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You’re Too Dark To Play With Us: A Reflection on Colorism

The shame we feel in our bodies is learned. Society & the media shapes what sizes, colors, forms, and shapes are acceptable. One day all the craze is on how to get skinnier, the next day it’s how to get curvier. One day, all the models have to be light-skinned, the next day, darker is in vogue. Like anything that exists in capitalism, slowly our bodies have become a commodity. They are controlled. They are put against each other for the sheer need of competition and profit. Slowly, we begin to stop accepting our bodies. We start to lose track of what we love about our bodies. We reject our bodies. We become ashamed of the scars that hold our story. We are ashamed of the curves that tell our ancestry. In my case, I grew to be ashamed of my skin. My dark skin.

I remember going to school one day and the girls in class had decided it was not cool to be “black.” Now this is funny because we were in Uganda. Africa, if you will. We’re all black. And brown, of course. You get the point. But I was not the right shade of black. I was “too black.” “You are too dark to play with us,” the girls said as they giggled and refused to play with us for the rest of the day. That seemingly fleeting moment caused scars that have taken years to heal. The shame that little ten-year old girl felt that day stayed with her. It taught her something was wrong with her skin. I often have to affirm that inner child that she is beautiful. “Your inner child still needs to be loved in order to heal the complete self.” Karen A. Baquiran My mother and sister were both light skinned. I would look at my beautiful mother doing her makeup and I remember always thinking, I wish I could just be her color. “We don’t go that dark,” a MAC sales associate once responded, barely giving me a second of her time, as my sister and I shopped for my first foundation. “You’re so pretty for a dark-skinned girl.” All my dark-skinned ladies know that one. Scrolling through my social media now, you would never know the insecurities I had surrounding the tone of my skin. I use captions like Black & yellow, *chocolate emoji*, and think I have always loved it. I grew to love it. I no longer think twice about wearing certain colors, or how dark my thighs look when am wearing shorts compared to all my light skinned friends. It feels like a little part of freedom to be honest. Like Carol Kagezi said in Finding Home: In Your Body, it has been a marathon, NOT a sprint. Like she mentioned, I have had to unpack, undo and uproot the beliefs that were there.

Dark women bless the front covers of more magazines these days and are lead actresses in movies. It’s fulfilling to watch the media portray more women who look like me. However, when you are not a top model bronzed in oil making your skin look radiant, society is not that accommodating of your skin tone. You need to be aesthetically pleasing at the very least to get the pass. The girls who did not want to sit with me that day because I was “too black” learned the significance of blackness from somewhere. Just the day before, we had all been playing and laughing together. As we were not even teenagers at that time, I understand it must have been something they saw on tv. You know those cartoons where the brown girl is popular and perfect, and the villain is always dark. The mother in all the black sitcoms I grew up watching was light-skinned, married to a dark-skinned guy. Well apart from the legendary, Aunt Viv on Fresh Prince of Bel-Air who was replaced by the imposter in the last three seasons. How colorism may be viewed as an abstract concept, especially to those who have not been affected by it, is understandable. It’s also understandable that when we have to look at our own biases within our own race, and not point the finger at the white man, it can be hard. What’s that saying? Something along the lines of ignoring the plank in your own eye to point out the speck of sawdust in another person’s eye. A lot of the black people I have conversations with mention having cute children as one of the reasons they are looking to marry white people. Mixed race babies are all types of cute and adorable. I am pretty sure God smiles when He looks at them, with their light beautiful skin and loose curls and features balancing out the problems in their parents faces. Small thin nose in the center of their face, balanced out with big plump lips they inherited from their African ancestors. I get it. There is an inference by this thought though, that dark babies are not beautiful. That we can pass judgement on how a hypothetical baby looks, solely based on their skin tone is alarming to me.

“We are better if we are lighter. We want our children to be pretty because we know beauty will grant them an easier life in a color-coded society. Most of us don’t want to be reminded of our past, our ancestors, and where we come from. Many of us boast of having a little Indian, Irish, Italian—any additional blood in our lineage boosts our value. We find ourselves using a sliding racial scale, somewhere between black and white, with lighter or whiter always, always defined as better….” — Tom Burrell

What’s more important however, should be to become aware of these biases, so that the future generation does not have to suffer for us pushing it under the rug. “The future is mixed race.” I read in an article once. Why not then raised the next generation to be aware of the biases they may hold when they interact within their own race? Because that’s going to be a lot of black babies. With the growing number of interracial relationships and babies, the little black dark-skinned girls of the future generation shall have to spend time treating the symptoms that have been ignored for far too long. Their colorism shall have malaria plus plus. We all remember how shitty it is to have malaria plus plus. “She is the blackest girl in the class,” my niece once told me, snickering. She was talking about a young girl in her kindergarten class. I did not know when she had begun to see skin tone. She had certainly never made a comparison between her lighter skin and say, mine. But children are like sponges. They absorb everything. Don’t believe me? Say fuck around a 4-year-old just once. Khloe Kardashian’s baby was being cyber bullied over her skin tone, in comparison to the other Kardashian children. Dark actresses have come out to talk about their experiences in regard to colorism in the entertainment industry. We see a lot of the dark-skinned female celebrities likened to masculinity more than their lighter peers. Our own legend and business woman, Bad Black, is making a fortune from selling bleaching creams. Surprisingly, colorism is more evident in places like Africa and India, places that have people all belonging to one race or ethnic group. Evidence of this can be seen in the alarming rates of women bleaching their skin in Nigeria, Congo and South Africa. Statistics say over 70% of women in Lagos have bleached before. SEVENTY. Most of the dark-skinned models from the continent who make it in the modelling industry have to leave for places like Europe to make it to the top. They understand that when marketing to their fellow women in their home countries, the companies are more likely to go for the light skinned woman. People from South Asia, especially Indians also struggle with colorism. The color of your skin is a basis for social hierarchy, with lighter skin being a symbol of wealth and property. Fair & lovely, the famous skin cream that was furiously marketed to us originated from India. I remember asking and begging my parents to let me use fair & lovely. When they refused to buy it for me, I went ahead and bought it myself and began using it. Up until my way too attentive father asked me if I was brightening my skin. Then I had to stop because they would have beaten me back to black if one day, I turned up pink-brown. Of course, as luck would have it, colorism increasingly seems to have a gender. Dark-skinned men are the craze these days. If you do not have yourself a dark-skinned king, is he really your king? My light-skinned brothers shine seems to be dulling. We accept all colors though, kings. Apart from a certain politician, I have not met any men who have bleached their skin. There are not that many benefits attached to being a light-skinned man I figure. Colorism is just one of the ways we are taught shame in our bodies. It’s a journey to begin to unlearn that shame. To not carry it. To accept our bodies. To see the beauty in ourselves and the things we were taught are not beautiful. Healing the shame and learning to accept the bodies we inhibit is important. The way we carry ourselves in our bodies has a domino effect on other parts of our lives. Don’t believe me? Try standing long like a confident white man and observe how you move through your day. Research has showed how our body confidence has the power to shape how other people see us and more importantly, how we see ourselves.

What parts of your body were you taught to be ashamed of?

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