Colourism is defined as prejudice or discrimination, especially within a racial or ethnic group, favouring people with lighter skin over those with darker skin. This divide is most often seen between black and white regardless of how progressive times may seem, yet the largest grey area is brought to light when the divide is between black and black.
We all know what colourism is, and with that knowledge comes the understanding of how harmful and dangerous such an ideology can be. As a generation that acknowledges change and accountability, we will ultimately be the ones to change ideologies like colourism and hold those who uplift it accountable. Instead of getting into the historical background of colourism, I’d like to focus on ways of correcting colourist views/comments within black communities in a progressive way. Correcting views and opening the eyes of those “stuck in their ways” is obviously easier said than done, especially when aspects of culture are thrown into the mix, but the only way to make a change is to make changes.
As a biracial or “lightskin” woman, it’s my responsibility alongside others to use my voice and privilege to advocate for issues such as colourism, as it not only impacts my life, but the lives of my beautiful, dark skin black brothers and sisters who immediately get shut down when discussing such matters. It’s one thing for me to recognize it and have those hard discussions, but it’s another thing entirely to recognize how colourism deals the cards in my favour and use those cards to give others the upper hand. Whether we like it or not, light-skinned or mixed-race minorities will always have some form of privilege amidst prejudice and racism, so here are some pointers to diminish colourist ideologies within the black community from the eyes of a biracial woman.
Disclaimer: every experience with colourism is different, in no way am I claiming I know everything about colourism or that my experience is more legitimate than anyone else’s. These are tactics that have worked for me personally in situations I experienced personally, there is no singular experience or correction with colourism.
“Be happy you don’t have Black features”
Now, when met with a comment like this it’s important to stop and think before responding. More often than not comments like these immediately trigger an emotional response for good reason, usually anger or frustration, which impacts our ability to respond in a way that pushes for accountability on their part. So in that moment, take a second to readjust your composure, then it’s time to flip the script and make them explain their discrimination. The best way to expose the root of colourism is to ask “why?”, and watch them immediately double back on their comment as they try to explain their way out of the corner they’ve talked their way into. For a comment like this, internalized racism and the overrepresentation of Eurocentric “superiority” play a big part, so try to emphasize those points in a way that explains their existence, why they are wrong, and why the black community needs to discontinue said ideologies. When in doubt, ask why then educate.
*Insert colourist joke here*
In situations like this, it’s very easy to consider laughing it off and moving forward as if it didn’t happen, but sweeping comments like these under the rug is the same reason there used to be such a thing as “whites only” establishments: no one said anything and pretended it wasn’t an issue. So, with that being said, a way to ensure “jokes” like these are uttered less is to ask the teller to explain the joke because you don’t understand. Of course, you understand the colourist and discriminatory undertones of it, but by acting dumb and forcing an explanation, you watch them unravel each prejudice point you can educate them on alongside watching them embarrass themselves, isn’t that fun? It’ll make the situation temporarily awkward and uncomfortable to sit in, aiding in lowering the odds of it happening again in order to avoid such a feeling.
PRO TIP: however you choose to respond, try to either form it as a question or use an inquisitive tone to force your counterpart into explaining and exposing their colourism, then educate them.
“Don’t use AAVE, you’ll sound ghetto”
For those of you that don’t know, AAVE stands for African American Vernacular English, better known as Ebonics or a “blaccent”. The issue with statements like this comes from the negative connotation of AAVE being considered “bad English” or a determinant of one’s intelligence, hence the use of “ghetto” to insinuate that AAVE = unintelligent, gang-related, loud, etc. AAVE is simply a dialect predominantly used by African Americans or African Canadians, not a causation or determinant of stereotypical personality traits depicted in various forms of media to misrepresent the black community. So with comments like these, I’ve learned it’s best to use code-switching to show despite which dialect of English is being used, the statement and its meaning don’t change.
“Straighten your hair, afros are unprofessional”
This one will always make me angry, so I’ve got a lot of experience with how to shut it down completely. The subject of hair within the black community is an interesting one, you’ll have those with the same hair type tell you yours is ugly and should be straightened to look “professional” while someone else will tell you your hair is a crown and should be worn as such (I agree with the latter). A very easy way to cut this conversation short is to ask them where their definition of professionalism comes from. They’ll often list off Caucasian features, successful Caucasians, or narrow it down to a simple “black doesn’t sell”. With that, you ask them what audience they’re trying to sell to, why they believe “white is right”, and why they conform to Eurocentric ideologies instead of uplifting black beauty while being black themselves. Ask them why “black is beautiful” is preached until the doors are closed, why they further perpetuate the harmful concept of black people being lesser than and how they can possibly call themselves friends and allies of the black community while hating a defining characteristic of what it means to be black. More often than not these comments are the product of internalized racism, centuries of being told “the lighter the better”, so don’t beat yourself up if you can’t break it down to them right away. Generational trauma doesn’t fade in a day, but the day you stop is the day it wins.
“Don’t marry a black man, your kids will be too dark”
…There’s a lot to unpack here. One thing I will say is the fear of dark-skinned babies comes from being trained to believe black = bad. That the darker you are, the lesser you are. You’ll constantly hear members of the black community say “marry a white woman to avoid nappy hair and dark skin”, “mixed babies are prettier and hold more potential”, “you have light skin why ruin it by marrying someone dark”. Internalized racism is the culprit yet again, internalized so deep that your dark-skinned family will look you dead in the eyes and tell you “don’t marry a black man”. This one is hard to respond to, especially when coming from family, so an easy way to explain why this statement is harmful to the black community is to, again, ask why. Why do they believe their own skin colour is one that should be watered down through generations until it cannot be detected. Where does the belief that “black is bad” come from? Corner them with their own logic and ask them to explain their way out, to which they will indirectly admit internalized racism and societal standards based on Eurocentric concepts is the fuel to their self-hatred.
“Do you use Fair & Lovely or Bleaching Cream?”
For those that don’t know what Fair & Lovely is, it’s a skin whitening cream often commercialized in South Asia, Africa, and other parts of the world whose people are often darker in complexion. The creams use statements such as “to achieve skin without imperfections” while using shade comparisons to show the “ugly, imperfect, before” of dark skin versus the “beauty, fair and lovely” light skin result. Funny enough, recently after facing backlash for promoting harmful racial stereotypes, Fair & Lovely changed their name to “Glow & Lovely” as if the meaning behind their products has changed. ANYWAYS, if someone asks you this disgusting question as a “compliment”, ask them why you would use it and how it would benefit you if you did. (If you haven’t caught it by now, the best way to educate someone is to ask them why they believe what they believe, watch them fail to explain their way out of it, then educate them).
“You’re the type of black woman I like”
First I’d like to say that any man who approaches you with this statement is a walking red flag, so let me explain why. When a man says this statement or something similar, what he really means is:
- I think dark-skinned women are lesser than
- I believe black is only beautiful when it’s mixed with something lighter
- I further enforce harmful stereotypes of dark-skinned black women but cover them as a compliment so you won’t notice
- I fetishize light-skinned women
- You should take being considered better than a dark-skinned black woman as a compliment
Now, can we see why this statement is not only a huge issue and red flag, but an absolutely disgusting attempt to further divide the black community? And let’s be real here, any man with this mindset probably got his itty bitty heart broken by a beautiful black woman, so in order to boost his ego, he attempts to belittle black women in all forms. How to respond to someone like this you ask? Simply ask him what he means by his “type of black woman” and to explain what “type” you are, the rest will unfold. In this moment, you not only get to uplift dark-skinned black women (which you should always be doing whenever you can), but you get to reject him with an educated response that’ll make him go cry to his boys in the groupchat 😉 S C O R E.
So what now?
With all of this being said, I’d simply like to say that regardless of the tone of your blackness, you are beautiful, worthy and loved, and no one can ever take that away from you no matter how hard they try. Being black or mixed with black is a blessing, a blessing that many are so jealous of that they’ll try to turn your own community against itself. They’ll steal your culture, your food, your clothing, your music, your language, your art, then pin it all on you and your community as if something that comes to you naturally is your fault. Black is beautiful, Black is elegant, Black is intelligent, but it can only be viewed as such when the community learns to reject the teachings of those who disagree. Colourism may be within the black community, or any minority community for that matter, but it isn’t in our hearts. It exists within the mind, and luckily minds can be changed and trained to understand new concepts, which will then be led by the heart that has always known:
Black is Beautiful, and it will always be Beautiful.
Hey! I’m Chevaughn, a third year BA psychology student at Grant MacEwan University. I plan on branching into clinical social work, specializing in mental health, illnesses and wellness. The most important concept to me is self expression, as being in touch with our emotions and communicating them freely brings us closer to ourselves and one another. I often express myself through painting, writing, poetry, dance and music. This concept is also why I joined WEW, to write and hopefully express the feelings and struggles of women like me, as well as for those who don’t often have a voice, platform or the words to fully express themselves.