Commentary: Are You a Colorist?

In some pockets of the Black community, African-Americans are still dividing themselves based on complexions. Why it’s time to get over it.

Posted: 10/15/2012 02:01 PM EDT
Commentary: Are You a Colorist?

In a new op-ed column for the Washington Post, author Marita Golden touches on the continuing problem of colorism in the Black community. If you’re not familiar with the term, then you’re probably familiar with the phenomenon it describes:

Sitting in one of the new swank restaurants in downtown Washington one evening, I mentioned the subject of colorism to the two African American women dining with me…

“When I was in high school a girl told me I acted like I didn’t know I was dark-skinned, and wondered where I got my pride and dignity from,” one said. The other told us about her daughter, who has been mistaken for every nationality from Greek to Spanish: “My daughter hears all the time from black boys that they would never marry a girl darker than she is.” My friend’s daughter also attends a respected HBCU and has shared with her mother stories of female classmates physically assaulting one another in the wake of verbal colorist insults.

And long before our dinner other sisters shared similar stories with me: “I was shocked to learn, the day after my grandson was born, that my daughter had been, as she said ‘praying that he’d come out light, like his father, not dark like me.’”

In short, colorism is the discriminatory practice some people in the Black community have adopted to rank each other based on lightness and darkness of skin. To some practitioners, the lighter the better. To others, being too light is a sign of inauthenticity and inadequacy when it comes to being a “real” Black person.

Regardless of where a colorist stands on the matter, the belief that some Black skin is somehow better than others is insulting and divisive. And yet, for many, colorism is something they were raised with and have learned to internalize over the years. Golden herself admits that she wasn’t comfortable in her own dark skin until college.

No matter your opinions on colorism, everyone should note that the colors composing Black America are only going to get more varied in the future. Interracial couples are now responsible for one in every 10 heterosexual marriages in America, and more people than ever are now comfortable calling themselves multiracial.

What it means to be Black is becoming less and less easily defined — if it ever was. If you’re a colorist, you can make a decision: Belittle and alienate based on skin tone or adapt with the modern era and understand that the breadth of Black America is widening and your outlook should widen with it.

The decision is yours to make, but one of those paths is a lot lonelier than the other.

The views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of BET Networks.

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