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Light skin v dark skin: where it all started

SUCCESS DEPENDENT ON SKIN TONE? Former Destiny's Child bandmates Kelly Rowland and Beyoncé

"COLOURISM - prejudice or discrimination based on the relative lightness or darkness of the skin. Generally a phenomenon occurring within one's own ethnic group"

Before we delve into the issue of colourism, or any prejudice experienced against a body of people based on the shade or hue of their skin tone, it is necessary to first discuss the history of how such a preference for a particular shade of skin came to exist.

Black people were enslaved for over 200 years, during which, they were not even considered to be human, let alone beautiful. Beauty is an entirely new phenomenon post-enslavement and the dimensions of this paradoxical beauty have weighed heavily in favour of white supremacy.

During the 18th and 19th century enslavement period, black female slaves were raped by their masters, producing mixed-race, light skin children. Although they were not provided the luxurious lifestyle of full 'white breeds', this shade of children were pitted above their dark skinned-relatives, who were quarantined in field labour, while the light-skinned slaves were promoted to house slaves.

Although archaic and hugely fascist, this social pyramid inspired the frameworks of society as we know it today. Although slavery is now 'illegal', there is a type of racism that is still heavily present, heavily toxic and completely inexorable - colourism. The belief in hundreds and thousands of ethnic groups all over the world, including black, Asian, and Hispanic, that dark skin is inferior to light skin.

Colourism has its roots embedded deeply in the history of colonisation. Countries annexed by European colonialism were imbued with a false perception of beauty based on an ideal of white supremacy.

Young, impressionable minds were geared towards the appraisal and pursuit of white power. Meaning that a venture towards "white" appearance was not only considered favourable in the realm of beauty, but would also win you greater opportunities and edge you closer to greatness. Sadly, this ideal lives on unabated.

In today’s society, the contorted idea of beauty in colourism is often advocated within ones own ethnic group. Watching documentaries on the subject, women speak of being told from an early age to "improve the race", meaning not to marry black and if so, to marry 'light'.

The concept of dark skin is marred by European preeminence, so young girls are taught to aspire towards breeding lighter children. Not only is this a bleak desideratum, but beyond inhibiting a future generation of dark-skinned children, it is also resulting in severe bouts of low-self esteem leading to self-harm and suicide.

12 Years A Slave actress, Lupita Nyong'o speaks openly about her struggle growing up as a dark-skinned child. She exclaims that in her youth, she would pray to God for fairer skin and would bargain with him that if he would grant her this one wish, that she would stop stealing sugar cubes. This is heart-wrenching for me to hear, but at the same time I am glad that somebody who has acquired a certain clout in the industry is now speaking openly about the austerity of this issue.

It seems there are a generation of young girls (and boys) who have been left to suffer in silence for a lack of public outcry on an issue that has been comfortably embraced worldwide.

LOW SELF-ESTEEM: 12 Years A Slave actress Lupita Nyong'o has spoken openly about her struggles growing up as a dark-skinned child

Children are taught from an early age that all 'greatness' emanates from European or Western civilisation. All the great thinkers, philosophisers, writers and poets hailed from France to Germany, from Shakespeare to Freud to Nietzsche. History has been written to strongly favour European predominance and downplay black eminence.

Very little, if anything, is widely known about real black history other than their history of enslavement, which is pitched to us as the most notable historical occurrence in black history. It is shocking that people are not aware that black history did not begin with slavery. So if young children are taught that the history of their ancestors came from something so volatile and ferociously negative, logic permits them to aspire far from it. What needs to happen is that children, of all races, need to be educated properly. People in general tend to accept the notion that pre-colonial Africans were barbaric with no social inclination until they were 'taught' how to live by the white man. But if teachings begin with the representation of black people as slaves and victims of American and European civilisation, then those are the means by which thinking and partiality will prevail.

Centuries upon centuries of African King and Queendom have been lost in the muddiness of a reassembled history. If children are taught the truth of their ancestors, a deeper sense of cultural acceptance can be awakened, because they will no longer be forever escaping the shackles of slavery but instead be aspiring to the greatness in their own heritage.

This issue is not exclusive to black communities. Societies, including India and Dubai, where skin colour is heavily dissipated, suffer mass subjugation of dark-skinned people who are affiliated with the lowest cast and can only attain jobs in the lowest ranks of manual labour. Countries such as India still utilise casting systems which pit the 'fairer-skinned' people as higher casts and associate them with beauty and intelligence - as seen in every Bollywood movie.

The lighter the actress, the more beautiful she is considered. Fair creams are a huge commodity in these countries, where mass billboards are strategically placed to promote this ideal, even in knowing the medical dangers affiliated with it - namely skin cancer.

The crux of this issue is born through the media. This is two fold: The constant promotion and reinforcement of the white woman as the pinnacle of beauty. If not entirely white, then the closest thing to white possible (i.e. light-skinned black women with European hair) or the negligence and downcast of the severity and existence of colourism in the media.

Where do you see this issue being raised? Because it does not compete with the austerity of a holocaust, minor niceties in the realm of attitude to skin colours are acceptable or at least tolerable. But they are by no means acute - infecting a generation of children with lifelong subjugation and inferiority complexes. Young children suffer from extreme cases of low self-esteem and lack of confidence.

This prohibits the pursuit of their dreams, due to a belief that the shade of their skin bridles prosperity. Former Destiny's Child member Kelly Rowland speaks openly about the issues she grappled with growing up. She professes that she had a hard time embracing the 'chocolatiness' of her skin tone and experienced extreme levels of colourism in the dominion of the career she sought.

It can be argued that fellow band member Beyoncé was at the forefront of the group for being more talented, more ambitious and more driven, which eventually culminated in the success of her solo career. But there is also a dark twist in this parable, perhaps if we did not exist in a society of white supremacy, women of a darker skin tone would find the confidence, ambition and drive to pursue such alpine heights.

Even Black American rappers, who promote intense approbation of their black ancestry and speak out openly against racism, feature predominantly light-skinned women as the models and dancers in their music videos. This negates their 'promotion' of anti-racism and muddies the notion of skin tone impartiality.

Lest we forget Beyoncé's infamous L'Oréal commercial, where she appeared conspicuously lighter than her organic skin tone.

WHITEWASH: L'Oréal was accused of lightening an image of Beyoncé in an advertising campaign

Jay Z raps in That’s My B**ch "I mean Marilyn Monroe, she's quite nice but why all the pretty icons always all white? / Put some colored girls in the MoMA /Half these broads ain’t got nothing on Willona / Don’t make me bring Thelma in it /Bring Halle, bring Penélope and Salma in it”

I always have to chuckle when I hear that line, because even in trying to promote black beauty he does a shoddy job. The 'coloured' girls he speaks of are no darker than an 'accepted' shade of brown.

Dark-skinned beauty is rarely embraced in the media. Aside from current developments that are empowering young black women like the Oscar-winning actress Lupita’s recent success, it is too few and far between. Overall, the perception of black beauty has not yet been adopted widely enough in the media.

Black hair is not embraced. Dark skin is not embraced. Black bodies were not even embraced until Puerto Rican singer Jennifer Lopez made it fashionable to have a big bum - subsequently reality TV star Kim Kardashian followed suit.

All things associated with black ancestry were/are thwarted until made acceptable, or even fashionable by the white woman/man. But the acceptance of specific black features is not effective enough to reach our desired goal. The fact that something associated with black beauty was not organically embraced and internationally endorsed without white infiltration is unacceptable.

This is a bigoted and FALSE standard of beauty for young black children to aspire to. Although it is not openly stated, the adverse is frequently and chiefly promoted as the pinnacle of beauty in society. These are unattainable, falsely utopian ideals. They encourage people to believe that success, beauty and power come in 'lighter' packages, hence why skin bleaching is as shamefully common as it is.

One of the biggest platforms upon which this issue is finding preeminence is on social media websites such as Instagram and Twitter. I might even say that I was blissfully unaware of the severity of shadeism until I witnessed first-hand a division on social media between light and dark-skinned people. What has now formed all across the Internet are 'cliques' that promote light skin as superior and the ultimate semblance of black beauty.

I recently interjected a post by a famous basketball player Matt Barnes a few weeks ago.

He posted a picture of a gorilla looking very unimpressed with the caption: “Dark skin n***ers… when a light skin n***er walks in”. He then wrote, “Had to repost this. The good ole days, we would walk n & shut it dooooown!! Hahaa #UMad?”

OFFENSIVE: Elicia hit back at this post uploaded by American basketball player Matt Barnes

I took the opportunity to air my views in comment section, writing: “somebody of your stature should not be using your fame to encourage “shadism” and colour elitism. Embarrassing and ignorant.”

His response? “Shut up b**ch”.

It is time for a renaissance, a cultural rebirth, an ethical reformat. It is time to consider every shade beautiful, to awaken people to the reality of the situation, to speak openly when we see situations where people are discriminated against based on their skin colour - even if it is just an Instagram 'joke'.

We must reprogram the perception of 'beauty' in our society and dismantle it from the colonial duplicity that has subjected an entire nation to favour white supremacy. We to reach a stage where we are all essentially colour blind.


* This article was originally published on the author's blog ( and reproduced here with her permission

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