If there’s one thing I’ll never be able to wrap my head around it is the mind boggling human disdain for another purely based on the colour of their skin. Without pausing to find out whether or not an individual is capable of truly sinister acts such as thieving or fraud, one is immediately pre-judged and hated, merely for having what has been deemed for centuries, a disagreeable hue.
The deep-rooted hatred of colorism has sparked generations of interracial disputes as witnessed within the confines of slavery, apartheid and even in contemporary spaces like the entertainment industry. When put in context, I can’t help but marvel at the ridiculousness of it all, “I am lighter toned and therefore somehow automatically superior and more knowledgeable, while you being darker toned, are only fit to cater to my every whim.”
The unwavering presence of colourism within Black and Brown communities has consistently dealt blows to my personal self-image. Only a few years ago, I being of lighter skin, was referred to as ‘oyibo pepper,’ a Nigerian term of endearment reserved for those of fairer skin tones. For my day to be ruined, all that was required was a casual remark noting my tan, or even (and I am embarrassed to admit) expressing that a friend or acquaintance of mine looked lighter than me. I would immediately go into hiding, avoiding the sun’s rays like I had a bounty on my head. I applied various skin healing ointments with the fervour of the devout, praying to emerge lighter than ever.
To understand my previous obsession with complexion, I didn’t have to delve too deeply. Growing up in Nigeria, the premium placed on lighter skin held so much value that it practically stood as it’s very own well-performing currency. For new parents, barely masked disappointment followed when visitors and well-wishers discovered the child was dark skin. Visitors examined the child’s cuticles, and issued statements such as: “thank God she took her mother’s colour.” This disparity in treatment continues, as nicknames such as ‘yellow paw-paw’ are spewed at light skin children, and ‘blackie’ at dark skin ones.
Growing up in Nigeria, the premium placed on lighter skin held so much value that it practically stood as it’s very own well-performing currency.
It appears my generation is poised to follow suit in promoting colourism. I cringe when I hear my peers utter popular statements such as: ‘you’re pretty for a dark-skinned girl’, or ‘I usually don’t date dark-skinned girls.’ During a recent trip to the market with a friend, I witnessed a trader question why my friend, as a dark-skinned woman, dare refuse the advances of a petty trader. This gentleman assumed that as a dark skin woman, she owed libations to the gods for any attention thrown her way.
Colourism, being so ingrained in the fabric of this new global society, might leave many dangerously unaware of its effects. By ascribing an unreasonable hierarchy on traits as subjective as beauty and intelligence, purely based on the colour of another person’s skin, a narrow beauty standard is created, one that leads individuals to resort to extreme measures to accommodate it.
In Africa and throughout the diaspora, one the most adverse effects of colourism is skin bleaching. Skin bleaching was so widespread at my university, it was almost guaranteed that many students would return from their tropical vacations several unnatural shades lighter than the previous semester. In lieu of bleaching, some also turned to pill popping and acid baths to achieve their desired looks. Obsessed with the need to meet artificial standards of beauty, people, especially women chemically lighten their skin while leaving themselves vulnerable to cancer, severe acne and discolouration.
Ideally, colourism should have no place in our reasoning or relationship within this global society, and even more so within Africa and the diaspora, where the majority of the population is of a darker hue. While it might seem insurmountable to overcome the social implications prompted by centuries of colourism, it is an achievable feat. As I have always held, a thousand people believing the wrong thing is right, won’t magically make it so. There is beauty in all of us and the only standards we should fight to achieve are self-acceptance and the acceptance of others, with no pre-conditions attached.
Featured Image: Bria Benjamin, prints available at Society6