I’m notoriously optimistic, but even I have to come off my silver-lined cloud of fluffy hopefulness and accept that some things are just unfortunately never going to go away. Racism is one of them. Colorism is another. They’re like second cousins in the family of sociocultural pariahs, fueled by similar conditioning that has made one side of the spectrum of brown skin more desirable than the other.
I’ve blogged about its effects before, and one commenter suggested that if we just stopped talking about colorism—just knocked it off and stopped it right now—the issue would go away, poof magically into the air like wisps of dandelion dust dancing across a summery breeze. It would be nice if it vanished that prettily and tidily. I agree it’s a played out topic in the arsenal of Black community woes. But that doesn’t mean not talking about it is going to lead to some miraculous, blanketed healing.
A few weeks ago, the national tour of Bill Duke and D. Channsin Berry’s documentary, “Dark Girls,” made its stop here in D.C. I didn’t get a chance to see it—my daughter had dance class and mommy duty trumped anything else on the agenda. But I’ve discussed it at length with ladies who are all too familiar with the subject matter at the heart of the film. They’ve grown up carrying other folks’ baggage about how dark is too dark, shouldering hurtful comments about their unacceptable shade of brown, and questioning themselves because they believed, in the pit of their souls, that life would be better if they had been born able to pass somebody’s paper bag test.
I feel that hurt for them. My best friends are chocolate women who have stories that make my blood boil hot like fire whenever they tell them, painful memories of grandmothers preferring one child over another because of lighter skin or elementary school classmates taunting with names like “African bush boogie.” That’s not including the mess that men and the media have offloaded on them as they matured into beautiful but fragile young ladies. But I can’t help but feel like focusing on just some Black women’s experience with colorism works to reinforce the same divide that colorism creates in the first place.
I didn’t grow up knowing anything about being dark-skinned or light-skinned, at least in my early years. In my mama’s hand-me-down perspective, it didn’t matter if you were café au lait or chocolate deluxe. You was just Black. Out in the world, she argued, nobody was splitting hairs about complexions or shades. She herself is relatively fair, but she grew up slinging fists from being called “nigger” just like the darkest of the kids in her school. Being light-skinned didn’t spare her from any of the head or heartaches of being a Black kid in a grudgingly integrated town in the 1960s so it held no merit or mention in our house.