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Colorism-The Mixed Perspective

todayOctober 5, 2022 49 5

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My First Experience with Colorism

It was July of 2019 – the summer before I would leave for college. The little girl I befriended down the street had knocked on my door, asking if I could come out and meet her cousins. Outside waiting were six little boys between the ages of 7-13, along with an 11-year-old girl who seemed shy and quiet.

Once the boys noticed me, however, they resorted to showering me with compliments while ridiculing the two little girls, telling them how ugly they were because of their dark skin in contrast to my lighter skin. I was shocked and horrified.

I repeatedly told the boys, “That’s not very nice. They’re two beautiful girls and their skin color does NOT change their beauty.” Looking directly into the eyes of the little girls, I firmly told them both to not listen to what the boys were saying, ensuring they knew the beauty in the skin color that these young boys were trying to strip from them.

Nevertheless, as the heckling of the boys echoed in the background, I noticed the shy 11-year-old begin to tear up.

She said she wanted to go home, to which I offered to walk both girls back to their house after scolding the young boys once more. When I arrived at their house, however, their aunt was sitting on the porch eating, giving me the second shock of the day as her first question to me was, “Are you mixed?” “Yes,” I said, before being interrogated about my age, grade level, and relationship status.

She then loudly shouted a name into the house, and a boy the same age as me appeared in the doorway, clearly embarrassed as his mom told him to give me his number.

I quickly stammered an excuse to leave, walking rapidly to my house to recite what had happened to my family; this was the first time I had ever experienced my skin color being glamorized as a symbol of beauty among fellow black individuals.

 

The Shift from Being the Black Girl to the Mixed Woman

Growing up in a small, mostly white town in Texas, it was very apparent to everyone that I was different, a fact I so desperately wanted to shield myself from. I clung to my white identity as much as I could, desperately hoping to attach my whiteness to my racial title to feel beautiful simply because I felt insecure with my blackness.

However, by the time I moved to a predominantly black city at the age of 17, I was already well into my appreciation of being black while embracing my curly hair, even getting box braids for the first time, though now those around me began to focus on my whiteness.

My new city now ranked my skin tone and hair texture higher in preference compared to those with darker complexions and curlier hair, shifting the way people treated and interacted with me, and introducing me to the world of colorism.

I was no longer seen as the Black girl but, instead, the mixed girl – a light skin with the “good curly hair”. Whether it be at the hair salon or shopping in a grocery store, my racial identity was often commented on in complete contrast to the ways it was in my hometown; this trend has continued into my college experience.

It took me years to become comfortable in my skin, though leaving my small-town bubble forced my eyes open to the reality that those with darker complexions than me must work extra hard to be accepted, and appreciated and learn the beauty in their skin color and hair textures, too.

It broke my heart to hear these young kids, most of whom were in elementary school, already have preconceived notions about the rankings of color in relation to beauty. Nonetheless, after talking with their aunt, it was clear this was internalized within these young kids because of their adult figures that continue perpetuating the idea of lighter skin being ideal, believing it to be most desirable.

The World of Colorism in the Black Community

When watching movies with Black female leads, why do we often see light skin and/or mixed women playing the role instead of darker-skinned women? Taking it back even further, why was Rosa Parks, a light-skin woman, made the face of the bus boycotts when Claudette Colvin, a dark-skin woman, did it first?

Why was the first thing that woman asked me if I was mixed, before trying to set me up with her son upon hearing my answer?

The simple fact is that while light and dark-skinned individuals will, unfortunately, go through their own battles and experiences with racism and negative self-perception, the outside world will continue to inflict harsher standards upon those with dark skin.

Especially in minority communities, light skin is considered highly favorable to the point of sparking internalized hatred within family members while contributing deeply harmful messages to the younger generations. It feels like no matter your color, you can never truly win.

Skin bleaching is so incredibly dangerous for our skin, yet it has become a cultural phenomenon in many ethnic populations to fit the standards being placed on us by both those in and outside our communities. Straightening our hair or wanting 3A, 3B, or 3C textures in comparison to having 4A, 4B, and 4C, is an incredibly normalized occurrence in the Black community, pitting individuals against each other when we could and should simply be united. The daily toll of living with colorism is inescapable.

In her wonderful article, Kaitlyn Greenidge goes deeper into detail about the societal effects of colorism, but I want to encourage everyone reading this to start being the change we want in the world within our personal lives.

Older generations may have established standards, rules and customs that fit their ideals back then, but we have the power to change that. I do not want to ever witness another little girl crying because someone made her feel like something she cannot change is not worthy of appreciation. As Kaitlyn says, “The way to begin to combat it is to try to speak about it.”

Featured Image by Amaya Lewis. 

Written by: Autumn McGowan

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