In 1903, W.E. B. DuBois wrote “for the problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color-line”. In 2012, there is still a problem of the color line within the Black community. Despite the advancements made within our race, colorism still exists and is still an issue to be reckoned with. The most disturbing acts of colorism are the “light skin versus dark skin competitions” or invitations to “light skin” only events. The problem with these skin color events is that embracing any form of skin color distinction is behavior that one could only imagine slave masters using as a form of entertainment or to further divide the race. When Black Americans host events of this nature, they are perpetuating and encouraging behavior that continues to separate and divide the race. This form of entertainment is no more acceptable in the millennium than a minstrel show.
We fail to understand that skin tone stratification within our own community is a result of internalizing the preferential and prejudicial treatment based on skin color (light, medium or dark) by slave owners. I will give a very brief historical background on the origins of colorsim but recommend that everyone read books and articles on colorism. Please see the Intraracial Colorism Project’s site for a list of the literature in the field. (updated daily).
During slavery, slaves that possessed European features were afforded preferential treatment and slaves that possessed African features were treated disparately because of their dark skin. Light complexioned slaves began to believe that they were superior and entitled to privileges that dark complexioned slaves (who they believed were inferior) were not entitled to. Black people internalized the belief of light skin superiority and dark skin inferiority during slavery though the beginning of the Civil Rights Era and Black Power Movement. During this time period, the Black is Beautiful concept was born.
The Black is Beautiful concept turned into a movement that swept through Black communities across the United States. Black Americans began to embrace the beauty of their skin color, culture, black pride slogans, pictures, natural hair styles (afro) and began proudly wearing dashikis. The belief that light skin being an indicator of beauty, privilege and superiority was rejected by the Black race. Songs containing powerful lyrics focusing on pride, power, hope, respect, and blackness were empowering Black Americans across the country. Songs that I recall include James Brown’s “Say it Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud”; The Chi-Lites “Give More Power To The People”; The O’Jays “Give The People What They Want”; Eddie Kendricks, “My People…Hold On”; The Staple Singers “Respect Yourself” and Nina Simone’s “To be Young gifted and Black”. These songs further empowered the movement and motivated Black people to take a stand. Black people were proud to be Black and truly embraced the beauty of their blackness. Even light complexioned Blacks embraced “Black is Beautiful” and began wearing afros and we were united, light, medium and dark complexioned Black people.
Suddenly, and without warning, the Black is Beautiful Movement faded away and light skin became an issue within the Black race again. This may have occurred because whites continued interracial colorism practices (disparate treatment based on skin color, light, medium and dark) which resulted in Black people again embracing lightness within the race. Intraracial colorism (black versus black) re-surfaced and overshadowed any remnants of the Black is Beautiful Movement.
Black skin is beautiful for the simple fact that we are blessed with various warm, tropical hues that radiate beauty and hold many in awe to this day. Embrace the beauty of your light, medium, or dark skin color and revel in the awesomeness of being a beautiful person of color!
Possessing light skin does not mean that automatic privileges should be granted and this issue must be understood. Possessing dark skin does not mean that anyone should be treated any differently than someone possessing light skin. It becomes an issue when one possessing light skin begins to believe and act as if they are superior to others and are entitled to privileges because of their light skin. It also becomes an issue when people possessing dark skin begin to treat others with light skin disparately as well. The same rules apply for people possessing medium skin color.
I started The Intraracial Colorism Project, Inc. in order to thoroughly investigate colorism through a large scale study that will include a documentary and other projects. Through sponsorship, I plan on traveling to each state and conduct town hall meetings, personal interviews, and group sessions. By sharing experiences and information we will be able to build a solid foundation upon which we can work together to make a difference, I believe that change is possible. My goal is to work with members in the Black community to educate, enlighten, and eventually eradicate colorism. We will develop ideas, strategies, programs, training, panel and community discussions, etc. I can’t do this alone, I need your help. Please feel free to contact me with ideas, solutions, recommendations, etc. If there is a topic that you would like The Dynamics of Colorism to discuss on our talk radio show, please contact me.
It is time for us to come together as a community and begin the healing process. We can begin this process by bringing together a diverse group of community members including secretaries, educators, college students, attorneys, teens, psychologists, mechanics, sociologists, housewives, and others (meaning everyone). As a team we can educate, enlighten and eventually eradicate colorism within the Black community. For me, The Intraracial Colorism Project, Inc. will help foster the change that is needed in the world. In the famous words of Edith Childs (2007), I am “fired up, ready to go” are you?