Colorism Amongst Kids: Not Just Empire’s Grace Gealey’s Story

April 2, 2015  |  

Empire’s sizzling first season may be over but its stars are still making news. Last week Taraji P. Henson grabbed headlines after alleging her son was racially profiled during a university tour, and this time around her on-screen nemesis, Anika Calhoun aka Boo Boo Kitty, is causing a stir.

In an interview with DETAILS magazine, Grace Gealey discussed her scene-stealing role on Empire and how moving to the United States from the Cayman Islands when she was 18 made her aware that she was “light-skinned.”

Gealey, who is biracial, explained:

“It’s the whole light-skinned/dark-skinned dynamic [for women of color]. I mean, there’s competition among women everywhere you go. But back home we understand that you can look like a variety of things and still be from the same culture. What I’m saying is that I’ve never felt like I was a light-skinned black woman. Never felt that way because we shared the same culture back home. But when I came to America, that’s when I started to feel that there was a lot of push-back from women. I was definitely made aware that I am light-skinned. I realized that was a thing here.

“It was something that people felt the need to point out. I guess maybe it’s a form of intra racism: I was discriminated against for being light-skinned and there were a lot of labels. Some people assumed that guys might like me more because of my complexion or that I had it easier in general. Which is funny because I’ve been a victim of prejudice as well: There were times when I have walked into a Rite Aid at 12 o’clock at night and had the store manager stand in the corner and stare at me while I was looking at nail polishes.”

In the Black community there’s been a lot of discussion about colorism lately. From Bill Duke’s documentaries Dark Girls, and its follow-up, Light Girls, to #TeamDarkSkin and #TeamLightSkin hashtags on social media, it’s clear the Black community is still dealing with the wounds of global white supremacy, which praises white and light skin above all else.

But it’s not just Black women. Kids are also dealing with colorism.

Two of my sons’ best friends, who happen to be brothers, have also had to deal with people, especially other kids, commenting on their skin color. While both boys are fairly light, one has loose, curly hair and the other has a kinky fro. Many of the kids at their school have called the younger boy (the one with loose curls) white, a term that seems to bother him because his mom is Black. So far the kids haven’t been malicious about pointing out the fact that the younger boy doesn’t look like his brother, but it’s often made him feel singled out and different.

Gealey’s comments about being discriminated against because of her skin color has reopened the discussion about colorism in America. However, it’s important to note this divisive topic didn’t begin with Black people, but is a side-affect of global white supremacy that plagues communities of color around the world.

Skin lightening and bleaching is a multi-billion dollar business all over the globe, with whiter/lighter skinned people being thought of as more beautiful and successful. In Asia, for instance, you’d be hard pressed to find skin care products without skin lightening agents. In India, skin care companies regularly depict darker skinned people as less attractive and depressed. In parts of Africa, bleaching creams are readily available despite being outlawed by most governments. Here in the US, celebrities with lighter skin are hailed as sexy, beautiful, and are generally more successful than their darker hued peers.

Colorism is a serious issue that affects people all across the color spectrum. And while we’d like to pretend those issues no longer affect us, our children continue to grapple with them today.

Can you relate to Gealey’s comments on colorism in the U.S.? Share your experience in the comments section below.  

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