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Over the holiday, a couples photo of Lance Gross, his wife Rebecca and their friends went viral, sparking a widespread debate on colorism. In the photo, Lance and Rebecca sit with three other couples whose mates were light-skinned or non-Black women. Off in the corner, a darker-skinned woman sits by herself. What started as a silly inside joke spiraled into much more.

In an interview with Madame Noire, LaNaadrian Easterling, Psy.D explained how the photo came to be.

“Even though the trip has been an annual tradition for more than 10 years, I started attending about six years ago. With the exception of Lance and Rebecca, most of the people who came on the trip were single. Over time, most of my friends have gotten married and had children, so the trip has evolved from a group of friends, to a family vacation.

Years ago, the actual picture started out with a bunch of single people and evolved into a couple’s photo when people started bringing their significant others. The first year I noticed this, I jokingly told my friends, “Y’all aren’t going to leave me out of the photo just because I didn’t bring a date this year!” So I joined the picture and hugged myself. Every year, we continued to take this silly picture, and I tried to outdo myself from the year before by making a really awkward face or hugging myself. It was all in good fun.”

And Easterling actually isn’t single:
“Yes, I have a boyfriend, and he is an amazing, intelligent and successful Black man. However, at the time of the trip, we had only been dating for about six months, and he had not met my daughter yet. As her mother, I am extremely protective, and I do not introduce her to men that I am dating until the relationship has progressed to a point where I feel like it is appropriate for that introduction to take place. The Big Bear holiday trip was not the time nor place for that initial meeting to occur.”

When asked about the widespread negative reaction to the photo:
“I think it rubbed salt in a very sensitive, deep-rooted, painful and complex wound in our community, especially for Black women. I noticed several recurring themes in the responses: Questions about my relationship status and questions about why I would choose to attend a couple’s trip if I was single; Thoughts about why the “dark girl” was single and why the “light-skinned girls” had a man; Debates about whether or not the other women in the photo were Black or Black enough; Suggestions that my friends and I staged this photo on purpose, with the intention of emphasizing that I was single because I have a darker complexion than the other women.

I want to make it very clear that I 100 percent understand colorism, and many other issues that we face in the Black community. I know that self-hatred, or what I refer to as negative self-identity development, is a serious problem in the Black community that has plagued our families for centuries. The assumption that my complexion is the reason why I may be single and unhappy is an unfair mischaracterization and further perpetuates the colorism that many were upset about themselves. Colorism impacts all people of color on both ends of the spectrum. Many of the women in the photo have been told their entire lives that they aren’t “Black enough” and have been rejected from people in our own community, sometimes facing this issue within their own families. Furthermore, it really bothers me that in 2017, people are still angry with who Black men choose to date. Black men and women have the right to date or marry whoever they want to marry, and to love whoever they want to love. As a Black woman, I couldn’t care less who my brothers choose to marry, whether that be a light-skinned Black woman, a White woman, an Asian woman, a Latina woman, or a man! Who they date or marry doesn’t make me any less beautiful, attractive, or desirable”

You can read the full interview at Madame Noire.

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