For the Love of Brown Girls: Colorism and the Harm It Does

Debbie says:

every-month-is-black-history-month-button-in-3-sizes-8The only good thing about cramming Black History Month into February is that a great many good articles on black history and culture show up during this month. Before the end of the month, I’ll put up at least one history-specific piece.

Meanwhile, Liz Dwyer at TakePart has an excellent feature on three black teens in Philadelphia who have taken a cold hard look at skin color in the black community. Barbara and Karen Fields have convinced me about the insidious meaninglessness of the concept of “race”; skin color is another matter.

Dwyer starts with a bit of her own history:

I grew up being called “white sugar” by my grandmother, while my darker, 11-day-older cousin was called “brown sugar.” My grandma loved us both, but she would sometimes kiss me on the forehead in front of my cousin and say, “White sugar always tastes sweeter.”

Moving into her current topic, Dwyer says:

Joie Nearn, Imani Weeks, and Sydne Hopkins, three 17-year-old seniors at Science Leadership Academy, a public magnet high school in Philadelphia, are turning the spotlight on the effect of bias against darker-skinned black girls.

The teens spent three months working on “For the Love of Brown Girls,” a project that explores the perspectives and experiences of black teens at the racially and economically diverse school. Along with creating a website and blog, Nearn, Weeks, and Hopkins scripted, filmed, and edited a mini-documentary about colorism….

“Some of the things I heard in some of the interviews I took to heart and found disheartening,” said Nearn. “It’s crazy how people don’t understand or realize that the things they say about skin color are horrible.”

It’s gut-wrenching to watch a teen boy stare into the camera and say, “I’ma keep it 100. I only like light-skinned girls.” It’s equally heartbreaking to see a girl describe a summer camp counselor who lined campers up light to dark, with darker kids in the back.

As a white person, what I have to say about colorism is “Watch the video. Read and listen to what these women are saying.”

As a body image activist, I can add that anything that divides us into more and less attractive beyond the purely individual is arbitrary, harmful, and inappropriate. What’s more, a huge percentage of what feels like purely individual takes on attractiveness is culturally based and mediated. How often do you hear someone say, “I just like the way fatter people look,” or “I think wrinkles are sexy”?

Also, never forget that someone is making money, lots of money, reinforcing these arbitrary divides. Dwyer addresses this in her feature: “Black people around the world spend $10 billion a year on toxic skin lighteners—and for good reason: Studies show that darker-skinned black people are less likely than their lighter-skinned peers to be hired for the same job [and] get tougher prison sentences …”

Thanks to Joie Nearn, Imani Weeks, and Sydne Hopkins for fighting back!