By Cord Jefferson
Ask most any African American if racism is alive and well in America and chances are most of them will answer in the affirmative. Race relations are still problematic with many whites, they might add, and the rapidly diversifying American landscape means growing ethnic tensions between Blacks and Latinos and Blacks and Asians, as well. This is right, of course—many African-Americans do still suffer prejudice at the hands of other races.
The buzz around the upcoming documentary Dark Girls once again brings to the forefront the awful “colorism” in the Black community. Focusing on how difficult it can be for the darkest of Black women to feel accepted in a world that seems to celebrate only Beyoncés, Dark Girls finds women admitting awful bouts of self-loathing: “I can remember being in the bathtub asking my mom to put bleach in the water so that my skin would be lighter and so that I could escape the feelings I had about not being as beautiful, as acceptable, as lovable.”
Colorism is one of the lingering side effects of racism and colonialism throughout much of the world. In parts of Asia, where British settlers tormented natives for years, skin-bleaching creams are all the rage amongst the darker citizens. In some places, like South Africa, white oppressors even came up with ratings systems in which lighter people of color were given preference over the darker people. That minorities have come to segment themselves is frequently a learned behavior, and one of the more despicable ones at that.
Beyond that, European standards of beauty, in which lighter Black women with unnaturally straight hair are heralded, have frequently been foisted upon consumers by unthinking marketing agencies and the fashion industry. With so many companies telling people that lighter women are the ideal, it was only a matter of time before people started believing it.
It should go without saying, but Blacks have enough to worry about without attacks from one another. That all African-Americans haven’t yet learned that judging someone based on the color—or, in this case, shade—of their skin is wrong is indicative of a deep problem in the community. It also means we have a long way to go if we’re going to actually defeat racism. If we can’t respect ourselves enough to not hate others’ colors, we’ll never be able to get others to respect us.