Let’s talk about the cringing topic of colourism, also known as shadeism. It is slowly becoming a phenomenon that is hard to ignore. What actually triggered my thoughts regarding this issue, is a recent episode of Love and Hip Hop Atlanta, where one cast member is so adamant on transforming her skin tone from a dark shade to a lighter one because she feels rejected by the American audience. She feels that the audience, in particular, does not regard as her beautiful enough because she does not match the existing beauty standards of the music industry, being light skinned amongst other things.
She calls the black race hypocrites because we are the first to make crude remarks about darker shaded people, yet we are also the first to rebuke and judge the same people when they resort to lightening their tone. Colourism focuses on the ‘black’ race on a wider spectrum looking at all the shades between black and brown. I say ‘black’ because for whatever reason (perhaps the term black is understood to be derogatory and degrading, given to us people of colour by colonialists and former slave owners) some choose to identify as brown. Actually thinking about it, we must be the only race that has further divided itself in terms of color, especially in modern times.
Indians are also known to carry a different attitude to different skin tones; this is simply a matter of an existing caste system. It is believed that the lighter you are the wealthier your family and family name, the darker you are the poorer you are. The lowest caste members use to work in the fields, and performed hard labour in the scorching sun, that is opposite for the higher caste members. Region also plays a role, the north and south region.
Looking at African history, South Africa for example, we are divided into 11 ethnic groups. This division came upon during the colonial era in the form of what is known as indirect rule. This was a strategy employed by the minority, white Europeans, so that they could exercise power and ruler-ship over the majority Africans. This segregation meant that we were divided by the means of land and ethnicity. This is still very much apparent today, as we have the Xhosas who occupy the Eastern Cape, former Transkei area and the Zulu who occupy Kwa-Zulu Natal, former Zulu Land. However, these two groups belong, together with emaSwati and amaNdebele, to the same traditional group (I refuse to use the term ‘tribe’, because the term does not exist in any of our ethnical languages), the Nguni, but this division had to take place, because that was the only way the white man could manage his authority, in the form of divide and conquer. So, our division as a race has always been socially inclined, it is psychologically instilled in us.
We can all admit to the fact that oppression still exists in today’s society across Africa and even in countries outside of Africa where black people reside. Every day forms of oppression include opportunities and equality, and for those reasons I do not blame those who believe that if they identify as something lighter they would be subject to the same opportunities and experience similar equality as their white counter parts. So much so, that we have then ventured to divide ourselves further within a race. I don’t think that most black people are aware that this is a form of oppression that stems from colonization. This kind is rather subtle and it is psychological, almost like religion.
I think what puzzles me the most is the fact that I’ve never witnessed a whitening experience from a dark shade to a lighter brown shade, it almost always seems to be on the extreme side; looking like a white character. I presume this is where the negative speech about skin bleaching stems from. Does it mean that you completely dislike the brown skin, because you do not even try to measure to a lighter shade of black or brown, but instead you aim for a shade outside of the spectrum?
There is the whole melanin movement whereby black people conscientise towards celebrating darker shades of brown. But before that the light skinned woman was seen as more beautiful and accepted by society and within the black community. The light skinned girl therefore grows up with an unsolicited type of confidence that the darker skinned woman did not experience because society did not recognize her beauty as equal to that of a lighter skinned woman. This begins at a preparatory stage, unconsciously, perhaps from the white children that black children in mixed schools associated with.
But it disseminates into our adulthood, as what we adopt in our early ages grows and sticks with us, especially if society also supports it. So, here we are today with emojis that have different shades of black, and we have stop and compare which shade actually resembles my true shade, and no one ever chooses that last dark shade, because it’s ‘too dark’, but is it not as black as the others are? Are the lighter shades also not black? How does it even impact how others see you?
Actually why is changing your skin tone even a consideration? My point is that it is silently ingrained in our psyche that our colour may be the root cause of the problem, as it was in history. But I am firm believer of changing or altering whatever it is you may not like about yourself, by all means, especially if you can afford it. I am not one to judge you.
However, I perceive small-scale social things like this as things that are subtle and subliminal but are also highly effective forms of oppression; they are ways in which black people continue to exercise the influence of colonization on our own race. We have to praise and applaud the whole recognizing melanin movement, because we need to abandon what we have been taught about color and honor each and every shade of black, this will ultimately result in a unified race that is undisputedly more powerful.