Light vs Dark | The Politics of Colourism

A few weeks back whilst speaking at a few schools and colleges some of the students caught sight of my wife. What shocked me from a number of the black students was their reference to my wife being “A lighty” or “ a cute lighty”. For those who have not seen her she is lighter skinned than I. A caramel shade whereas I am more mahogany. From the outside looking in it may not seem like a big deal but that colourism is still a big issue within the African and Caribbean diaspora is still a shame. It’s almost like slavery, at least on a mental level, has not quite gone away.

Checking out social media it is not rare to see a whole generation of young people engaging in the folly that is team light vs team dark when promoting social events or providing social commentary on beauty.

Interestingly the concept of colourism is not peculiar to blacks. A number of my friends from south asian and south east asian families have also told me of the stories where they are encouraged not to “stay in the sun” or to “marry a pretty fair skinned girl/guy” or to avoid the darker ones in their community. Or for those who I know in entertainment, to ensure they push out an imagery where their skin is so lightened that they are almost a different person when actually seen in the light of day.

Within mainstream white society there is also a heck of a lot pot pressure for darker haired white girls to dye their hair blonde or a lighter shade. Sometimes I wonder why some will go through those extraordinary lengths (and embarrassing regrowth) to aspire to such a singular model of beauty. Or even more challenging is the amount of ladies who compliment mixed race girls as their ideal because they are “the perfect brown” and so pretty!

I hope in many ways my own girls will never be ashamed of the colour of their skin. So far I believe our parenting has held out to encourage them to never be ashamed of the hues their parents gave them. To never have to focus on colourism whether on a professional level or a social level.

The beauty and variety of colours and shades that we bring inout communities should be worn as a badge of honour. That there are systems of thinking both culturally and within mainstream media that influence people to think that they are not enough is quite shocking. That there are those who will go to extreme lengths for tanning to bleaching, dyeing to false hair so as to stave off those statements breaks my heart.

Of course we should never have to be colour blind, but at the same time neither should our colours blind us to the dangers of seeing them as inferior or superior to others.

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