Colourism: Light vs Dark My Perceptions….
I found an article today on MadamNoire.com which spoke about Grace Gealey (pictured) who stated that she was unaware that she was light-skinned until she moved to the United States.
Grace currently plays Anika Calourn on hit TV show ‘Empire’ which is currently taking america by storm! It is a highly addictive show and as I have had the pleasure of watching the first season, I cannot wait for season two! Anyway I digress! Grace is originally from the Cayman Islands.
The article in which Grace speaks on her not realising she is a lighter skinned black woman from Madam Noire can be found here. Now I read this article and found aspects of it interesting and some of the comments by readers piqued my interest. I have decided not to comment in this article on the comments from that article because I am not sure about the longevity of comments, with them being more easily deleted by Madam Noire and by the commentator themselves, should they wish to. I did however find the comments to be thought-provoking and stimulating and they should definitely be read if you have the chance.
My friend and I were having a discussion about it and she said and I quote..
‘Ashleigh, you sound like those afrocentric people’
It’s funny because race is so important to me. If truth be known its important to everyone. My colour has shaped me. just as being a woman has shaped me. My experiences have come from how people view me; and they view me and my colour the same way they view me as a woman. The two are inextricably linked. I am a person of ‘colour’ and I am a woman. I am a dark-skinned woman and experience life from that perspective.
Now I do not want this post to come across as a stereotypical ‘Angry Black Woman’ If you didn’t know that was a thing it definitely is! I also don’t want to offend anyone either, so the likelihood is, I will end up doing both! However I do like a debate and a healthy discussion and would ask that you engage in it with me in the comments and on my social media.
My Initial thoughts….
I found the Madam Noire article to be somewhat amusing I couldn’t comprehend that colourism is not an issue in the Caribbean. Having parentage from both Jamaica and Barbados I know that is not true for those countries. I find it hard to believe that just 1498 miles from Barbados there are no issues when it comes to shades of brown.
I understand that Rihanna had some difficulties growing up in Barbados as she is lighter and she faced negative comments from people as a result. In Jamaica prominent musicians, notably Vybz Kartel have taken steps to lighten their skin to quite negative affects see Instagram picture below
If you look at his face compared to his hands his pigmentation is not even and many people of all colours have seen what he has become and have all been shocked and appalled that someone would do that to themselves. I’m not though.
We are continuously shown in the media and by use of language that light is right that dark isn’t. White as a colour (or non colour if you want to be pedantic) is often associated with being pure, innocent, ethereal, clean, fresh, prosperity and being angelic to name a few. Well the opposite of this then could be applied to black as it is the opposite of white. So, impure or corrupt, guilty, dirty, stale, poor along with other more prominent associations with black such as dark, evil, cold, terrible times, scary, death.
Surely whether you originally hail from the Cayman Islands or not are we really meant to believe that you are cut off from the world and that people there do not own televisions? Have access to internet or social media? That they are not aware that those connotations apply? Not only to the basic colours or non colours of white and black but to people that can be put squarely in those boxes by either their own self identification as well as the identification from others.
Grace moved to America where rappers continuously have predominantly light-skinned or latino girls in their videos, where there are STILL only a few supermodels who are black. Perhaps as she is light she hasn’t noticed that even today where we could be considered progressive, it is still hard to find foundation in the appropriate shade for darker skinned women. For example, there are women darker than me, and in quite a few brands, I am the darkest shade! How is that still even possible don’t dark skinned ladies have disposable income? These people are missing a trick!
Grace probably has also, in her ignorance failed to notice that nude is not nude for darker skinned women. She has therefore failed to notice her privilege in this world.
I am sorry but the beauty of being a black is that we come in a multitude of tones and even in the Caymen Islands there has to be some variety in tones. So if this is the case she has most certainly not noticed the benefits of being lighter has afforded her.
She speaks of coming to America and being watched whilst she shopped for nail polish as if to say she still has faced discrimination for being black. No one said that our lighter-skinned counterparts don’t face discrimination too from other races [insert any race here] but she is simply getting colourism and racism mixed up and they are separate entities that both standalone and intertwine.
Thoughts On Skin Bleaching
I know I have touched on this somewhat in the paragraphs above but I feel that it needs a subheading of its own. This is not just an issue for black people it is an issue in Asia too. Now I am not familiar with the cultural connotations that this may have for people in Asia but I am aware that some in South East Asia are having surgery to insert a crease in their eyelids to appear more european in feature and generally in Asia as in the world over the lighter the better. I’ve heard and am not sure if it is a myth that people carry umbrellas despite it not raining to protect them from tanning in the sun. As if you had a tan you were assumed to be of a lower class as you were likely to work outdoors in low paid jobs. Now like I said I have limited knowledge in this area so correct me if I am wrong. Is being lighter in this part of the world preferable to being darker?
I found this YouTuber LizLizLive who in the video below is answering a Q&A. Its sad but she was asked how she came to love her dark skin, which by the very nature of the question means it is something that should not be loved? Or at the very least be something that is difficult to love. It also means that the person who asked does NOT love their dark skin 🙁 Sad Sad times. The mind boggles and it shows that the generations coming still have to overcome these insecurities and feelings regarding a lack of self worth, because as much as some may think it, racism is still an issue and internal racism otherwise known as colourism is a very big issue. See the video below…
Liz starts talking about skin bleaching from 3:42 until the end of the clip and I found myself agreeing with quite a few of her comments. Do you? What are your thoughts on what she says?
So I was in secondary school late 90s and leaving to start college in the early 00s. I know this might sound extremely bitchy but hey in for a penny in for a pound. A few of my light-skinned counterparts I feel have peaked and peaked early. As they were the desirable ones when I was growing up. They were the ones the guys went to. Who, (don’t all rush to string me up) from my limited experience were the ones who more sexually advanced and the vast majority of them had children earlier in life. The majority being teenagers and in their early twenties when they had children. Now I am not saying that this isn’t an honourable life path and life choice but my life would be very different if instead of having my head in my books and not being distracted by boys I was busy being overtly and prematurely sexual and having a love life well beyond my cognitive abilities. Now I’m no fool, so don’t think me that, but when you are infatuated by boys and all that jazz,and it has such an impact on your life to the point that you can no longer concentrate on your studies is it worth it? I just couldn’t comprehend the tears. I saw so many girls crying because they had slept with a guy only to find that he was no longer interested in them.
Whilst they were sobbing at break and lunch and willing their mobile phones to vibrate with a text message I was paying attention during sex education. I was achieving in school, as I had no distractions, no one was interested in me. I could easily have a different situation to the one I have now. Where I can go and come as I please, have a well paid job and have been able to see the world and grow as a person without having the responsibility of looking after another life.
I have been told multiple times ‘You are pretty for dark-skinned girl’ because it goes back to all of the negative connotations of black and what people attribute to it. I think half the time people don’t even realise the things they say and how they are received by those listening to what they say or observing their actions.
When I looked at those who deem me pretty for a dark girl they often giggled and/or try to make me understand what they mean or in some other way further put their foot further in their mouths! Or as my mum says continue to dig a hole in which to bury themselves! Please can someone tell me how colourism and racism and all of the prejudices that surround it have passed Grace by?
What Can We Do About It?
Well that’s almost the million dollar question isn’t it. I wrote an article on racism in education which you can find here. I think education is paramount as a lot of prejudices come from ignorance. I found an old Oprah Winfrey clip on YouTube from 1992 and its very poignant today 23 years later. It is in two parts and features Jane Elliott who is an anti-racism activist alongside being a feminist and LGBTQ activist
She speaks in my humble opinion a lot of sense and I think Grace needs to educate herself about the issues that black people face but she also needs to understand that Asians also have these issues in their communities too and I think it’s possibly a global issue.
To be honest I don’t really know exactly where my head is with this subject it is such a minefield and I don’t even think I have scratched the surface. I haven’t even spoke on reverse racism where people have returned ‘home’ after working overseas such as my grandparents who then had to deal with when they returned to Barbados from the UK. I haven’t even spoken about hair and what it means to have ‘good hair’. I also haven’t touched on some data which suggests that darker skinned women take home less money each month than not only their white counterparts but the lighter skinned counterparts too. Like I said this is a minefield. What do you think can be done? Can anything be done? I do know though that we need to start embracing beauty from all colours, from all creeds from all backgrounds and we need to start letting our offspring, the future generations coming up know that they are just as beautiful as even if they are not white, even if they do not have a natural crease in their eyelids, that they have more melanin in their skin than that of someone else.
What are your thoughts on Grace and not being aware that she was light-skinned until recently? Do you think LizLizLive and Jane Elliott have valid points?
Sound off in the comments below and hit me up on my social media