Colorism: Does this epidemic hurt the black community?
Many Celebrities are opting for lighter skin these days. What are they truly trying to justify. Are they not happy with their skin or is it a deeper issue? Heres a story about about …………………….
When Danielle “Jazz” Noel participated in a video with her ex-boyfriend, Chris, “for fun” she had no idea that less than 24 hours after its premiere she’d be the center of brutal backlash. “Exes Snoop Through Each Other’s Phones,” a video from the website Elite Daily that was likely intended to be a funny, viral-worthy post-Valentine’s Day relationship video, is instead a lesson in cyberbullying and colorism.
“We were both waiting for it to release to have a good laugh, I never expected that kind of response,” Danielle, a 23-year-old full-time pre-med student and researcher at New York’s Columbia University, said via email to BlackDoctor.org. “People were brutal, calling me a “b*tch”, “guerilla”, “the dirt under their fingernails” and likening me to nothing more than a sexual object, because according to them, my face was such an offense that [Chris] could not have possibly seen anything else in me.”
Most times, the comments section of a website or Facebook thread is usually where you either (1) Put up the Michael Jackson meme from “Thriller” of him smiling and munching on popcorn in the movie theater because you’re just there to be entertained by all the shenanigans that are sure to go down there or (2) you avoid them altogether because you know the comments section is rarely ever a safe space if you’re Black and more specifically, a Black woman. Youtube comments are no exception.
Rather than reminisce about their own exes and focus on the actual point of the video, many viewers zeroed in on Danielle. Her dark skin. Full lips. Her nose the way Beyonce likes them. We know racism is alive and well on the Internet, but many of the most hurtful comments came from other Black male viewers.
One definition of colorism describes it as, “a practice of discrimination by which those with lighter skin are treated more favorably than those with darker skin.” In their 2011 documentary, Dark Girls (which you can now watch on Netflix), filmmakers Bill Duke and D. Channsin Berry explored this deep-seated bias within Black culture against women with darker skin.
In response to the documentary, the Association of Black Psychologists wrote:
“Black women have been assaulted—physically and psychologically—for centuries—since we were involuntarily brought to the colonies as enslaved labor (Blackmon, 2009). Whereas Whites were glorified (Fairchild, 1988), portrayals of Black women (and men) were vicious. We were cast as morally and intellectually inferior to White men and women, sexually perverse, and spiritually bankrupt (cf. Fairchild, 1995). Viewed as sub-human, we were victims of physical and sexual abuse, social discrimination, and psychological tyranny.”
The Association of Black Psychologists saw the documentary as an opportunity to use the conversations that were sure to follow as an opportunity to heal, and in similar fashion, Danielle sees a similar opportunity in response to the comments on her video. In her conversation with BlackDoctor.org she talks about growing up with colorism and how she’s working to change the narrative around Black beauty as a photographer.
BlackDoctor.org: What were your experiences with colorism growing up?
Danielle: Growing up, I had a dynamic experience dealing with colorism.
My immediate household greatly embraced all of our hues. I’m the youngest of a few siblings and I probably have the darkest complexion amongst them. However, some of my earliest conscious memories of colorism involved myself and my mom. She used to stand behind me and hold my face while we both looked in the mirror and she would say, you’re beautiful. More beautiful than I; you have eccentric and exotic features that people would love to have. This is how you were made and you should always embrace that.
She knew that by the time I was 7-8, I was already exposed to enough in the media to feel subconscious about my nose, lips, legs, everything. She, my father, and my siblings nurtured my development in a phenomenal way.
My extended family was not so kind to darker hues. They were not cruel to me, but they always made it clear that I need to straighten my hair.
It was also evident to see that some family members definitely had favorites based on complexion.
Darkness was always a subtopic of conversation, even when it didn’t have to be. I remember once, I was walking with my baby nephew and a family member of much lighter complexion waved to him. He didn’t know them well and was shy, so he hid behind my leg. The family member’s response was, “maybe he’s not used to seeing people my complexion.” Such a completely unwarranted and ridiculous statement.
School was hit or miss. In elementary school, I never noticed any issues with race, until one day, around age 8, a kid decided to tell a racist joke. Myself and some other black kids never heard the joke because as they were telling it, they stated “no black kids allowed”. The kids involved were good friends of mine, so initially, I thought, “maybe they’re trying to protect me from getting my feelings hurt” and indeed, I’m sure they were. But that didn’t stop me from excluding myself from all of their future games and endeavors. I pretty much became a loner until a year later when we had to merge schools and received a serge of black students. After elementary school, I circulated between public, private and home schooling and experiences varied. I was home schooled throughout middle school and by high school had developed a strong sense of immunity.