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by Rhonda Ekwunoh
I have a Bachelor's degree in Political Science with minors in pre-law and psychology. I graduated Magna Cum Laude from...

Recently, my English class has completed reading Their Eyes were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. In the book, there is a character named Mrs. Turner who is light skinned. She hates darker skinned black people and despises the fact that she has to be associated with them. During a class discussion, we talked about this scene. A white girl in my class sat confused as to why a black person would hate another black person because of a different skin tone. She said, "I watched an episode of Tyra and there was this light-skinned black man on there talking about how he couldn't trust dark-skinned black people . . . and I'm just confused as to why he would dislike dark-skinned black people instead of them being united." I am just as confused as her honestly, but I told her about the history of colorism and the separation of the field nigga and the house nigga that dates back to slavery. Yes SLAVERY. Crazy how we are still dealing with the same issues of our ancestors.

 

 

So, As the title of this blog post suggests, I will be talking about the disease of colorism that has rapidly spread throughout the African-American community and it's impact on the black community, specifically young black women like myself. WARNING: this post will be somewhat long!  

 

 What is colorism?

As defined by Wikipedia (I know not a good source, but this ain't no academic paper), colorism is discrimination based on skin color. It is a form of prejudice or discrimination in which human beings are treated differently based on the social meanings attached to skin color.

 

History of Colorism:

My uncle Pewee was the first person to ever tell me about Willie Lynch. So now I'm going to tell you all about Mr. Willie Lynch. Once upon a time, there was this lovely man by the name of Willie Lynch. Lynch was a British slave-owner in the West Indies. He was invited to the colony of Virginia around 1712 to tell slave owners here in America about how to basically conduct slavery. His letter to the slave owners was called "The Making of a Slave." (full link here: http://www.finalcall.com/artman/publish/Perspectives_1/Willie_Lynch_letter_The_Making_of_a_Slave.shtml). I will just point out some of things in his letter that deal with the topic at hand. He basically starts out by telling the slave owners that he has the perfect method for controlling their black slaves for 300 hundred years. He says that the slave owners must pit the young slave against the old slave (and vice versa), the female slave against the male slave (and vice versa), as well as the LIGHT SKIN slave against the DARK SKIN slave (and vice versa).

 

So then slave owners treated light skin slaves and dark skin slaves different. "House niggers" (light skin slaves) were permitted to do "easier" tasks, while the "field niggers" (dark skin slaves) were forced to do "harder" tasks like working out in the cotton fields all day.

 

In the 20th and 21st centuries, the "brown paper bag test" was used by some African American fraternities and sororities. Those who were darker than a brown paper bag would not be admitted into certain sororities and fraternities.  

 

Hence comes the birth of colorism that has inflicted the black community. (I realize that colorism impacts other cultures, but I am focusing on colorism in the black community).

 

The Media and Colorism

The media plays a huge role in promoting colorism, specifically the hip hop/rap culture. (Yes colorism is seen in movies, advertisements, etc. but I don't want this post to be a billion pages long and rap lyrics have had a direct impact on me personally).

 

Now, I have never heard any rap song that just flat out says, "Dark skinned girls are ugly." However, rappers send this message when they rap lyrics like "Light skin is the right skin" (Consequence from LHHNY) or when dark skinned girls are completely absent from their music videos. Here are some other lyrics like this one:

 

1. "I like a long haired, thick redbone . . ." - Every Girl; Lil Wayne

2. “Robin jeans with the wings/Yellow bone on my team trafficking them ya-means” - Same Time; Future

3. “We speeding on the 405 passing Westchester/You know the light–skin girls in all the little dresses, good Lord” -Kendrick Lamar, “Art of Peer Pressure”

4. “Automatic start, nigga where the trees at?/Red bone *&$#@ like Alicia, nigga where the keys at?” Game, "All I Know” Feat. Luu Breeze

5. "Light-skinned chick, first flight from Poland"- Crew Love; Drake


(http://www.vibe.com/photo-gallery/20-light-skin-dark-skin-references-rap)


There are tons more, I just randomly chose to reference these lyrics to make my point. This colorism in the rap culture has an impact. Granted, girls shouldn't look to rappers for validation but at the same time, it is hard not to pay attention to these kind of lyrics when your favorite genre of music is rap and your favorite rapper is subliminally telling you that you are only desirable if you are lighter-skinned. Shoot, I would love to put some rap lyrics as captions on my Instagram pics that talk about my beautiful skin tone, but I can't find any except for like that one by Fabolous "Skin-tone like Hershey, body Lord have mercy." Why can't rappers promote black beauty in general without excluding certain skin tones? Hmmmm . . .


My Life Impacted by Colorism?

Colorism is a topic that I am so passionate about. Like I would love to hold workshops and seminars on this topic in hopes of eliminating it from the black community, because it is just so toxic.


The picture at the top of this post is of me and my younger sister, Tracey. Clearly, I am dark skinned and she is light skinned. Like she is lighter than both of my parents. Now despite our different skin tones, we look almost exactly alike and we both cute.


I have struggled with low self esteem for years. And part of the reason is because I received messages almost all of my life that dark skin is ugly and it is virtually impossible to be pretty and dark skinned. The struggle was so real for me yall. Like I was super depressed all the time and I honestly hated being alive. I hated myself. I would pray and ask God to make me light skinned. I wanted to experience what it would be like to be beautiful. And I often became angry with God for giving me the "curse" of being dark skinned. I was in such a horrible place.


When I was in like 8th grade, I still remember this one kid who made a joke about my skin. The teacher turned off the lights in our classroom, and he goes, "where did Rhonda go?" and even recently this guy made a "joke" and said to me, "You're too dark." (This dude is like super light-skinned btw) I just smiled and looked down at my phone pretending like I didn't care. But I got to my room and his comment lingered in my head. And it partly motivated me to actually stop being lazy and write this blog post.


I also went to a high school where 99.3857936% of the black dudes were only attracted to light skinned girls. (I hated high school btw). And they would literally say that they only liked light skinned girls and one kid even referred to one dark skinned girl as "darkie." *moment of silence for his stupidity* Now, granted none of these dudes that even had these kind of standards were even remotely attractive (maybe like one or two out a billion were somewhat cute), but it still hurt to hear guys who could be your brother tell you that you are basically just the ugliest thing. Which everyone is entitled to their preferences now, but does this mean that you have to put another group of people down in order to express that preference? hmmmm . . .


I also always hear "you're a beautiful chocolate woman" *gag* or some form of that comment. That's like a backwards compliment for me. Like so I guess I just can't be beautiful. Why can't I just be beautiful for being beautiful? Why is it that I have to be beautiful for being a dark skin girl? And please stop comparing me to chocolate please, I might just cut my ears off if I hear it again.


I still struggle every single day to find the beauty of me but I am learning that God made me exactly how I am supposed to be. I went through that hard time in my life in order to help other girls like myself. And this is one of my life missions.


What now?

I encourage my people, my beautiful black people to love one another. We need to be united. We all face the same struggles, we don't need something as stupid as skin tone differences to divide our race. 


I think it is also important to educate our people as well as other races on this topic. Let's stop ignoring it and pretending like colorism doesn't exist. When, clearly, it does! This is something that impacts all people.


I know this blog post focused on how dark skinned people/women are disadvantaged by colorism, but I am dark skinned. I can only tell you what I've gone through being dark skinned. I know that light skinned people face discrimination as well, hence the Drake jokes or the light skinned dudes are soft jokes.


Also, if you haven't already, there is a wonderful documentary called "Dark Girls," which talks about colorism. I could relate so much to some of the women in this documentary. It is truly moving.


Thank you,

Rhonda <3

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