Dark Skin Vs: Light Skin: The Battle of Colorism In The Black Community

Dark Skin Vs: Light Skin: The Battle of Colorism In The Black Community

Digging deeper to get a better understanding of the issue.

In many different cultures and countries around the world, skin color plays a huge role in the concept of beauty. Lighter skin is often preferable to darker skin. The effects of the African American self-hate toward each other because of one’s skin color is rather eye opening and sad, to say the least. This is a very hot and taboo subject among the African American community. As a culture that came from years of oppression and hatred inflicted by slave owners, forced to think that because of their color, they were inferior, blacks have somehow reverted back to having this sort of mindset which is, in fact, hurting them as a whole. With no thanks to the media and its influence on what is seen as beautiful, Black America is tearing itself apart when it focuses on such a shallow aspect of a person that they can’t control. What a person makes of themselves and all of their aspirations should be what they’re judged on - not their skin color. African Americans should stop using skin color to discriminate against each other because it hinders the progression of the entire black community.

Frequent sightings of dark skinned people portrayed negatively in the media is heavily exploited, while light skinned and non-black individuals are portrayed more positively.These kind of prejudgements negatively impact the African American community and prevents the culture from moving forward. Hundreds of years after slavery, the actions of several people in the black community still show that the culture, as a whole, needs to stop and think about the negative connotations they are associating themselves with. Sometimes people make statements such as, "You're pretty for someone who's dark-skinned " or "pretty for a black girl". Phrases such as the ones above are in no shape or form, a compliment. When someone says the above statement they are implying that because of a darker persons complexion, they’re automatically supposed to be ugly. Subtle jabs like this can take their toll on the self esteem of a person.

Growing up as a child in a place where being ridiculed and made fun of because your skin is of a darker complexion is one thing that most Americans couldn’t even imagine. In an interview with Essence Magazine, actress Viola Davis discusses how, as a child, she too felt the pain of being called an assortment of derogatory terms and shares how after a while, she began to believe that she in fact, was ugly (essence.com). Imagine seeing a little girl who had all of her self confidence ripped from her before she entered the 6th grade. That was the norm for Davis back during her childhood. According to the author of “Exploring the Impact of Skin Tone on Family Dynamics and Race-Related Outcomes,” Evidence suggests that racial socialization helps foster the adjustment of children in the face of race-related adversity and serves to protect youth from negative mental health consequences (Hughes, 2006). What many people fail to realize is that children are still developing and in prepubescent kids especially, criticism such as being called ugly and being told you will amount to nothing, can have a substantial effect on the sanity of someone so young. That child is left with that idea stuck in the back of their head throughout life and this idea can be the base of all of the future problems the person has with their self image as an adult.

The Clark Doll Experiment, administered by Kenneth and Mamie Clark, was an experiment that dealt with race and how children perceive it at a young age. The results that came from it were indeed astonishing yet, heartbreaking to say the least.

In the experiment Clark showed black children between the ages of six and nine two dolls, one white and one black, and then asked these questions in this order:

“Show me the doll that you like best or that you’d like to play with,”

“Show me the doll that is the ‘nice’ doll,”

“Show me the doll that looks ‘bad’,”

“Give me the doll that looks like a white child,”

“Give me the doll that looks like a coloured child,”

“Give me the doll that looks like a Negro child,”

“Give me the doll that looks like you.”

The questionnaire concluded with 44 percent of the black children choosing the white doll as being the doll that looked like them. This study gained a lot of attention because of the fact that young black children were disassociating themselves with their true race. A question that the case leaves lingering in the air is “what made the children choose the white doll instead of the one that was more close to them?”

In American culture, whiteness and more of a European "look" is considered the norm, and as a result, blackness is associated with lesser status. When looking at some celebrities, for instance Nicki Minaj, there has been a drastic change to her appearance since she first came on to the scene. As her popularity arose, she began to seem more increasingly "light". It is clear to the reader that she has altered her appearance. Now why is this you ask? Predictions can be made that in order for her to move up the ladder in the music world, she had to gain crossover appeal by changing her appearance to fit the pop demographic that her managers wanted her to meet. Although she may not agree with some of the ideas her team are putting together to make up her image, it has since propelled her to superstardom.

Even today,some people who are lighter-skinned consider themselves superior to (and more attractive than) darker-skinned Americans. Filmmaker, Spike Lee, commented on this problem in the movie School Daze, where he exposed the problems between light and dark skinned individuals attending a historically black college. One famous scene from the movie involves two groups of women, one group light skinned, and the other dark skinned, as they argue in a hair salon about which group has good hair. Both groups of women use many derogatory words to describe each which shows how ignorance is still apparent even within one’s own race. Because of such ignorance, the movie received a lot of criticism after its premiere. Before Lee shed light on the subject, it was a topic that was swept under the table but because of his influence, the problem was brought to national attention.

A 2006, University of Georgia study showed that employers prefer light skinned black men to dark skinned men, regardless of their qualifications. They found that a "light-skinned male could have only a Bachelor’s degree and typical work experience and still be preferred over a dark-skinned male with an MBA and past managerial positions"(Harrison 2006). On the other hand, however, in the corporate world, it is assumed that ”relative to their lighter-skinned counterparts, darker skinned Blacks have lower levels of education, income, and job status” (Turner 1995). Since this stereotype is in place, “Corporate America” can be seen as nothing more than an imagination in the eyes of a dark person, as if they know that the job wouldn’t be inviting to people such as them. So how did black culture become so infused with self hatred? Dark skinned slaves working in the field hated the light skin slaves working in the master's house because of the fact that he chose to “spoil” their lighter counterparts. According to “Brotherman: The Odyssey of Black Men in America - an Anthology,” One of the most popular methods of teaching this divisive behavior was created by Willie Lynch, a British slave owner in the West Indies, who came to United States to advise American slave owners how to keep their slaves restrained. The darker slaves were forced to work in the fields and received no privileges. This is what began the division within the black community. As history shows, although light skinned blacks were of a higher rank than their black counterparts, they still received scraps at the end of the day (Boyd). This idea is still intact to this day when lighter skinned individuals seem to feel more inferior to darker toned people, but when you ask a Caucasian, or anyone outside of the African American race, what the light skinned individuals would be listed under its always the same response. Black. After slavery, educational institutions, clubs and other activities were reserved only for light skinned black people. In some instances, only those who were lighter than a brown paper bag (paper bag test) would be considered light enough to attend a college or an exclusive club (Boyd).

Sometimes magazines will lighten the skin of black women, just as L'oreal lightened Beyonce's Skin in a controversial makeup ad that made her appear as if she were, indeed, white. The idea of a more eurocentric look comes in to play again as we dig more into America’s perception of western beauty. Characteristics of Eurocentric beauty include: white skin, a narrow nose, blonde or brown long straight hair, and thin lips. For some reason, if you don’t fulfill these beauty standards, you are considered to be less attractive. Many questions can be raised because of this; who’s the decider of what qualifies as beautiful? As cliched as it may sound, beauty is truly in the eyes of the beholder, despite what some people may think.

For some, the views and the opinions of others are too much to bare and consider procedures and different cosmetic products as a way to achieve the ever popular “eurocentric” look that they aspire to have. Although this may sound fine and dandy, the procedures and products bring more risks than they do good. Skin bleaching creams have become hot commodity in the black market beauty world. In a world where the only thing that is seen as beautiful is light skin, can others be to blame for the society that they are a product of? These toxic creams strip the skin of its melanin. Although the person achieves the look they intended to reach, their skin is now weak because of the components said products are composed of. On the other hand, everyone is entitled to self happiness, but the real question is are they ready to face all of the possible repercussions of skin bleaching? That is left for the person to decide.

This is a topic that won’t ever die because people refuse to stop being ignorant, which is evident by Twitter hashtags like #teamlightskin or #teamdarkskin, where people feud and try to prove who’s better based on skin color. Even when various YouTube searches on the topic are pulled up, thousands of results of people - some who try to diffuse the topic, while others add their foolish input. The fact that this topic still remains relevant is ridiculous.

According to “The Skin Color Paradox and the American Racial Order,” Dark-skin discrimination occurs within as well as across races (Turner). This idea is known to be true in an assortment of different cultures, most notably in the caste system set in India. The caste system is in place to form a structured society for the people of India based on one’s skin color. The lighter a person is, the more power that person holds, while the darker they are makes them more prone to living a harder life. Although life shouldn’t be that way for any human being, the darker toned Indians, often called the “untouchables,” are subject to hard labor throughout their lives.

To conclude, in many different cultures and countries around the world, skin color plays a huge role in the concept of beauty. Although light skin may be more preferable, those with darker skin still find their way in society. No matter what adversity they may have faced getting there, they eventually find solace in knowing that they’re on a road to success.The African American community must join together to show that they are more than just a skin, they are people. Although this may be a rather taboo subject, it needs to be brought to the forefront so it can finally be put to rest. The culture must move past those years of oppression and look to the future and what it has to offer. If the culture continues it current ways, then the oppression will always be there; the cycle must stop and the time has been long overdue. Even though the media has made steps in the right direction to show darker African Americans in a better light, the process must be stepped up a couple of notches to get real results. To reiterate, the color of the skin that you were born with should be just that. What a person makes of themselves and all of their aspirations should be what they’re judged on, not their skin color. It doesn’t matter where an African American falls on the spectrum of color because at the end of the day, they’re still black.

Annotated Bibliography:

Hochschild JL, Weaver V. The Skin Color Paradox and the American Racial Order. Social

Forces. 2007;86(2):643-670. Scholarly article which focuses on African Americans role in society. The article speaks on poverty, racial profiling, and the mental effect all of these can contribute to the sanity of a person.Presents a lot of reliable data and is an easy read.

BlackYouthPrjoect. "Viola Davis: ‘I Have Never Felt Pretty’." Black Youth Project.Oct.-Nov.

2013. Web. 18 Nov. 2013.Viola Davis, Award winning actress discusses how she too, suffered from self esteem issues growing up in a predominantly white area as child. The interview gets an in depth look into her childhood as she talks about growing up in an abusive setting and even goes as far to say that because she was called ugly often, she ended up embracing the term.This article is an interesting and definitely worthwhile read.

Starr, Terrell J. "Light Skinned Blacks Preferred Over Dark-Skinned Ones." The Beer Barrel. 21

Dec. 2011. Web. 21 Nov. 2013. Article that speaks on how lighter africans are preferred over darker african americans in the business field.

Exploring the impact of skin tone on family dynamics and race-related outcomes.

Landor, Antoinette M.; Simons, Leslie Gordon; Simons, Ronald L.; Brody, Gene H.;

Bryant,Chalandra M.; Gibbons, Frederick X.; Granberg, Ellen M.; Melby, Janet N.Journal of Family Psychology, Vol 27(5), Oct 2013, Article which speaks on the self esteem of African americans Following their turbulent history.Speaks on westernized perceptions and how African Americans with self esteem strive to imitate said westernized look.

Boyd, Herb, Robert L. Allen, and Tom Feelings. Brotherman: The Odyssey of Black Men in america. New York: One World, 1995. Print. The article deals with Black men and how they have gotten a bad reputation because of past run ins the community has had with authority in the past. Due to those past discrepancies, Black men are always skeptical of the police department.

School Daze. Dir. Spike Lee. Columbia Pictures, 1988. DVD.

This movie sheds light on an emerging epidemic at the time. The effects of separating light individuals from dark ones found to be rather explosive to say the least. The movie focused on this subject and received mixed reactions From it audience due to some of the rather racist scenes throughout the film.The film has since become a cult favorite now that the issue of light skin vs. dark skin in the African American community has been publicized.

"The Clark Doll Experiment." Abagond. N.p., 29 May 2009. Web. 21 Nov. 2013.

Scholarly article that focused on African American children and how they felt about being black during the civil rights movement. The experiment called for two dolls, one black , and the other white and the child is asked an assortment of questions regarding which doll is better. The end result is what made the case so explosive and gained notoriety because of the results they received.

Cover Image Credit: http://www.brooklynmuseum.org/exhibitions/diverse_works/

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