Photograph by Jurien Huggins
I’ve spent the better half of my life very aware that the depth of the colour of my skin means something to people. It effects the way they judge my beauty, the way they perceive my intelligence & capability, and it builds a world for them where they get to guess the kind of hardships, they assume I’ve suffered through.
Colourism is defined as prejudice or discrimination against individuals with a dark skin tone, typically among people of the same ethnic or racial group. I can and will only speak in depth on what I know, and what I know is that colourism within the black community is a very real and damaging thing.
“Wear a hat outside, you don’t want to get too dark!!”
Photograph by Houcine Ncib
This is a real-life caution of darkness that I heard summer after summer growing up. A warning that came from my own mother who is a beautiful dark-skinned woman and echoed by other family members. My experiences at school camps or on beach trips were always married with the fear of returning home.
I had certainly not stayed in the shade the whole day; I had not worn my hat the entire time and my skin had in fact been kissed by the sun and I would return to my mother a few shades darker than when I left.
“You are really pretty for a darker skinned girl”
Photograph by Julian Myles
This is a compliment that ashamedly I used to accept with open arms because it meant that I was set apart from the other women who looked like me. It meant to me that I was somehow one of the beautiful ones and I was no longer categorised with the rest.
I had learnt through my adolescence that the shade of my skin did not meet the beauty standard so when anyone picked me out and called me the very thing, I had always grown up not believing about myself; I felt seen and accepted.
Something that I look back on with a heart full of regret. Accepting “compliments” like that just reaffirms the whole perception that the darker your skin is, the less attractive and valued you are.
If I could rewind time, I would have received those “compliments” with more education and security. Pushed back and asked the question of “what does that mean exactly?”, noted “if you think I’m beautiful, say that and leave it at that.”, asked “what does the darkness of my skin have to do with my beauty?”. A long list of opportunities I missed to educate and to learn.
“Don’t you want to have light skinned children? You aren’t going to get that marrying a black guy”
Photograph by Ezechiel Kouassi
Premature fears for my unborn child were birthed from comments like this one. Fears that my child would have to face a world where their worth would always have to be a work in progress because the world they would be born into, equates their physicality’s with their worth.
Comments like these are nothing new or shocking within the black community. Aunties and uncles forever rejoicing when a new baby is born with lighter skin. Dinner debates had while the baby is yet to breathe our air about how light or dark, they will be when they physically arrived here on planet earth. Attempts at bleaching darker babies’ skin at a young age. A real obsession with lighter skin.
A part of me empathises with the generation above us because colourism is something that is passed down from centuries, a form of generational trauma. When it’s coming from family, I do believe it’s a labour of love. A form of love that I don’t want to receive but a labour of love none the less.
Generations of black men and women have had to live in a world where essentially; ‘White is right and Black is whack’ and the closer you are to whiteness the more palatable you are. The easier your existence is digested and celebrated. Whether its overt or not, it’s felt by dark skinned people all around the world.
Photograph by Ezechiel Kouassi
The conversation of colourism is a very large one and a few hundred words isn’t even going to give a solution or scratch the surface of it. This is just a glimpse of what colourism within the black community, specifically from the generation above us can look like.
Unlearning, learning and self-love that the generation above us didn’t invest into themselves; whether it was due to access or the times they lived in is now unlearning, learning and self-love our generation must invest into ourselves.
It’s not going to be easy at all. I admittedly still sometimes struggle with the same thoughts that I have spent over a decade trying to change but grace is something I’m allowing our generation as we make active steps in creating a safer and celebrated world for the next generation that look just like us.