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The Issue of Colorism:
Dark-Skinned Girls, Light-Skinned Girls
By Akilah Holder, BA, MA
April 24, 2012 - trinidadexpress.com
For the most part of my life, I have had to deal with the drama of being stereotyped from the moment I step into a room because of my light-brown complexion. The animosity directed my way is usually intensified by the length of my hair and my mannerisms. And most of this animosity comes from my own sex, the darker-skinned of my own sex. This animosity seems to be indicative of and to be a result of colorism, defined as a conscious or unconscious state of prejudice that may be experienced by both blacks and whites so that they label as less attractive and intelligent individuals of a darker complexion, particularly, when it comes to black women, as explicated by research editor for the New York Times Magazine Renee Michael in her article Dark Times for Dark Girls on a recent documentary Dark Girls. Colorism, whether acknowledged or not, is present in Trinidad and Tobago. Colorism has also been referred to as "the crazy aunt in the attic of racism" by Washington Post staff writer, DeNeen L Brown. This article looks at the roots of colorism and how it has impacted the interaction of dark-skinned women with light-skinned women and at this interaction as an indicator of the low self-esteem of many dark-skinned women.
According to Brown in her article, The Legacy of Colorism Reflects Wounds of Racism That Are More Than Skin-Deep, "Colorism began during slavery when darker-skinned blacks were relegated to field work and lighter-skinned blacks, often the children of slave masters, were given housework. For years after, many blacks...internalised the declaration that the lighter one was the better one." In other words, that whites allowed those of a lighter complexion certain privileges and denied those of a darker complexion those privileges, created in the minds of blacks the notion that "light" is better. In addition, the selling of lighter-skinned women into prostitution or to slave masters to become their mistresses helped to concretise the idea that light skin is better (http://www.history.com/videos/origins-of-slavery#origins-of-slavery). It can be argued safely, that while racism instilled in blacks more generally a feeling and a sense of inferiority, blacks of a darker complexion suffered a "double-whammy" as they had to contend with prejudice not only from whites but also from blacks; darker-skinned women in particular have felt the sting of colorism. Michael noted in her article an expression popular in the African-American community, "If you are light, you are all right. If you are brown, you can stick around. If you are black, get back," that though not necessarily articulated here, exists here.
This insecurity is seen, in part, in their interaction with black women of lighter complexions; their insecurities and feelings of inferiority are seen in their hostility towards women of a lighter complexion. I am a victim of that hostility and have discovered in the course of doing this article, that there are other light-skinned women like myself who have undergone the same thing. In fact, I have conducted a few interviews to support my point.* Kelly-Ann Jacobs has lamented that whenever issuing orders at work she is met with resistance from her dark-skinned female subordinates because of her light skin tone. Jacobs has admitted that initially, she was unaware of the racial tension at play until another co-worker had pulled her aside and explained to her that her light complexion antagonises her subordinates; to them, she is arrogant, "feel she white" and "feel she dey". Jacobs' mannerisms worsen the situation. Her sister has had similar experiences. On one occasion, while at a restaurant, she became aware of a dark-skinned woman cursing and it took her some time before she had realised that the woman was "dropping words" for her: "because dey fair-skinned and could dress, she feel she in sumting.'" She's even been accused of trying to be white because she dyes her hair frequently. Interestingly, a black male friend of mine has lamented in one of our recent conversations, that most definitely, there is tension between women of a darker-complexion and those of a lighter complexion, for he has noted it in their interactions with each other in his neighbourhood.
Conclusively, colorism exists here in Trinidad and Tobago. This sub-category of racism results in feelings of insecurity in many dark-skinned women which influences their behaviour towards black women of a lighter complexion (again, this being, perhaps, just one symptom of their insecurities as a result of colorism). However, it is a state of mind that many dark-skinned women must overcome*.
Author's Note: Sandra "Singing Sandra" Des Vignes-Millington sang in 2009 about the "ghetto of the mind." Oftentimes, as human beings, we place limitations on ourselves with our thinking. Another human being should not have to apologise for how they look, simply because another fails to be content with his/herself; for in the end, the other person is not the problem, but the individual who is not contented. The trick is to be ok with "you".
*Pseudonyms have been used to protect the identity of those interviewed.
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