone of internalized oppression rolled on, grinding up young victims in its’ path. Though decades have passed since Brown vs Board of Education and America’s has elected its’ first non-white president, we still have Black children who prefer the white doll over one that looks like them. When Soledad O’Brien opened up a dialogue on race with her “Black in America” series, there were dark brown little girls who still expressed desire for lighter skin and believed whiteness was “better”. And I’m so tired of dealing with it all. I’m tired of holding newborn black babies in my arms, then watching relatives check their ears in order to guess if the child will be light-skinned. It is the thought of those babies I’ve held and the children on TV that makes me say enough is enough. It is time for the conspiracy of silence around Colorism to end and for our dirty laundry to be aired.
However, while I strongly feel that African Americans must begin to aggressively combat the issue, the challenge of eradicating Colorism is not ours alone. Colorism did not come into existence on its’ own. The enslaved West and Central Africans who crammed the holds of slave ships during the Middle passage did not hold these negative ideas regarding their identity and color. The inferiority that people of African descent in the New World have come to accept is the nasty legacy of centuries of enslavement, oppression and abuse. Colorism is the child of anti-Black racism. We cannot fight colorism without addressing its root cause. There can be no more silence. No more denial. I want the victims of Colorism to speak. I want them to tell their stories without being shouted down and condescended to. I want Black men to speak on Colorism-not just their preferences but what they have been subjected to. But above all I want us to succeed in achieving what Bob Marley sang about in ‘War‘: the permanent discrediting and abandonment of the philosophy which holds one race superior and another inferior.