The Shadow of Colorism
My youngest daughter and I had an interesting conversation recently about “colorism.”
During this time where so much division has formed between various races of people, there is still a battle in communities of color, not just black communities, with people of the same ethnicities treating one another with prejudice because of the darker or lighter pigment of their brown or black skin.
Colorism can cause great emotional and psychological harm, and in some cases more harm than straight out racism. In a community where you feel connected by culture and experiences, it’s shocking to the spirit to suddenly feel unwelcome and out of place in the one place that was once a safe space.
I felt it in my community when a boy that I had grown up with since the age of five became distant after his mother found out that he and I were dating during our senior year of high school. I was too dark for their family. He didn’t feel that way, but is mother was very obvious in her dislike of me. This was confusing because we were neighbors. I have been to their house and she was always nice to me…that is until I started dating her son.
I called their house one evening, as I had done before, and instead of calling him to the phone, she told me that she had kicked him out of the house and she didn’t know where he was. I laughed because I thought she was joking. She assured me that she was not and told me not to bother to call again for him.
The next day, when I saw him at school, I told him what his mother said and asked what was going on? Had she really kicked this 17-year-old out? He said, “nah, she was just playing with you."
She didn’t sound like she was playing. We continued to date through graduation and the summer, but it was never the same, and we drifted apart once he left for college, and I never called his house again.
You might ask, why I assumed colorism was the issue? Well, my sisters who were a decade older than me, had some history with his mom. My oldest sister was lighter skinned than me and our middle sister, so she was invited to birthday parties and gatherings at their home, but they would neglect to invite my middle sister. If she went anyway, she would be met with cold rude behavior. Aside from the mother of that family, everyone else was very nice and we got along well. The kids in the family knew that their mother was prejudice against darker skinned people, and they were forever apologizing or making excuses for her.
It doesn’t end there though, on my side of the fence there was colorism too. My dad was suspicious of the light-skinned young man who was pursuing me. He didn’t want me to be used or sought after as some exotic sex object. One day he asked me “why would he want to go out with you? There’s only one reason a light-skinned boy wants a dark-skinned girl.” I was shocked and hurt.
My dad had always told me that I was smart and beautiful, so why wouldn’t any young man be drawn to me, I thought?
I choked back my tears and shot back with “Well is that why you dated mom? She’s a lot lighter than you are?
He said, “well it’s different with a dark-skinned man and a light-skinned woman.”
I couldn’t see it then or now. It’s just another bias that both my boyfriend’s mom and my dad had. Biases impact all families and they run deep. There may be biases that have hurt you in some way and perhaps you’re still living in the shadow of them.
My book “Biases” can help you uncover your areas of biases and remove the shadows of fear, doubt and anxiety left by them.