(This is my very first blog, ever! So please bear with me as I try to learn the ropes here.)
I recently watched two documentaries on Oprah Winfrey’s OWN network titled “Dark Girls” and Light Girls.” I felt that these documentaries did a great job of introducing the struggle of Colorism amongst ethnic women in the media and just in general. As I talk to my colleagues, I have learned that many people are not even familiar with the term “colorism.” Most have assumed it is similar to “racism.” However, the only similarity they share is that both are a type of prejudice. Racism relates to the prejudice received because of someone’s race. Colorism involves the prejudice within the same race but with different skin tones. In this blog I focus on colorism within Black women based on the documentaries I watched. However, colorism exists in all races including Hispanic and Asian.
The dark skin vs. light skin controversy has been occurring for many years, starting back to slavery. Many of the light-skinned women slaves, who were actually mixed breeds because the dark slave women were raped by their white slave owners, received special treatment. They were allowed to work indoors, away from the fields and the rays of the sun. They were also more likely to have access to an education than the dark-skinned slaves and were fed and clothed better.
During the early 1900’s, the “paper bag test” was created within the Black communities. This test was colorism at it’s finest. If a Black person was darker than a brown paper bag, they were not allowed into certain social structure; including church (yes, church!) and college Fraternities. If you were lighter than the brown paper bag, you were immediately accepted and considered privileged.
Colorism among women can be found throughout most media circuits. In Hip-hop music, artist tend to use and appreciate light-skinned women in their music videos more than dark-skinned women. And if they do prefer dark-skinned women instead, they make a point to emphasize it. I read in an article a few weeks ago (still trying to locate it), reflecting an interview with Kendrick Lamar. He was discussing his video “Poetic Justice” and how he made a last-minute decision to switch the light-skinned model for a darker-skinned model because he wanted to show his appreciation for the dark-skinned woman’s beauty.
I find it interesting and would really like to understand why dark-skinned men are considered a sex symbol and can be more epitomized in the media, especially movies, than the dark-skinned women. Idris Elba, Morris Chestnut, Denzel Washington, Taye Diggs are just a few examples of actors that women fantasize about and enjoy seeing in movie roles. However, Jennifer Lopez, Halle Berry, Paula Patterson and Sanaa Lathan are usually preferred. It’s unfortunate that talent cannot be seen as just that no matter what skin color a person has. I am really happy that women like Lupita Nyong’o and Viola Davis are setting amazing examples of talented dark women in the arts.
So many people I have met assume that my life is easy because I am light-skinned, a dancer and young-looking. But I really encourage everyone to watch “Dark Girls” and “Light Girls” because they do a thorough job of offering the understanding that both shades of women have their past struggles and current challenges in all aspects of life. I have actually had a very rough life and do not feel the advantages to being light-skinned. However, I definitely see it when it comes to the media. Movies, modeling and music especially.