Why The Discussion About Colorism Won’t Change Or End Unless We’re Honest With Ourselves And Deal With Our Own Pain

April 9, 2013  |  

Aside from being a big topic of discussion after A$AP Rocky’s words about women of a darker complexion needing to pass on bright red lipstick, colorism was also the topic of discussion on Twitter a few weeks ago. And the question posed that intrigued me to the point of response was simply:

“Will colorism end without discussing it? Have things improved due to the relative silence over the subject?

I didn’t have to think very hard about that. Every discussion I had been a part of up to a few months ago and every discussion I silently watched unfold ended in hurt feelings and intense anger on one or both sides. For a long time I just chalked it up to years of, “Well that’s just the way it is.” But seeing the discussion get started on Twitter once again, I really got to the root of why I believed simply DISCUSSING colorism will not improve anything.

I grew up being called “high yella” and enduring jabs from classmates telling me that I was trying to be a white girl. When I wasn’t being dissed I was being asked, “Are you mixed? What are you?” People were genuinely interested when they thought I was some exotic mixture of ethnic blood. When I convinced them I was simply and awesomely black, interest was lost. I don’t have time to get into how that tug-of-war effed up my sense of self royally. Nor do I want to go into it. Why? Because there will always be a few who are darker than me who will be outraged by the fact that I even allude to struggling with color issues. And that’s fine, but the discussion about colorism will NOT improve or erase colorism because a great many people just DO NOT respect the other side’s struggle. And if there is no respect between dark and light, there can never be a discussion that will make things better. If there is no foundation of empathy and compassion, what good will a discussion do?

My sister is a few shades darker than me and for years we fought like cats and dogs. I had no real understanding of why. I thought she just hated me and I left it at that. Fine. I hated her too.

It wasn’t until last summer, both of us in our late twenties, that we sat and had a real conversation about it. She revealed to me that her whole life she felt people cared about me more because I was lighter and deemed prettier than her. It blew my mind because I never considered colorism in my own household with my own family. It was “out there,” but not “in here” in my mind. I just thought she had the devil in her when we fought. I had no idea how deep a hurt she was dealing with. But once I shut up and invited her to speak freely, I got it. I understood her and she understood me. But it wasn’t until we decided to drop our defenses and hear each other out objectively that a conversation about colorism would help us to progress. We had to grow up first. And that is something most folks can’t/won’t do. They want to stay stuck in their own little worlds of hurt ON BOTH SIDES of the debate and not acknowledge the pain and frustration on the other side of the line. That is and will always be counterproductive.

The other reason that a discussion about colorism won’t improve the situation is because no one wants to take self-inventory. It’s easy to say “I’m dark-skinned and I’ve been discriminated against” or “I’m light-skinned and been unfairly judged” and never look to see what part you might have played in the discrimination/unfair judgment by someone who isn’t on your side of it all. Were you a light-skinned child who teased and berated darker-skinned girls? Did you stand by and ALLOW it to happen even if you never partook in such behavior? Were you an insecure child of a darker complexion who bullied the child lighter than you because you felt inferior? Let’s get real. We all have hurt and pain, but how often do we dig deeper to see what hurt we’ve inflicted on others?

If we can be honest with ourselves first, and deal with our pain/pre-judgments, then a progressive discussion can happen. But not before. Take it from a sister who is still digging deep daily, learning about herself and others and striving to become better.

La Truly’s writing is powered by a lifetime of anecdotal proof that awkward can transform to awesome and fear can cast its crown before courage. La seeks to encourage thought, discussion and change among young women through her writing. Check her out on Twitter: @AshleyLaTruly and AboutMe www.about.me/latruly.

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  • WhoMe

    Build a bridge and get over it!

  • Omg, finally an article that is speaking the truth…I’m writing my senior thesis on colorismand it mskes me so sad as I research my paper to see the deep hurt this issue has caused…I’m a light-skinned female who was picked on and called the same names, high yellow, red, light bright, white girl, I have sandy brown hair so that really made the situation worse…the black kids didn’t think I was blsck enough snd the white ones thought I wss a sideshow freak…thank you for this article…

  • MM82

    Great article . I remember dating a guy who seemed very intersted in me until one day he asked me what my mix was. I was shocked and told him black . Needless to say his interest seemed to faint after that. I’ve also met many dark men whose first comment was how much they loved my skin tone which was a total turn off. Stupid as it may seem, I believe colorism will always be an issue.

  • Chey

    This whole argument is played TF out! Black folks stay putting one another down! “Light skin vs. dark skin, good hair vs. bad hair, long hair vs. short hair, relaxed vs. natural, etc.” like really?? Massa got us where he wanted us.

    • jjac401

      The issue should be played out – and I thought is was getting beter, but with all of the recent put downs from young folks (who obviously got this mind set passed down) about who is best or worst based on skin tone, it’s obviously to me that this BS will never end.

  • rita

    Well MN is certainly doing their part to make sure we keep talking about it. And why do all the articles here seem to be from the “poor little lightskinned girl” perspective? Would be good to get more written by darkskinned women. I don’t really get the big deal about it, which says a lot about how I was raised. My mom and her family are light skinned, my dad and his family are darkskinned. I’m neither, being the kind of light brown that varies a lot based on the amount of sun I’ve gotten, so I don’t really have any skin in this debate (pun intended). Not making it an issue really worked for my family. Yeah sure, it came up, but my mom always reassured us that we were beautiful, worthy, and black, and that skin color didn’t matter — it was easy for us to buy because our extended family is a visible testimony to that.

  • Yay!

    I agree. LS vs. DS is less about others than it is about one’s
    self. As a deep brown skin person, I vividly recall being teased about my color
    from peers to family. The truth is you have a choice; you can let that negative
    energy bring you down or propel you. I mostly got mad and made plans educationally
    and career wise to leave the nay-sayers in the dust. I did and when I come
    across former classmates or family that used to put me down, they never seem
    worth the animosity. I say focus on improving yourself and trivial things like skin color won’t faze you.

    • mac

      I’m sorry but I must say, after I read “deep brown skin”, the rest of this post was just ironic to me. “Deep brown” sounds a lot like dark skinned. Do you have qualms about calling yourself dark skinned?

  • SheBe

    I agree with the author on this. This was a good article. Nice job!

  • Crazyco

    As a brown skin women why is it always brown & light skin with the problem. What about the women in between. Can we all just grow up and get over ourselves. I dealt with this in elementary along with a million other things. Gosh people dark & light grow up ! If you still lack confidence and self-esteem your problem is probably deeper than skin. I refuse to believe the only problem some faced are skin tone issues. There has to be something more important to gripe about ? If not you should be thankful ! With that being said I don’t think women are the problem. I think we need to stat reaching out to black men. They sometimes have a problem with themselves and it reflect onto us women !

    Once black people start loving what & who they are they will stop favoring lighter skin. How is your sister not going to feel indifferent when momma probably gave you extra cookies, or the family probably treated you better ? Love yourself black people and your children won’t have this problem !!

    • IllyPhilly

      This site does seem obsessed with some skin tone articles.

    • Kylie

      I agree with you on the part about men. They play a big part in instigating the dark vs light problem. However most of them refuse to see how brainwashed they are.