Wouldn't they be surprised when one day I woke out of my black ugly dream, and my real hair, which was long and blond, would take the place of the kinky mass Momma wouldn't let me straighten? My light-blue eyes would hypnotize them ...
- I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou.
On TV and in magazines, you seldom see a dark-skinned black person. Our culture is still being led to believe that having lighter skin somehow makes you a better person.
Black people with lighter skin get treated better; I believe this discrepancy stems from the days of slavery. In general, dark-skinned blacks labored in the fields while light-skinned blacks worked indoors. Slave owners and even slaves gave lighter-skinned blacks more respect. This segregation of shades within the same race is a serious problem.
Colorism has always been an issue for the black community. In the past, some black social clubs and societies only allowed those who had light skin. "People say that in the early days at Spelman College (an historically black women' s college) young women were not admitted if they were darker than a paper bag," said one graduate.
Today, colorism is reinforced by black children having white G.I. Joes and Barbie dolls with blond hair and blue eyes. It is also strengthened by the absence of dark-skinned black people on TV and in magazines. What happened to "Black is Beautiful"? The black race is made up of many shades, so how can anyone say one is better than another?
Our society has taught us not to accept differences. One senior I know said, "My grandfather accepts me, while he treats my sister as if she doesn't exist because she is darker." I asked a number of my classmates what a beautiful black woman looks like, and most of them gave the obvious answers: Halle Berry and Vanessa Williams.
But one response surprised me. When I asked one classmate, she said she thought there was not just one. She named Lauryn Hill, Jada Pinkett Smith and Erykah Badu, who are all very different, but each has something that makes her beautiful. She also mentioned her deceased friend, Monique: "Monique was beautiful because she was smart, always kept herself together and did not let her looks get to her."
I also asked my classmates how they felt about seeing primarily light-skinned black women in music videos. They all gave the same answer: "It is messed up, but what can I do?" Most were angry about how dark-skinned black women are portrayed in music videos: "When they do show dark-skinned girls, they are greased up...." These images of dark- and light-skinned black women affect people differently. However, it is clear that the absence of beautiful dark-skinned women and the flood of images of light-skinned women increases self-hatred and division. The self-hatred comes in many forms; when I was in middle school, a black girl told me she only wanted to marry a white man so her children would have light skin and white features. A junior admits her parents don't approve of her boyfriend because of his color.
"My boyfriend and I are both Dominican, but he is darker than me. My mother thinks that since he's darker, if we got married and had children, they'd have bad hair."
This division exists in our communities, schools and even families. It's ridiculous that we as black people do the very thing to each other that was done to us. Instead of dividing, we need to unite to address more important issues in the black community, like homelessness, drugs, violence, HIV/AIDS and poverty. We need to build stronger communities and help instead of judge each other. We all deal with some sort of racism daily - whether it's racial profiling or an old lady clutching her bag tighter in an elevator. We shouldn't discriminate against each other. More attention needs to be paid to a person's character rather than the shade of his or her skin.
The only way for change is making your voice heard. You are the consumer who buys albums and purchases magazines. If you don't like what you see, speak out, write letters, send emails. Make your voice heard.