Colorism is tricky because it masks itself in the language of choice. “I like to date light skinned girls,” one guy said. Though really it is a preference derived from social pressure. Whiteness dominates and is seen as the most powerful, most influential, most useful, and for as long as this holds, aspirations of beauty will flow in its direction. Colorism is something people of colour do to themselves (though not by themselves) because the need for acceptance can be so overwhelming.
Unfortunately, I understand why — plagued by a world that praises lighter skin — people burn lightening chemicals into their skin. Living in a world that routinely excludes you is difficult. It is tough to have to remind yourself that contrary to popular understanding, you exist, you matter. It doesn’t surprise me when people turn on their blackness.
“When I get lighter, I’ll apply for a better job,” one woman said.
“We’re relieved he’s not come out as dark as the rest of the family,” I’ve heard. And I understand. Deflection can be a survival mechanism.
While I wear my blackness with pride in many ways, I have a difficult relationship with it aesthetically. I am a dark skinned black woman, negatively visible or invisible, defensive and defenseless.
In the morning mirror I stretch my face into a mask of exaggerated ugliness; I make a snout of my nose, fold my lips awkwardly, suck the air out of my cheeks. I imagine myself dipped in a rainbow of absurd colours — red and orange and pink and green.
“You are fine as you are,” I tell myself, never fully rid of doubts that I would look better if I were somehow different (I hate admitting that).
Even though I understand how tenuous commercial representation is, I play the game; it is a numbers game: two dark skinned ladies on posters in my tube carriage; zero in the glossy magazine I pick up on the way home from work; one in a mid-evening television advert for car insurance. I tally up the numbers at the end of the day. Sadly, I never get past 5, but I always count. I am always annoyed with myself for counting.