It has been 152 years, 4 months, and 2 weeks from today, April 20, 2018, the day I have begun writing this, since slavery in the United States was legally abolished with the ratification of the 13th Amendment. Yet, I remain bound to chains and shackles. The 13th Amendment abolished slavery and involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime where the party is accordingly convicted. I was "accordingly" convicted. My crime: fighting against the internalized racism and institutional racism Blacks face. Now, I am left in the dark, suffocated by the oppressive hands of my opponents. I refuse for my lips to be sewn shut so they whip me, praying my will to fight dies with each lash they give me. Before me, countless souls of all colors either lost hope or paid the price with their lives for the crime I am now convicted of. But this time, we will win.
I was five when my mom sat beside me on our beige couch and pulled out a book from her zebra striped bag titled Shades of Black: A Celebration of Our Children by Sandra Pinkney. The book nurtured my love for all the skin tones Black people appear in, from the "creamy white frost in vanilla ice cream" to the "milky smooth brown in a chocolate bar." My mom and I read the book aloud and as we finished, she turned to me and said, “Always be proud of who you are. You’re Black and proud, say it.”
"I’m Black and proud”, I repeated.
“That's not enough," my mother argued "jump up and yell ‘I’m Black and proud'!”
“I’m Black and proud!” I screamed, fist pumped in the air.
But what does "Black and proud" mean? It means eliminating the hierarchy of colorism in the Black community and eradicating terms associated with colorism: light-skinned, brown-skinned, dark-skinned, yellow-bone, red-bone, tar-baby, and blackie, because the Shades of Black are meant to unify, not divide and elevate those on the lighter spectrum. "Black and proud" means I can become a pediatric surgeon in this country because James McCune Smith paved the way for me as the first African American to hold a medical degree in the United States from the University of Glasgow. My education is my battle strategy against my opponents because education harbors the power for change. My parents always said, "Once you have your education, it is the one thing no one can ever take away from you", and I could not agree more.
So today, I am here to educate you all on colorism' s contribution to institutional racism, its contribution to the dismantling of black unity, and its contribution to the hindrance of black progression. Colorism is defined as "prejudice or discrimination against individuals with a dark skin tone, typically among people of the same ethnic or racial group." Colorism against Black Americans began through slavery and can be briefly explained through two categories: house slaves and field slaves. House slaves were lighter in skin tone and were usually the product of interracial relations between white slave masters and black female slaves. These slaves were often given less grueling work than their counterparts, and at times, they were educated and freed. Field slaves, however, possessed dark complexions and were forced to work in the brutal sun from sunrise to sunset and were provided little luxury, if any. The people responsible for the foundation of colorism knew exactly what they were doing: it was a divide and conquer tactic. By not appropriately addressing colorism in the Black community, we have not only allowed for them to succeed, but we have also allowed for the continuation of slavery in these United States of America.
I cannot discuss colorism without discussing sexism, specifically toxic masculinity and misogynoir. The Sentencing Project, a nonprofit organization, found that black men are nearly six times as likely as white men to be incarcerated. (Kahn & Davies) in their 2011 study discovered that dark-skinned Black men have been stereotyped by African Americans and Whites as being “bad boys” and very dangerous. The system is already against them. But to have their own people- people who know the struggle and share the same history- be against them? Devastating. Unironically, dark skin in black men has been associated with"alpha" qualities such as dominance and virility. But such "desired" qualities no longer remain when a black male is treated as three-fifths human and his virility is associated with the "corruption" of white women. Speaking of women, we must not neglect Black women. Earlier I used the term misogynoir, which is misogyny directed towards black women where race and gender both play roles in bias. Villanova researchers studied more than 12,000 cases of African-American women imprisoned in North Carolina and found that women with lighter skin tones received more lenient sentences and served 12 percent less time behind bars than women with darker skin tones. A 1990 study lead by Hughes and Hertel revealed that lighter skinned Blacks were more likely to have greater years of education, higher salaries and more prominent jobs than their darker skinned counterparts. It's no wonder Lupita Nyong'o used to pray to have lighter skin, especially when Black women in the United States who work full time, year-round are typically paid just 63 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men. How much easier it would have been for her- and every dark skinned black woman- to look less...."Black". On the other hand, a rapper like Drake does not have dark skin, and therefore does not have the "street cred" needed to garner respect as a Black rapper in the music industry. So ,we replaced his lack of "street cred" with an abundance of Drake memes, mocking the emotional appeal in his songs and labeling him as soft and sensitive: "typical" qualities found in light skinned Black men. And while we were at it, we equated light skin to femininity, and we equated femininity to a repulsive joke, worthy of contempt.
There is no one method to tackle colorism but there is only one way to properly begin the conservation: through truth and acceptance. Admit colorism exists and accept that colorism and racism are not mutually exclusive. Today, you have all received an adequate education on colorism. Remember, it can never be taken away from you, so you might as well do something about it. It is your opportunity to free those bound by the chains and shackles of colorism and racism.