You are on page 1of 4

Got Melanin?

he Colorism Chronicles

Parents See Eects of Colorism in the Media

Got Melanin? h e Colorism Chronicles Parents See E ff ects of Colorism in the Media

Ask Crystal, Clear of Colorism

Dear Crystal,

Recently, my 14 year-old daughter's behavior has starting to change. We recently moved from a school district that is very diverse to one that is predomi- nantly white. She has always been very active and loved outside activities like playing basketball, sot- ball and running with her brothers. She was the presi- dent of the Debate team and a member of the Track team at her previous school but has no desire of get- ting involved at this new one. We also noticed a change in her media preference. As a cultured family, we love all kinds of music and television shows. My daughter would rather watch TV shows that are pop- ular with her new friends such as Keeping Up With the Kardashians, Pretty Little Liars and Grey's Anatomy. Its like she studies them as much as her schoolwork. She hates her wardrobe and asks for a certain brand of clothes. Many of the brands are out of our price range; and she knows that. I got very worried when she asked to comb out or cut her dreadlocks that we've been growing since she had a full head of hair. She told us, "my hair would be like so long. Longer than so many other darkskinned girls or short like Halle Berry!"

Ater a few months of observing, my wife and I decid- ed to ask if she was comfortable with the move. She let us know that she's been bullied since the first day

at

her

new school. She told

us

that all

the other

African American girls at her school are "lightskinned", tall, skinny and have "good hair". They've called her names like "tarbaby", "darky" and sometimes when she walks by they call her "the black cloud". My daughter's name translates to

"Beautiful and Strong" in Swahili and we raised her to

tell everyone who asks

....

the

girls call her "Dark and

Ugly" (playing on the phrase "Dark and Lovely"). Needless to say, as a man and father, hearing the

Got Melanin? h e Colorism Chronicles Parents See E ff ects of Colorism in the Media

news was like a daggar to the heart. I am "dark- skinned" and her mother is "brownskinned", but my daughter took ater me. You see, I was raised in the 70's by parents who were very involved with the Black Panther Party so I didn't ever have doubts about my appearance. My parents required that my brothers and I watch Roots, Shat and other African American shows to boost our self esteem as men. But as a man, I don't know how to help my daughter find the beauty in her skin color or help her build her self esteem. Especially, with the lack of new age produc- tions with darkskinned, let alone, African American women who aren't a sex symbol or treated in a way

that I don't feel is acceptable for my daughter.

I can't say that I don't understand what my daughter is feeling. Growing up, all of my friends only went af- ter girls who were lightskinned and had "good hair". It was like a status symbol of whose girlfriend was lighter and therefore, prettier. But I never in a million years thought that I would see my own daughter feel the blows of such a colorist train of thought. Its ex- tremely hurtful to know that she hasn't experienced this because of boys, but from her peers.

Please help! My wife tries to help but a teenage girl's relationship with their mother is already complicated. My daughter sees her help as unwar- ranted criticism. One day, we caught her walking out the house in her mother's foundation which is not even close to her skin tone. Clearly, she was trying to appear lighter to deflect the bullying. My daughter doesn't look like Halle Berry and that's not who I want her to look up to. I also don't want her to hide from the sun and think this will eventually lighten her skin. I definitely don't want her to take more perma- nent and harmful cosmetic measures.

Blessings and Good Fortune,

Dad in Damascus

Dear Dad in Damascus,

Colorism is an issue that many people don't acknowl- edge until it directly eects them or their families. Your daughter is experiencing backlash from peers who have been taught culutrally that they are superi- or to her but of course, that is not the case. Colorism has plagued the African American community for cen- turies and unfortunately, we still have leg work to do before it can be cured across the board. These lessons start at home so its impossible to change your daughter's conditions at school without contact- ing the parents of the bullies. This may upset your daughter because she will feel this will make her even more popular but it has to be done. Speak with the bullies' parents and peacefully let them know that the attitudes and actions of their children are nega- tively aecting the well-being of your child. While these infractions are verbal, bullying almost never stays that way. So you need to express your direct concern for the future of both your daughter and their daughters.

2

The Colorism Chronicles

Got Melanin?

4 Struggles of being A Dark Skinned African American Woman

There are various approaches you can take to help your daughter cope with the bullying and encourage her at the same time. Her preference change in televi- sion shows could just be a means to try to fit in at her new school. Taking into account that she's being bul- lied, she wants to familiarize herself with the things that bing their group together so she can feel that she is not dierent in other aspects of life. I suggest a "family night" including you, your spouse and her brothers. You should order food and sit down as a family to eat dinner. Discuss your history as African Americans by researching kingdoms and customs of your African ancestors before the Middle Passage and Slavery. Make sure you touch on all the issues you want to be clear in her mind. For example, how slave owners chose Africans as concubines and produced mixed race children, the history of colorism and the reason that lightskinned slaves were treated better than darker skinned slaves. This is so your daughter can understand that she isn't being bullied because of the way she looks but because of a societal norm that isn't openly discussed. Then, move to a movie marathon. As you mentioned, your parents required that you watch empowering television shows and movies. This is a simple gesture but it is the reason you grew up so secure and confident in yourself. There's also nothing wrong with digging a few clas- sics out of the attic. Rodger and Hammerstein's Cin- derella with Brandy as Cinderella and Whitney Hous- ton as the Fairy Godmother is a great alternative. Other options are The Wiz, the 2014 version of Annie, Double Platinum, "Coy", Princess and the Frog and A Dierent World. The Color Purple is a great choice for

the topic because of the turmoil that Celie endured because she was looked at as "black and ugly". Make sure you talk to your children about each movie when they end. Use this movie night as a chance to educate your children about their history and the fact that they are beautiful by all standards. Lastly, there are a plethora of self-esteem exercises that would benefit your daughter. I think this is a job for Mom! One of my favorite is "The Mirror Game". This game is very sim- ple: stand your daughter in a full length mirror and have her tell her mother 15 beautiful things about herself. No matter how big or small, she should ac- knowledge all of them with kind words. Ater she's done, do an exercise where her mother has her throw insults and she is to deflect them with positive thoughts about herself. This will teach your daughter about disregarding negative remarks from others and focus her attention on what she knows to true: SHE IS BEAUTIFUL JUST THE WAY SHE IS!

Yours Truly, Crystal, Clear of Colorism

"Melanin is the pigment that gives human skin, hair and eyes their color. Darkskinned people have more melanin in their skin than lightskinned people have. Melanin is produced by cells called melancytes."-

Dictionary.com

2 The Colorism Chronicles Got Melanin? 4 Struggles of being A Dark Skinned African American Woman

Finding a passable foundation color is another hardship that darkskinned women endure. The lack of variety in make-up is an issue that has been talked about for decades.

1.The word "Dusky" and "You're pretty for a darkskinned girl."

Calling someone "dusky" is not a giving them a com- pliment. When you watched television, its not com- mon to see dark skin characters. But the ones that are on television are portrayed as sex symbols or promiscuous. They are labeled as "hot" or "sexy" and made to fill those roles because their skin is no longer referred to as dark skin, but as "dusky". And unfortu- nately, the word has some degree of acceptance by people because it is seen as "exotic". "Dark" doesn't. For the people who use it, their objective is to say soemthing nice about the person's dark skin. Though some may appreciate their intent and understand their lack of better words, dusky is a euphemism for dark. Its a descriptive way to say, "I know you are darkskinned but I still think you are beautiful." Which is an extension of #1. Being told you are pretty to be a darkskinned girl is one of the lowest things anyone could say to some- one. Not only are you insulting them but you are telling them that they would have automatically been ugly because of their dark skin otherwise. Or even that a person is not attracted to darkskinned people regularly but you are some type of exception. Every person is entitled to their preferences but that doesn't give them the right to shade someone else's view of themselves because they have been condi- tioned to think this way.

  • 2. Darkskinned Jokes

Jokes about dark skin are oensive because deep down, some people with darkskin think that having dark skin is a shortcoming. The jokes make it accept- able to mock a certain skin color and therefore deval- ue a certain identity. Jokes about dark skin con- tribute to oppression in many ways. They exploit how dark skin is perceived by society and they permit the perpetuation of how dark skin is perceived by society and thus, hinder any change. Also, there are also lightskinned jokes that are oen- sive and should not be told or laughed at! Even if one were to tell a joke about fair skin, the intent and rea- son will not be the same behind telling a joke about dark skin. In a colorist society, those jokes, if and when told, have the undertones of a compliment.

Colorism is not humor. There are some darkskinned people who joyfully take part in the delivery of the joke. Their act of a "good sport" demands other dark- skinned people to be like them, to learn from them,

to be as mature as them

...

to

simply have a sense of

humor. But to me, its an act of dehumanizing a per-

son and fooling yourself to believe it's just a joke.

  • 3. People Being Scared of You

In the media and in popular opinion, women with dark skin are more likely to be finger-snappin', neck- rolling and an embarrassing ghetto encounter. Dark- skinned women have to deal with being discriminat- ed against in the workplace, as consumers, in the school systems and everyday life. It's not uncommon to hear stories about women who were beat out of

The Colorism Chronicles

3

employment because they were going up against a lightskinned woman. Or even a white person clinch- ing up and getting uncomfortable when you enter a room. Or watching everyone in a full class pick every seat except the one beside you. Dark skin people are not dangerous! They don't pose a threat to your life just because they have darker skin. In many institutions, students of color are made to feel unwelcomed, alienated and marginalized as a re- sult of direct or indirect words and actions from their peers, teachers and administrators. Unless you at- tend an HBCU, its likely that you could be the only person of color in a classroom or school. Indirect, la- tent, subtle, micro-aggressive discrimination or har- rassment is oten invisible to others and diicult to explain or "prove" because of the nuanced and sub- jective nature of such encounters. The burden is al- ways on the student of color to prove that their expe- rience was discriminatory or unfair. But for a person

The Colorism Chronicles 3 employment because they were going up against a lightskinned woman. Or even

A valid point but why did the universe's meme creators ruin The Lion King?

with dark skin, this is amplified because being a dark- skinned African American is projected to be the "worst kind".

4. "Can I Touch Your Hair?"

The discussion of "good hair" vs. "bad hair" is a feud that's just as old as dark vs. light skin. "Good hair" is considered as straight and flowy as possible. "Bad hair" is coarse, "nappy" and hard to manage. But with the new Natural Hair movement, African Ameri- can women are taking back their identity and cutting oor growing out their relaxed hair. Putting a relaxer is your hair is a rite of passage that most African American women know. But the goal of relaxing one's hair is to seem less intimidating to white counter- parts.Having natural hair is seen as rebelling just as it was when it first made its splash in the 70s. You are seen as militant if you have natural hair to those that aren't educated enough to just see you for who you are. Being asked if a person can touch your hair is de- grading and makes African American women, across the board, uncomfortable. It makes them feel like ani- mals at a petting zoo and we are human beings. We don't ask to touch a white person's hair, its not amaz- ing to us that your hair is dierent to ours. So don't be surprised if the woman says, "No".

The Colorism Chronicles 3 employment because they were going up against a lightskinned woman. Or even

Academy Award Nominee, Gabourey Sidibe, when asked if she is aected by backlash about her dark skin online.

Connecting the Media and Real Life

The media attempting to trivialize and invalidate the experiences of darkskinned people in society not only promotes light skin, but shames dark skin. Denying that dark skin is looked down upon by society and media is hiding your own fair skin privilege. The reason why colorism isn't taken seriously is because it is not a race issue. The issue of race doesn't garner much attention unless it turns violent. It's easy to cite the media as the cause for underexposure to the various cultures of America. The media definitely plays a huge role. But another factor is the lack of the right kind of curiosity across the American

population. In many cases, people don't pay attention to colorism because it doesn't directly aect them. In others, people don't pay attention until it directly aects them in the form of a family member or joke. The colorism issue is worldwide, but in the US, its become more of an epidemic because of the historical and cultural ties connected to it. There's an uproar about colorism in many other countries. In my research, I've come across many dierent blogs about colorism from India, Haiti and Dominican Republic. Actress Grace Gealey, from the new hit TV show Empire, came to the US from the Cayman Islands. She expressed in an interview with The Huington Post: BLACK VOICES that she did not classify herself as a "lightskinned black woman" until she received backlash on social media. She's been

The Colorism Chronicles 3 employment because they were going up against a lightskinned woman. Or even

4

The Colorism Chronicles

insulted because her character, Anika, on the show apparently acts like the typical lightskinned woman. Anika prided herself on being raised a Debutante. Ironically, her scripted parents were a successful white doctor and a darkskinned mother who got lucky while in college at a PWI. Even in African American sitcoms, we see evidence of colorism, racism and the eects of them because these things represent conflicts in everyday life for the African American community. Gealey may not agree with being lumped into the group of "lightskinned" but she represents the stereotype of a lightskinned woman perfectly.

4 The Colorism Chronicles insulted because her character, Anika, on the show apparently acts like the

Khyanne Miracle-McKinzy Bowling

How Colorism in the Media Eects My Life

Letter from the Editor

As a young mother, there are many misconcep- tions that I battle on a day-to-day basis. Majority of older mothers look at me and assume that I don't have the same skills or seasoning in mother- hood as they may have because I had a child earli- er in life than they did. I turn 23 years old this Au- gust and I feel that as a young mother its impor- tant to encourage my daughter to do better than I did growing up. I grew up in a home that was cul- turally prideful so I grew up with a strong belief in myself as an African American woman. My father's bloodline traces back to English royalty and my mother's bloodline traces to a family of goat herders in Ghana, even though my grandparents came to Florida from the Dominican Republic. I'm

4 The Colorism Chronicles insulted because her character, Anika, on the show apparently acts like the

Why does this image even exist?

very proud of background and I want my daughter to grow up the same way. Both sides of my family has the entire spectrum from deep brown to light skin but it didn't dawn on me how much skin color truly mattered until I was asked if I chose my fi- ance', Khiry, to have children with because he was lightskinned. Classifying yourself in a group by skin color is something that, unfortunately, can't be avoided in our society. I classify as "brown- skinned" with is the awkward middle ground be- tween the two extremes. Before I cut my long hair, people assumed I was only Hispanic and that of- fended me. Not only because I identify as African American but also because the assumption is that an African American woman with long, healthy hair can't be only of African descent. During my in- terview, it was said by Royce Mayor that brown- skinned woman aren't as insecure as darkskinned women or as standoish as lightskinned woman so he sees brownskinned women as a "happy medium" to African American men. But what does this mean to me as a parent? Everyone assumed that my daughter would be lightskinned. But many didn't comprehend the fact that Khiry came from a darkskinned father and brownskinned mother. Melanin is in every person's DNA and it is your genes choice what amount will be reflected

4 The Colorism Chronicles insulted because her character, Anika, on the show apparently acts like the

Thanksgiving 2014 (Pre-Haircut)

in your skin color. My daughter ended up "#Team- BrownSkin" so my goal is to shield her from soci- ety's opinions on skin color completely. I introduce Khyanne to African American films and produc- tions that promote security in one's self. My duty

as her mother is to teach her that she can reach

the stars if she dreams

...

regardless

of her skin's

pigment. My goal is to never hear my daughter claim to be brownskinned or any-skinned. I want her to proclaim that she is a human, who happens to be African American with a broad ancestry. The subject of Colorism is touchy to some because of

the insults, pain and suering that are behind it. But its touchy to me because my goal is to elimi- nate it. I've began writing a series of novels that I'd like to inspire and promote critical thinking in the parents of my target audience (which is youth ages 12-20). So many people think that changing the minds of white people is the solution but that isn't the case. We need to change our own minds to un- derstand that we will only be made to feel inferior if we continue to believe that we are indeed inferi- or. I want more for Khyanne's thoughts of herself. My goddaughters, who are ten and six, are mulatto and both already identify as lightskinned. I've even heard them brag to their friends about their "good hair" and diverse background. I'm a true be- liever that children are like sponges, they absorb information from contact. The fact that girls as young as ten and six are already displaying a sense of superiority because of their skin color or mixed heritage is fuel to my theory that something has to be done about Colorism. Especially because of the growing rate of interracial relationships and mixed race children, the time passed 100 years ago to de- stroy this epidemic. This project gave me the op- portunity to dig into my passion and get a more in- depth explanation and understanding of Colorism. But most importantly, it skyrocketed my hunger for change and encouraged me to keep writing

4 The Colorism Chronicles insulted because her character, Anika, on the show apparently acts like the

Khyanne, Brooke and Bryanna

when I was at a point in my life where I was dis- couraged and put my dreams on hold.