A strange word. A Childish sounding word. A problem that is ingrained in society. So now you’re probably wondering what even is colourism?
Prejudice or discrimination against individuals with a dark skin tone, typically among people of the same ethnic or racial group.
Originally written in February 2021
The term is usually brushed away as something small and insignificant but the point of this post isn’t to try and convince you if colourism is real or not. It’s about me sharing my experience.
There are over two hundred countries in the world and most have their own standard of beauty. But historical events of the past have inflicted us.
An example of this is in the slave trade where lighter skinned workers were allowed to work in the masters house and the dark skinned workers were forced to slave away in the burning sun.
Now in the 21st century it’s not that obvious but it certainly still exists. In the modern world it’s more invisible that affects most ethnic minority groups.
So now I'll begin my story...
My very first experience was just after nursery. It was primary school and I was relatively still in my early years. It was a typical British day (weather wise which is never a good thing) the school bells rang for break. One of the girls thought it would be a brilliant idea to line us up. Well in fact segregate us based on our skin tones. Me being the only black girl you can tell how this is going to go.
All the white girls huddled up in a group happy that they weren’t left out of the little game called discrimination. But there was one girl who had nowhere to go and it wasn’t me. I’ll call her X.
She was biracial; black and white and with such a distinct grouping X had to choose. I remember seeing the look of confusion in her eyes and I remember wanting to ask her to stay. Luckily, the ringleader of the game happily plucked her out and said that X is closest to them. That when she goes to Ibiza and gets her tan they practically look identical. So I stood there because what was I supposed to do?
The ringleader certainly was not a nice person but as we grow we evolve.
However, I cast my judgement on the parents. Why and where at such a young age did your child learn to be racist? If any parents are reading this they need to be very aware of the ideas, language and content that is being shown to their children.
Believe it or not your child will go out into the world even if it’s a little town there is a high chance there will be ethnic minorities.We aren’t just floating somewhere in the middle of nowhere waiting to be colonised.
For me the most painful thing was hearing these privileged unaware white girls come back from their holidays. Showing off their newly tanned skin and having the gut to shove their arms in my face and boast how ‘brown’ they were.
Racism of course still continued X even though she was Mildly accepted she was still taunted and still made to feel as if she was different.
A few other moments Included of me being asked questions
“Why is your skin brown?”
Or being used as an experiment, having my hair pulled and tugged as if I were some animal in a Zoo. Yes, I understand the meaning of curiosity but the majority of black people don’t go up and say
“I’ve never seen white people let me pull their hair”. Because society as a whole has become so used to whiteness and Eurocentric features. It’s considered ‘normal’ whatever normal is.
My other experience is harder to detect. The colourism was not direct or overt but hidden in the things that people would say and how they would behave.
There was this trend in my school; it’s honestly disgusting to say that discrimination is a trend but anyways. The trend came directly from social media, a whole light skin Vs Darkskin war all of it being placed under ‘preferences’ and not an act of dividing a community that has already been divided. But who am I kidding?
There is no real black community in the UK.
However, it isn't as simple as light and dark or black and white. There is a certain phenotype that is deemed acceptable and that is on the basis of white Eurocentric beauty standards.
Ie Thin nose, loose curls , straight hair...
So inevitably a hierarchy formed.
Here are some points before I go deeper.
Black boys with darker skin and an African phenotype were seen as popular trendsetters and many mimicked the London rapper persona. Although, many of the white males tried to copy their style the black boys still felt uncomfortable in their blackness stemming from a sense of self hate and staying quiet on the racism deep rooted within the school.
Biracial males were seen as more Feminine although they weren’t ridiculed for it. People seemed to attach attractiveness, beauty and handsomeness to being light skinned and this applies to both boys and girls.
And of course just like in this society. The white boys and girls pick and choose what they deemed acceptable which was too black Meaning ‘hood aggressive’ or qualities that they could mimic and uphold as being cool. Disclaimer. Not everyone acts this way and not saying that all white people are like this if you are triggered by my own experience and feel a sense of guilt then leave.
Dark Skin girls were seen as untouchable not in a way that they were ugly or unattractive. No. It’s just more acceptable to publicly praise European features or people who are leaning closer towards it.
There was a person that I was 'acquainted' with not someone I would like to be around ever again. This person who I was 'acquainted' with fit these desired features of a whitewashed society.
We’ll call them H.
White boys saw them as someone who would be able to spice up their life gossiping to their friends about unfavourable things (hopefully you know what I mean). Even biracial people who didn’t fit the phenotype of light skin, refined features and loose curls. They were used as the bridge between whiteness and black culture, what I call ‘acceptable black’ the term explains it all for you. We see it all the time in the media, dark skin girls (of all ethnicities) being replaced by lighter skinned actors or actresses. We saw that with Storm in Marvel, we saw it in many YA book adaptations; an example is the sun is also a star. The colourism was obvious.
But back to my experience. H would recognise the disparity between us; how people would make insulting remarks about my hair. How people would ridicule me for simply being different. Being a dark skin girl in a kindly diverse school makes no difference if the culture within is corrupt. I didn’t/ don’t have the stereotypical black body wide hips, big chest and big bum. The idea of a quiet black girl didn’t seem to fit any of the labels that were provided. I was alienated. Because who is anyone without a label?
You’re probably wondering where H was in all of this. Well I’m sure the racists will be pleased to know that she saw it all as a compliment being seen as an exotic being seen as an object of desire with a price on her head. For acceptance being with someone like her was acceptable; the black boys would have ‘the best of both worlds’. Everyone in between would be known for being friends with the pretty girl. An extra sticker on their blazers.
“But that’s not me”
“Exactly ” H replied with a smug look on her face.
It doesn’t sound real I didn’t think it was but the taunting still continued the demeaning questions still were asked and I didn’t have an answer. People boast about being unique and different. I can guarantee you they are the most mediocre and bland people on the planet.
Someone who is different wouldn’t shove it in your face. They just are and they just exist. That's all I tried to do anyway. H even believed that I was making up the word colourism. It seems as if when privilege has its benefits people seem to forget reality. H themsevles used the angry black woman stereotype to justify how I was treated.
A main theme with the pupils was that if you were docile and didn’t speak out against racism then you were 'quiet'. If you spoke out against the injustices either in a loud or intellectual manner as a black girl I stood the chance of being labelled as aggressive. Just like many other darker toned black girls in the school.
I was typically told that I wouldn't be able to form any romantic ties with anyone who is mixed race or lighter skinned because the main ethos was that dark skinned girls wouldn't be able to be paired with the 'desirable' option. I also noticed that other minorities were usually afraid of getting tanned or being near the sun while white counterparts were boasting about how they were now “more black” while pushing forward their colourist and otherwise offensive views.
What is the problem with all of this?
Well being told that you're not desirable because of the tone of your skin is one thing but then seeing people picking and choosing what part and type of blackness is worthy then this is clearly a problem. With being surrounded by your own ‘people’ (so to speak) expressing their own disdain for the colour of their skin then hearing comments such as
“I could never be with a darkskin”
I began to wonder why people treated me differently. I wondered what was the problem? Why did everyone (even other black girls) find the need to nit pick pull apart who I am and the way I looked?
H’s response was and I quote “the only way you can be desired/liked is by straightening your hair and wearing braids all the time”
How did you step above your oppressors?
I know that other people have experienced colourism so hopefully this will help them overcome their feelings of ‘worthlessness’.
I blocked out the toxic voices. Regardless of the race of the person having these colourist views I had to separate them from myself. Insecurities of another doesn’t mean they have to be applied to you.
Stop watching comparative videos. Yes, hearing these comments in real life will make you want to think what the rest of the world thinks too. Around the time when I was experiencing colourism I watched rating videos light skin Vs dark skin you get the picture. These videos are shallow and superficial and have no depth.
Do. Not. Watch.
Start looking up to people who are similar to you. No you do not have to look identical but people who you have more relatability to you makes you feel like you can be just like them and more. Slow down those unrealistic standards and focus on the beauty inside and outside of you.
The world seems small sometimes but it’s actually pretty big. Not everyone will fetishise you for your loose curls or lighter skin. Not everyone will deem you ‘unattractive’ for having darker toned skin remember that you are beautiful!
To conclude this post, I would like to add that no matter how many years ago, months, hours or minutes a bad experience occurred it doesn't mean that you should pretend it never happened. That's how criminals get away with their crimes, that's how people end up losing themselves and possibly their own lives because they bowed to their oppressors.
It is not the oppressors job to tell you how you process your feelings.
It is up to you my love.
But let me tell you something. Trauma doesn't just magically disappear , for some the effects are lethal because they weren't willing to identify with who, why and where the problem stemmed from.
As humans we forgot how our words are powerful. We forget how words enforced with action can leave traces over people's mind. So remember that, how you talk and treat people and most importantly how you see yourself.
Caring for others isn't being a snowflake, it's doing the bare minimum.
By C Conscious thoughts