Colorism: As Told By A Dark Skinned Woman
Updated: Aug 29
"You're pretty... for a dark-skinned girl."
That backward "compliment" echoes over and over in my mind as I have flashbacks from my teenage days. I had no idea what colorism was, but I did know that I looked in the mirror and saw inferiority staring back at me. My color, shade, complexion- whatever you want to call it- made me feel uncomfortable and I was feeling the nasty effects of colorism.
I remember examining my skin before I would get into the shower and wondering if by some mysterious way there was another layer, a lighter layer, of skin that lay beneath my dark exterior. If I scrubbed hard enough, would that rid me of my "problem"?
I’d look at my mother’s light complexion and would wonder why I didn’t get that part of her deposited into me.
If you’re reading this and you’re also a dark-skinned woman then- and I’m not saying this is everyone’s truth- you can probably relate to the feelings I had about myself and my skin tone, the backward “compliments” and the harsh sting of colorism in the music you listened to, what you saw on television, dating, within your own family and so on.
And you probably can also relate to the fact that a lot of the things that stung when you were a child or teenager didn’t suddenly wash away as soon as you become older. It took time and some days, for me, it's still taking time. I mean, I’m comfortable enough in my skin now to know that having a darker skin tone doesn’t make me inadequate, undesirable, or undeserving but sometimes I'm triggered by what I continue to see on social media and elsewhere.
So, what is colorism? A formal definition would tell us that it's: A form of prejudice or discrimination in which people are treated differently based on the social meanings attached to their skin color; typically, within the same ethnic or racial group.
Colorism has defined societal standards of beauty, equating lighter skin with being ‘good’ and ‘pretty’ while equating darker skin with being ‘bad’ and ‘ugly.’ Or what’s most common with Black women, equating lighter skin women with being ‘soft’ and ‘kind’ and equating darker skin women with being ‘mean’ and ‘rough’.
These standards of beauty are derived from Eurocentric features and European standards of beauty. Historically, we all know colorism is rooted in slavery. Lighter slaves worked in the house and darker slaves worked in the field. Lighter slaves were closer to whiteness so they were favored more and got certain privileges darker slaves didn’t.
And it reaches beyond physical beauty by showing its face in discrimination within the workplace (skin tone was often the most important factor when applying for work in the 20th century), in courtrooms and holds psychological, relational, and emotional effects. Statistics even show that it has more of an impact on Black women than men.
Black women have been pitted against each other in a battle that serves no purpose because we're on the same side after all.
To me, it often feels as though we [the Black community] have added more and more blocks to the tower of colorism by either acting like it’s not a real issue or by acknowledging it and still choosing to participate in it. How do we break down this ugly tower once and for all? A tower that continues to put a strain on our community.
I’ve gotten to a place where I’ve not only been able to recognize the ways in which I have been affected by colorism, but also acknowledge and understand that my lighter-skinned sisters are not immune to the harshness of colorism. Though our hardships may never look the same or exist within the same capacity, they are still there and are still valid.
I love my skin and everything that comes with it. I can't force anyone that's still color struck to see the value or love my skin the way I do. If you can only appreciate a certain "aesthetic" of dark-skinned women then we don't need you. Respect all of us in every way that we come.
Colorism has never been something that propels the Black community forward in a positive direction, and while it can be said that we have taken steps in the right direction and have broken down walls that were built to divide us, it can also be said there's still dismantling that needs to take place.
Black is beautiful and great in all shades, colors, and complexions.
Thanks for reading, and don't forget... be great! xoxo.