Radical Self Care

radical self care: healing through colorism

August 5, 2019

col·or·ism (n): prejudice or discrimination against individuals with a darker skin tone, typically among people of the same ethnic or racial group.⁣⁣

Countless Black people experience colorism within the Black diaspora. Many don’t know what to do with it, or where it comes from, but feel discriminated within their own race. Colorism is a deeply rooted issue that black people must unpack. Black people, as a collective, can only truly begin to unpack colorism by examining the one-drop rule. The one-drop rule was a racial classification system that deemed anyone with a single drop of Black blood as “Black.” Racism birthed colorism to ensure that Europeans could and would not classify with Blacks in any shape or form. 

In other countries, when a person is bi-racial or even multi-racial, they are not classified as Black. Because your phenotype is an expression of your genetic heritage, the bi-racial or multi-racial lineage constitutes a different race. W.E.B. Du Bois addressed this contention in An Appeal, demanding that the world acknowledge Black people as humans and for the world to omit racism. His demand came from the unsettling reality that there were so many mixed people, or those with lighter skin identifying as solely Black, resulting in confusion and chaos in the Black community.  

“A nation which boldly declared ‘All men equal,’ proceeded to build its economy on chattel slavery,” wrote Dubois. “[M]asters who declared race-mixture impossible, sold their own children into slavery and left a mulatto progeny which neither law nor science can today disentangle.”

In the United States, people that are mixed-race or light skin are forced to live an illusion, to deny their white/other identity, and be categorized as solely Black. This creates a huge problem for the Black community in many ways. White supremacy creates a disturbing hierarchy, granting those who appear white or have lighter skin advancement than those who have more melanin. A 2011 study conducted in North Carolina found that, from over 12,000 African-American women who were imprisoned, light-skin women were sentenced to 12% less prison time than darker women. According to a Harvard University study, dark skin people  in the United States have lower socioeconomic status and are less likely to holding elective office compared with their lighter counter parts. Mainstream media consistently upholds white supremacy through colorism by representing lighter skin people before those with more melanin. To test this assertion, name all of the “hottest singers”  right now and count how many are lighter skin as opposed to darker skin. Black women also report experiencing colorism within their own households. Many attest to experiencing family members favored because they are lighter skin. Colorism is a plague on the Black community because it keeps white supremacy alive in the most subtle but loud way.

Colorism also stems from a myriad of stereotypes about people with darker skin. Most of the time, when the topic of colorism comes up, people expect for dark skin people to dislike their own complexion. Most conversations about colorism become a pity party. However, all dark skin people do not hate their complexions. Many dark skin people rejoice in knowing that the first person to ever breathe was the color of midnight, and we all know the deeper you go into history, the blacker God gets. Assuming that dark skin people dislike their complexion just furthers colorism. 

Healing through colorism means Black people must stop sweeping the topic under the rug. People with lighter skin tones must also stop taking up so much space within the black community. Lighter skin people must become allies to those with darker skin. Those who benefit from colorism must acknowledge its presence and be realistic when they perpetuate it because we never want to perpetuate an anti-Black ideology into the Black community. 

Ultimately, race is just another social construct created to maintain white supremacy. In reality, we are all just human beings that have been categorized and labeled via races, classes, etc. This is why Black people must begin to transition from fighting for civil rights. Black people must begin to stand up for all people categorized as black to have human rights. Throughout the Black diaspora, countries forced Black people to adopt the one-drop rule; therefore, colorism exists globally. To omit colorism and to embrace Blackness in its entirety, Black people must eliminate the one-drop rule and re-conceive race. 

(Photo: WCHR Images)

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Words by Satya, a global wellness leader, spiritual yoga and meditation teacher, and the Founder of Women Of Color Healing Retreats, the first wellness retreat for Black women.