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THE SPREAD OF COLOURISM IN BLACK COMMUNITIES

The American novelist Wallace Thurman stated, the blacker the berry, the sweeter the
juice. However, in truth and in fact, this berry is frequently perceived as spoiled and poisonous
and as a result is often not given the opportunity to prove its sweetness. Segregation in the form
of colourism is a rapidly spreading problem in regions predominantly occupied by non-
Caucasian racial groups. Segregation is defined as the separation of different groups either
through physical dividers or by means of social pressures and laws. Colorism is defined as the
system of privilege and discrimination whereby light skin is more highly valued than dark skin;
it is an internalized form of racism. In this expository, the origin of colourism will be uncovered
as well as how it greatly influences the ideals of modern people. Likewise, ways to minimize and
gradually eliminate colourism will also be explored in the hope that one day, future black
communities may stand united despite pigmental differences.

In conducting this research, various challenges were faced. Of the many challenges, the
one most impeding to the research was the consistent denial of pigmental descrimination being
present within the black race. Due to this denial, retrieving information as it relates to the origin
of colourism was found difficult. Also, in conducting the survey, identifying the opposing skin
tone groups to ask questions was found difficult. This is because the skin tone difference between
dark skinned and light skinned individuals is often minute. The bible was used as a secondary
source in the research.The bible is an accurate account of history as not only was it written by
over 40 different trusted authors but its history has been proven truth by historian Flavius
Josephus. From Slavery to Freedom: The African-American Pamphlet Collection, 1822-1909
was also used as a secondary source. This presents 397 pamphlets published written by black
americans such as Frederick Douglass, Alexander Crummell and Booker T. Washington. These
pamphlets are very reliable as they give first-person accounts of slavery and tracts from anti-
slavery.

Firstly, colourism has a deeply historical background. This background, although often
believed to be the product of slavery extends far beyond this point. One story that supports this is
the biblical story of The Curse of Ham which dates back to 800 B.C.E. . The story entails
Noahs son Ham mocking his fathers nakedness. According to the story, as punishment, Noah
cursed Hams children to become the slaves of their uncles. Historians believe the cursed

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children belonged to east-central Africa and are therefore highly pigmented. Since these children
were dark, slavery became associated with dark pigments. Also, throughout the bible, numerous
references to blackness and darkness as being evil as well as white/lightness as being good and
holy is made. This indicates that a preference for lighter colours existed in that period. Based on
this, Christianised Europeans determined ones destiny based on their skin colour. In addition to
this, there exists ancient Indian scriptures dating back to 1500 B.C.E. which entails fights
between noble fair skinned kings and evil dark skinned kings. This association of dark skinned
with evil has embedded the idea of skin tone inferiority in the minds of many.

Despite the presence of colourism before colonialism, its widespread is undoubtedly a


result of colonialism. According to the pamphlets, during slavery in the Americas, black slaves
and white masters bore children of mixed ancestry. However, in accordance to the law, any trace
of black ancestry meant you were black- one drop rule. As a result, the spectrum of skin tones
among slaves and others who were legally black, grew wider. Slave owners often granted
more privileges to the lighter skinned slaves, saw them as smarter and more capable because of
their white ancestry and therefore allowed them some form of education or training, and
occasionally granted them their freedom. This principle of lighter being better has passed its way
through the generations causing todays colourism problem.

Secondly, colourism has grown to greatly affect the beliefs and ideals of modern people.
Buju Banton, a dark skinned Jamaican recording artiste did not hesitate to express his love for
his car, his bike, his money and things in his 1992 release. He however did not stop there and
ensured to inform the public of his love for his brownings. After negative feedback to the song
by his darker female fans, a song was published in which he stated that he hasnt stopped crying
for all black women. He then goes on to say respect to girls with dark complexions. Colourism
has affected the way darker skinned and lighter skinned individuals are viewed. The feeling
expressed towards darker skinned women is often that of pity while that expressed for lighter
skinned women is often admiration. This is because the relationship established between skin
colour and beauty is directly proportional in that the lighter an individual is the more beautiful
they are viewed. As a result of this constant neglect, darker skinned individuals often desire to
become lighter skinned. The desire to be lighter has led to the development of skin bleaching
products.

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L6H1
Colourism has led to more opportunities being present for lighter skinned individuals as
they are often viewed as smarter and more professional by employers. In the poem Dreaming
Black Boy by James Berry, the persona states I wish nobody would want to earn the terrible
burden I can suffer. Based on this principle, females darker in complexion often seek partners
lighter in complexion to reproduce with in the hope that they may produce lighter skinned
offsprings.

Chelsea Odufu, a dark skinned black journalist account a visit to the house of close
relatives . While staying there she found that all the members of her household used skin
lightening products. Being the darkest of them all, she is often encouraged to use these products
to open up more work opportunities. She complains of being told that her dark skin limited her to
being normal while her lighter skinned cousins are often referred to work in hollywood.
Colourism has led to the belief that high status and fame should be allocated to lighter
individuals while those who wish to attain these statuses must become lighter.

In the survey conducted, dark and light skinned participants were given scenarios in
which various activities were carried out by lighter and darker skinned individuals and their
opinions were solicited. One prime example is their opinion of a dark skinned woman with short
green hair verses a light skinned woman with dark short green hair. Responses to the darker
skinned woman with this hair cut include her being ghetto and unprofessional while the lighter
skinned individual is viewed as bold and edgy. This negative response was heard from people of
both dark and light skinned individuals. Colourism has led to the belief that certain things, when
done by lighter skinned indivuals is more acceptable than when done by darker skinned
individuals.

Lastly, there exists various means to reduce colourism in non-caucasian racial groups. It must
commence by first acknowledging the presence of it. However,the most effective method entails
the educating of youths about their origins and in doing so, promoting self-love. A group
consisting of ten grade seven students of dark and light skin tones was selected to complete a
questionnaire. In the questionnaire, they were asked to identify how their various origins made
them unique. Of the ten children, one child who has no obvious non-black heritage continuously
referred to her mixed heritage as being the reason for her uniqueness. She speaks of her Asian

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L6H1
brain being the reason for her good grades and her pretty coolie hair as being the reason for
her beauty.Too often are children led to believe that excellence is associated with non-black
features. Educating children about accomplishments of black people like themselves will
decrease the association of all things good with lighter, more Caucasian like skin tones.

One must also be aware that his/her own prejudices and biases may affect colourism even
when displayed unintentionally. A popular Jamaican comedian by the name Andrea Delcita
Wright often goes about mocking darker skinned individuals in her pieces. She paints her face
black and portrays dark skinned women as having IQs of chimpanzees. Despite these plays
being performed for solely entertainment purposes, they impact the opinion of the viewers.
Constant portrayal of darker skinned individuals being stupid will increase the belief that darker
skinned individuals are inferior. Being mindful of the content associated with dark skinned
individuals may reduce the idea of dark skin being inferior.

In conclusion, from the research conducted it is confirmed that colourism is already


affecting the beiefs and ideals of the members of the black community. However, if the
mentioned depletion methods are carried out, the dream of a united black community might
actually exist.

BRITTANY PITT
L6H1