Colorism Part 2: Colorism from the Point of View of a Mixed-Race Daughter, Mother and Woman

Posted: May 28, 2013 in Uncategorized
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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 aimhigh3@yahoo.com.

By Kelly Helland-Cline, Contributor

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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!

So after college I moved to the big city where diversity was rampant. I became the ‘it girl.’ I was dark enough to take home to momma and the family, but still light enough for the preference of black men. Now in the big city, I had a large dating pool. And for some reason, I preferred them dark. I know now that the color of my skin and the texture of my hair made me more desirable. I saw the stares from the dark-skinned girls, and almost felt a twinge of guilt. But my time was coming. Black men in Toronto eventually cast the light-skinned black girls aside as well. Take a walk downtown Toronto, I doubt you will see an all-black couple. They are few and far between.

As a mother, I see it far too often. My own two daughters are going through the same thing as I did. But interestingly enough, they are having different experiences. My eldest is a bit darker, but beautiful, but is standing on the sidelines as her friends get caught up in the dating scene. While my other daughter who has lighter skin with green eyes is moving along as if she invented the whole dating scene. Boys their age prefer to date white girls, my youngest with her lighter skin and eyes, can almost pass. Colorism!

Ah, now for me as a middle-aged woman back in the dating scene. First of all, not a good scene to be back in!!!! I am having some issues dating black men, remember my preference. I consider myself a decent-looking woman, well educated, financially stable so why has it been so hard to find my equal, my partner?

Perhaps I am too picky. I prefer to date within my race, and I am not asking for more than what I bring to the table. But it so happens that the dating pool is more like a dried up pond, possibly only a few droplets left at the bottom.

I will confess to one issue that I do have when dating–it bothers me to date black men that have dated white women in the past. Why would they bother with me now? Weren’t we good enough for them 20 years ago? Do white women at this age no longer find them appealing since their ’baller’ days are over. Are black women now expected to pick up the ball that they dropped? I can feel myself getting heated on this topic. I do believe this to be colorism as I am not racist. As heated as I may get, I am open minded and this does make for a good conversation to say the least.

I have had to let go of some of these ideals as I felt they were holding me back. I am in a good relationship with a man that I conider my partner, my equal. I suppose he was one of the last droplets in the pond.

So that is my story on “colorism.” Although the color of my skin and my experiences shape my behaviors, they in no way define me. I have been afforded the luxury to comingle between two ethnicities and find comfort and solace in both.

Colorism: Discrimination based on skin color, or colorism, is a form of prejudice or discrimination in which human beings are treated differently based on the social meanings attached to skin color.[1]

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