I am prejudice. I empower Colorism.
I’m going to explain that statement; but first I’m going to make a disclaimer that this is not a story about my own personal struggle with being a victim of colorism. Yes, I’ve heard the “you aren’t really black anyway” statement before but me writing about it isn’t going to bring much to the conversation. Perhaps we have a danger of fundamentally misunderstanding a complex situation by focusing on one type of narrative; being the victim. A single story told many different ways doesn’t define an issue so hopefully me explaining my perpetuation will help add more to it.
I have a mixed heritage. I have Dutch, Jamaican, and Guyanese roots. Part of being Caribbean is that shade is brought up sometimes as if it is a badge of honour. Being lighter is sometimes celebrated by some individuals and can create some really distorted views of classes inside the race. I’m happy that I discarded a lot of those messed up views as I grew up but I was arrogant enough to assume I didn’t have any shade prejudices anymore. That simply isn’t true.
When Lupita Nyong’o won the Oscar my first thought was “This is great, now darker women can see someone that will let them realise how worthy they are of acclaim”. Looking back, this was a messed up thought. I made an assumption that there are masses of dark skinned women out there who feel ostracized and are waiting for the world to celebrate them. Why didn’t I assume that they are already celebrating themselves and don’t need confirmation from an Oscar speech? Why do I assume they are a not already feeling beautiful without an award show? That was prejudice of me. I just didn’t realise it at the time.
The extent of my complex prejudices ran deeper once I began traveling. I spent some time in Japan with black friends and I noticed things. One of the major things that crops up is that there’s barely any black people, they are so so rare unless you go to specific places. This changed my perception of myself and my friends. We were all comparatively the dark skinned people in an ocean of very pale people. I assumed that our shade would naturally become an issue. It didn’t. In fact, four of us were walking through a small quiet residential area of outer Tokyo and an old Japanese woman came around the corner. I assumed this old woman would see 4 dark people and be concerned, but she didn’t care. She looked bored. Despite being 5foot she pushed through us like we were small children in her way, completely unfazed. That was me being prejudice. I assumed that the world sees ‘darker’ and fears it. We even had a Japanese woman ask to hold her dog for her for a moment while she went into the store and retrieved something.
I’m not saying this is a nation of racial equality, I’m saying that my expectation of mistreatment is just as destructive as the mistreatment itself. It’s a prejudgment that negatively affects how I see the world.
In Kenya, when you leave the airport there’s dozens of 20 foot high ads along the highway. Almost every single one of these ads has a dark face on it. Coca-Cola, Nivea, Samsung, Schools, Universities, Doctor Surgeries, TV Shows; all beautiful ebony people.
My prejudice wasn’t noticing this, instead it was when I started actively searching for the lighter people in each ad. I was dumb enough to take my preconceptions with me to Africa.I assumed that the entire world had shade bias and it was the norm, and couldn’t understand where the light people were. Kenya is a massive mix of ethnicities and shades but they definitely don’t have a shade bias on their adverts. That was a prejudice. I expected the same western shade bias from people in East Africa. Think about how dumb that is for a second.
In Brazil I was in situations where I would be among groups of people who were much much darker than me. I would wonder if they would see me in a negative way because I was much lighter than them. I had held my experiences of being told ‘I’m not really black’ from darker people when I was young, and brought it all the way to South America. It was a stupid thing to do, not just because it was prejudice, but also because most people in Brazil really couldn’t care less about shade. They are far more wary of your poverty line.
I’m outlining this because I feel that it’s important to explain our struggles as victims, but also important to take a close view on our thought patterns as perpetrators. Some innocent thought we might automatically have might be fueling the acceptance of shade bias and expected shade bias. To assume that you are going to be victim, or to assume people around you view shade as a special group is only going to make it more true. To call someone out for having ‘light skin tendencies’ in a joking derogatory way is just setting seeds. The use of shade as a descriptor is the reason why I might see a very light person with short green hair and think that it’s a ‘bold fashion choice’, whereas on a dark person I might think it’s a ‘ghetto fashion choice’. That’s messed up and I recognise it.
Ultimately, I’m just hoping that we all are working on our own views so that we can push through as positive examples instead of hypocritical victims. Perhaps, colorism isn’t just about saying ‘hey this is blatantly wrong’, maybe it’s evolved into a ‘this subtle thought is actually messed up and is holding me back’.
I’m prejudice. I’m working on it. I just hope everyone is checking themselves too before they call out others.