Archive for May, 2013

Another interesting take on colorism

Editor’s Note: Bill Duke commented in The Root DC that he created the film, Dark Girls “to create a discussion, because in discussion there’s healing, and in silence there is suffering.” To help facilitate discussion on the topic, Critical Issues Blog is running a series on colorism. This is part two. To contribute to the discussion, please email your article, bio and photo to

By Kelly Helland-Cline, Contributor


If “Colorism” is the new buzz word for discrimination based on color, then make some room in Webster’s for my take on the issue!

I have experienced colorism ever so intimately as it has been an integral part of my life. I just never knew that we had developed an official name for it. So I welcome the opportunity to tell you my story on “colorism.”

My mother, a dark-skinned mother of West Indian descent orchrestrated my story on colorism before I was even conceived. My mother grew up on the small Island of Trinidad and Tobago, where there is a thick line drawn between ethnicity and socio-economic classes, which is largely based on skin color. Although Carib natives initially inhabited this island it wasn’t until the onset of slavery that the caste system was birthed. Whites came over as slave owners, blacks were enslaved and East Indians came over as indentured servants.

As we all know, the lighter indentured servants were there to simply work the land, the dark slaves were out in the fields and the lighter ones in the ‘big house.” At that point, colorism began! Simply based on your color, you were treated differently.

Colorism encompases the belief that there are some social norms attached to the color of one’s skin. It is so entrenched into social systems that historically, the more educated and socially accepted black people passed for white.

It’s the idea that dark skin equals ignorance. Light skin equals intelligence. Good hair is curly. Bad hair is nappy. White is right, black is evil. Too many idioms to name. Crazy as they may sound, they are believed and accepted as socially accepted norms. This is “colorism!”

My mother grew up with the colorism ideal and wanted a better life for her children

My mother grew up with this ideal and wanted a better life for her children. She chose to date white men, and ultimately fell in love and married my father, probably the whitest man I have ever seen. Scandinavian decent, blond hair, blue eyes, handsome man, but they don’t make them much whiter than him. My mother believed that the lighter the skin, the better opportunity her children would have.

Now begins my life as a daughter and a sibling of three. Light skinned, but not light enough for the all-white community I grew up in. As a teen, my friends began to date, but there were no dates for the five black girls that attended the local high school. But interestingly enough the brothers of the five black girls had no problem dating. They just didn’t date us, they preferred the white girls. This was hard for an adolescent to understand.

During college I started to date the only men that were interested in me; white guys. I loved white men for loving black women and even today, I look at some of them with admiration. My question is: If White and Hispanic men can love us sistas then why can’t our own brothas? Not a hard question to ask, but seemingly a hard question to answerI I have yet to get a straight one that makes sense. Until now…. colorism!


Editor’s Note: Bill Duke commented in The Root DC that he created the film, Dark Girls “to create a discussion, because in discussion there’s healing, and in silence there is suffering.” To help facilitate discussion on the topic, Critical Issues Blog is running a series on colorism. This is part three. To contribute to the discussion, please email your article, bio and photo to


By  Mecca Baker, Contributor

Many people may not know that colorism affects guys just as bad as it affects the girls. I did some more research, and found that light-skinned guys and dark-skinned guys tend to hash it out when it comes to misconceptions about each other such as being ‘black enough,’ or ‘man enough.’

Out of Style

There is a saying in the black community that light- and dark-skinned guys go ‘in and out of style.’ What this means is there are periods when women and the mass media find lighter-skinned guys more attractive than darker-skinned guys, or vice versa.

One can compare these so-called color-complex eras to a fashion trend. One day, certain clothing may not be as acceptable as they are the next day, but they eventually come back in style. This is the kind of mindset some people have when it comes down to deciding which men are attractive, at the time, based on skin color. As with other misconceptions, this ideal is based on stereotypes.


You’re Not Black Enough!

Being light-skinned creates a stigma that a person is not in touch with his black culture because he may not be, or look, fully black. This creates the misconception that light-skinned men are not black enough.  In some people’s eyes, fair-skinned men with wavy hair and light eyes may be considered feminine, “too white,” nerdy or out of touch with the “black cause.”

This misconception may be related to the age-old fact that some very light-skinned people are mixed. In this case, the phrase ‘not black enough’ comes from the idea that a light-skinned person is not being black. However, being light-skinned does not necessarily mean a person is mixed. In the eyes of the law, we are all considered black. Right?

You’re Too Soft!

Another misconception about light-skinned guys is that they are weak or too soft. Meaning, that they are very sensitive and open with their emotions. In today’s world, when you are in touch with your feelings, you are unfortunately considered weak, and are therefore targeted because you are so vulnerable at times.

Conversely, darker skinned guys are said to be tough, strong, and more manly. This misconception bothers me the most because who are we to determine whether a guy is weak or strong based on his skin color, and when did being in touch with your feelings become a bad thing?

You’re Dirty!

Possibly the most common misconception about dark-skinned guys is that they are dirty, or they don’t take care of themselves. This goes hand in hand with the fact that people associate light, with good, and dark, with bad. Society believes the darker you are, the more evil and dirty you look.

This misconception is so sad to me, because the fact that society degrades people, and tells them they are dirty because of how dark their skin is, sickens me.

Mecca Baker is the creator and editor of a blog on Colorism, dedicated to bringing awareness and healing from this epidemic. For more information, please visit:

Kevin Cole (left) is a character of mixed heri...

Kevin Cole (left) is a character of mixed heritage, African and Jewish. His appearance is light-skinned (especially in contrast to his father) and therefore he is nicknamed “Kasper”. Panel from The Crew #2, art by Joe Bennett. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The dark-skinned black residents of Lazy Town ...

The dark-skinned black residents of Lazy Town are excited upon the arrival of the unnamed light-skinned girl. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Editor’s Note: Bill Duke commented in The Root DC that he created the film, Dark Girls “to create a discussion, because in discussion there’s healing, and in silence there is suffering.” To help facilitate discussion on the topic, Critical Issues Blog is running a series on colorism. This is part one. To contribute to the discussion, please email your article, bio and photo to
Bill Duke’s ‘Dark Girls’ Headed to theaters in June

By Mia Moody-Ramirez, Editor

Colorism Explained

Bill Duke’s controversial documentary, Dark Girls, explores the colorism faced by dark-skinned black women. The documentary, which debuts in June, is controversial because some people believe it airs the dirty laundry of African Americans. Others believe the documentary spotlights a minor problem in the Black community and blows it out of proportion.
In a 2012 article published in The Root DC, Duke commented that he created the film “to create a discussion, because in discussion there’s healing, and in silence there is suffering.”

Colorism is no doubt a sore spot among many African Americans. It describes the perception that society gives individuals with lighter skin advantages over those with darker skin and the idea that dark-skinned black women are not attractive. Kudos to Duke for exploring this taboo topic!

Among African-Americans, colorism is experienced in varying degrees. Most African-American families have family members of all shades, which fosters the appreciation for differences and decreases the prevalence of colorism. In my own family, my siblings are all beautiful shades of mahogany. I learned at an early age that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and beautiful people come in all hues.Colorism in Pop Culture

Colorism is illustrated in pop culture images of women. For instance, Shaviro (2005) found female beauty in rap videos is often portrayed as coming as close to whiteness as possible, without actually being white.

Zhang, Dixon and Conrad (2010)  found an overrepresentation of thin-bodied black and white women in the videos, especially in high-sex or materialistic videos. Shaviro, 2005 stated: 

Hip hop videos today tend to value the same near-anorexic slimness as mainstream white culture does—together with light skin and long, straight (fake as well as processed) hair. Most recently, there has also been a tendency to focus on women who are “multi-racial,” i.e. black and Asian (p. 69).

Worth noting is many rap artists do not practice what they preach. Whereas they practice colorism on the screen, when it comes to relationships, they often remain true to their black female counterparts.  Therefore, the argument may be made that rap artists and video producers are only trying to appeal to their audiences. In other words, they are giving people what they want. 
However, colorism is prevalent both on and off the screen. (Mis)perceptions/stereotypes that black women frequently encounter include:

1) Dark-skinned black women are unattractive

2) Dark-skinned black women  as a whole are angry

3) Dark-skinned black women are less desirable than women of other races


To help counteract these misperceptions, parents must teach their children to appreciate beauty of all skin tones and that beautiful people come in all shades. 

More importantly, parents should emphasize that characteristics such as dependability, compatibility, intelligence, are much more important predictors of a person’s character than his or her skin tone. Gone are the days when the brown paper bag test foolishly served as a measure of beauty and worth.

Dark Girls will serve as an impetus for healthy conversations about the evils of colorism as well as some other much needed conversations. Fostering healthy discussions is, after all, one of Duke’s purposes for the film. “Somehow if you can speak it and get it out, healing starts” (The Root DC, 2012). 

It is hoped that as America becomes more multicultural, colorism will become a thing of the past.
Related articles


Cover of "Save the Last Dance (Special Co...

Cover via Amazon

Statistics on Nightline Face-Off: Why Can’t a Successful Black Woman Find a Man indicated  that 42% percent of U.S. black women have never been married and that there are more black women than black men. Additionally, according to the segment, black women are more likely than black men to go to college and excel in corporate America. In the process of becoming successful, many black women put off dating or having families until their thirties, at which point they find it difficult to find a suitable mate of equal status who is  ready to commit to one woman. And those who fit the bill are often exclusively attracted to women of another race, gay or unwilling to settle down. This is compounded by the idea that black women should remain single rather than date outside of their race

Because of the statistics listed above, and many other factors, there is a large population of successful, unmarried black women.

Slim Thug helped explained the black male shortage in a article  (June 7, 2010). He stated that black men often fair better with white women who are supportive and less bossy. He added that both black men and women need to change their ways of thinking about relationships. Many black women want black men to be good providers; however, they do not want to reciprocate by playing a domestic role (Vibe, 2010).

“Most single Black women feel like they don’t want to settle for less. Their standards are too high right now. They have to understand that successful Black men are kind of extinct. We’re important. It’s hard to find us so Black women have to bow down and let it be known that they gotta start working hard; they gotta start cooking and being down for they man more. They can’t just be running around with their head up in the air and passing all of us.”

English: Slim Thug wearing a do-rag, July 14, ...

English: Slim Thug wearing a do-rag, July 14, 2005 cropped from flickr photo by thebestbradley (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Slim Thug’s comment illustrates the power struggle often faced between Black men and women.  I believe both genders need to change their views about each other for the sake of a healthier community. However, in popular culture there very few examples of how to go about doing this.

Positive images of relationships between a black man and a black woman are hard to find in mass media, i.e. movies and television shows. Black men are often paired with Hispanic, white or mixed-race women (e.g., Hitch, Flight, Snow Dogs and Save the Last Dance).

Positive messages must discuss the importance of a 50-50 partnership in which each person contributes equally and is faithful. For instance, music lyrics, television shows and movies can help improve relationships by including discussions of how black men and women can work together for the betterment of the community.

At any rate, the beef between black men and women must be squashed.

Interesting post on what defines a “white” person.

No More Race

Thank God, some people get how stupid our concepts of race are. I think I was tipped to this article by the blog, Mixed American Life, and I really wish it were required reading. Here is an excerpt:

It’s been widely mentioned among a certain set on social media networks that the suspect in the Boston bombings is Chechen, and therefore, “Caucasian.” The good-natured purpose of this being to foil the usual insipid bigotry let loose in similar situations, which assumes that all terrorists are non-White, that Muslims are of a separate, lesser race, and/or that any particular terrorist act is part of some larger, epochal war of “us versus them.”

All of these racist conclusions are ridiculous, and would be easily refuted with the most basic and widely-accepted social and scientific data of contemporary times. However, stating that because the suspect is from the region of the Caucasus…

View original post 281 more words

English: Cartoon published in the Melbourne ve...

English: Cartoon published in the Melbourne version of Punch on 14/04/1887. The caption, missing from this picture, read: “Some foolish people imagine our ladies will neglect their family duties. Quite a mistake. 3 am. That dear good old creature, Mr Speaker, is kind enough to take the blessed infant while the Hon. Member addresses the house.” She’s wearing a prominent bustle, in line with 1880s fashions. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: A magazine feature from Beauty Parade...

English: A magazine feature from Beauty Parade from March 1952 stereotyping women drivers. It features Bettie Page as the model. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Media stereotypes of women often focus on appearance and intelligence. Traditional stereotypes included passive women who depended on their husbands, brothers and fathers for emotional and financial support. In contrast, women in today’s TV shows are likely to contain a mixture of both male and female characteristics.

Today’s leading women are often sexy and intelligent, on one hand, and tragic and lonely on the other. We are more likely to see the ruthless corporate woman who is attractive and successful in the business world but ill equipped in developing personal relationships.

Some of the portrayals are a step in the right direction in improving the perception of women, as many of today’s heroines are independent, intelligent and successful. However, their emphasis on materialism, sex, beauty and perfection often overshadow positive messages. In addition, mass media depictions of successful women suffering from heartbreak illustrate what happens to women who don’t assume the traditional roles for women.

Stereotypes persist because they maintain the status quo of society and help keep things the same. Stereotypes are of concern because media help citizens make sense of the world around them, especially for depictions of women and people of different backgrounds.  Additionally, stereotyping is a social control tool that builds group solidarity and creates an “us versus them” mentality.

The images are a slap in the face to the women who fought so hard years ago for equal rights. These representations have a negative impact on how people view women. As I watch reality shows of women who present themselves negatively, I begin to wonder how many women are actually the way they are portrayed on TV–materialistic, conniving, gold digging, promiscuous, spoiled, ungrateful. I’m sure the men who watch these shows feel the same way. They probably think the shows reaffirm what they believe about women; therefore women can’t be trusted. In addition, girls may begin to emulate these images and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and a step backwards in women’s rights.

Women should demand better portrayals of women by writing about these issues in blogs, etc. They can boycott music, publications, TV shows, and products that denigrate women. They teach their daughters to fight back. They can empower themselves and refuse to accept these portrayals.