Thursday, February 5, 2015

Racism, Sexism, Ageism, ... Colorism?


Photo taken from a personal blog made with Wordpress
Image originally from the film Dark Girls
Racism is an issue that affects everyone in this country whether we realize it or not. When I say this I don’t mean to say all people experience racism, however we are all aware of its existence to some extent and most realize the terrible prejudice and injustice which minority races especially, African Americans have experienced and continue to experience in America. Now, many have heard of many different types of “-isms” such as sexism, ageism, and, as mentioned earlier, racism but an -ism that is not quite often discussed is called colorism. Colorism, or the preference of light skin particularly within an ethnic group, affects many groups and races around the world. In America colorism in media particularly negatively affects African American women. By portraying only lighter skinned women in media or digitally airbrushing women to appear lighter skinned than they are it sends a message to black women and all women, a marginalized view of beauty.

Colorism’s origins began with the slave trade and the introduction of white supremacy over black people. When slaves were working on plantations in the south and working for their often abusive owners in sweltering temperatures doing intense physical labor, it was many a slave’s dream to be able to work in the house as a domestic worker. The slaves who tended to work within those walls are what we know to be called as “light skinned” people or people who were biracial due to the consensual and nonconsensual sex between slave owners and their female slaves. These slaves were more often than not treated with more kindness and respect by their white owners although not treated as equals of course, and the conditions were much better than any other typical slave experience. In order to be considered light enough to work in the house or to inquire a level of quasi-equality with white people, a slave's skin was compared to a paper bag (Dark Girls). If your forearm was as light or lighter than the brown paper bag then you were allowed to work in the house and received more amenities than others, and if you weren’t then you were just another slave on the farm. This was later infamously called the “paper bag test” and this along with other means of racial identification such as the “1 drop rule” (If you had “one drop” of African descent in your blood you were black) were still used after slavery was abolished in many states to categorize people within communities as light or dark, or as white or black (Dark Girls). With this history in mind it’s clear that in America the idea of whiteness has been synonymous with many positive things such as beauty, cleanliness, worthiness, wealth, etc.., and words such as dark or black have been synonymous with things such as night, coldness, sadness, nothingness..,etc. So it makes sense that the media that we are bombarded with promotes the idea of light over dark.

Walk into any local grocery store or department store and look at ads or magazine covers. How often do we one see a black woman on the cover? And how often is this woman a shade of black that is a deep brown chocolate color that couldn’t be confused with any other ethnic origin? The answer to both these questions is unfortunately not often or hardly ever. In media, when black women are shown in tv and in ads they are often portrayed as very light skinned with straight hair and european type features. Now these women are beautiful and I’m happy to see women of color represented in media, but the effects of not showing darker skinned individuals, which represent many black women in America is damaging and can lead to many issues such as self-loathing, higher incidences of depression and even added reasonings of suicide (Dark Girls). Many cases of this colorist idealization in media have appeared concerning celebrities such as Beyoncé, who was the center of controversy concerning a L’Oréal ad in which her already light skin was lightened to make her appear almost white. Other examples of this are seen with the choice of the actress Zoe Saldana, (a very light woman whose origins are from the Dominican Republic) to play the role of a darker skinned black artist and Civil Rights activist, Nina Simone in an upcoming biopic. Another example concerns the actress and former beauty queen Vanessa Williams who, although being the first African American woman to win Miss America, is extremely light skinned and has very eurocentric features such as light colored eyes, straight hair, and thinner shaped nose and lips (Harrison). As I’ve mentioned before, the fact that these women are represented is great and shows signs of progress of black female representation in media, however it is the presence of a minority group of black women, who look almost white which shelters a large portion of black women from being represented. The effects of this kind of under representation in media are many and significant and can leave scars on one’s being forever.

The lasting effects of this idea which is again and again inforced by the media are great and some of these effects can add or lead to much bigger issues than the experience of one person. By the media only showing a single view of beauty of light skin and straight hair it causes many darker women to devalue themselves and go to drastic measures to change their appearance. Many people in countries the world as a result of colorism and media turn to skin bleaching as a beauty routine to make their skin lighter and to become more beautiful (Charles). Skin bleaching has time after time been linked to major health problems such as cancer, skin deformation, and even often resulting in burns. With this information in mind, skin bleaching is quite dangerous and would seem to most as not worth it, but still it remains to be a business that profits annually $500 million worldwide and is most popular in developing countries (Charles). The irony that skin bleaching is most popular in the developing world is interesting due to the fact that in many of these countries the white populations are the minority, such as countries like Nigeria or Thailand where skin bleaching is very prevalent, so it goes to show the impact of media spread messages from developed nations to developing countries.(Dark Girls, Charles Skin Bleaching Link) In some countries such as Jamaica there are even songs that celebrate skin bleaching and encourage it such as the song by deceased reggae artist Captain Barkey (Song Lyrics Pg.384 Charles) that reads, “ If you a bleach and bleaching bleach on, bleach on, bleach on.”

Advertising by the skin bleaching companies is also enticing to consumers by its promise of a man or love. For example the skin bleaching product created by Nadinola Bleaching Cream reads “ Nadinola Bleaching Cream brightens and refreshes. Look how men flock around the girl with the clear, bright Nadinola complexion” (Charles). Many investigations also suggest that children as young as kindergarten are aware of the preference of white skin in society.

A study known as the “doll test” was first performed by psychologists Kenneth and Mamie Clark in the 1940s. It showed how children perceived each other based on skin complexion. During the test young children both black and white male and female were asked a series of questions such as, “Which doll is the dumb child?” and they would chose from an array of dolls from a white complexion to a very dark complexion. CNN recreated this same test in 2010 to show how children view race today in America and the results were quite something. (Note for some questions some children chose not to answer or didn’t give a definitive response.) When asked to pick the “dumb” child approximately 76% of white children picked the two darkest tones and 50% of black children also picked the two darkest tones. When asked to pick the “mean” child, 57% of black children picked the two darkest tone dolls along with 66% of the white children. When asked to pick the child whom they would want as a classmate 40% of black children picked the lightest skin tones along with 89% of the white children. Finally, when asked to pick the “ugly” child, 54% of white children chose the darkest two tones with, 32% choosing the middle tones. When black children were asked, 41% chose the two darkest toned dolls. These results show that still today in the 2010s children are still being taught that the darker you are the less pretty or handsome you are, the less smart you are, and the less of a good person you are. So I feel based on this study, how children must become so aware of these ideas at a young age must be of course coming from principles taught at home but also in large part by our media portrayal of darker skinned people. If you noticed in many of these results almost 50% or more than 50% of black children picked their own skin complexions as having the negative traits like: mean, the unideal classmate, ugly, and dumb ( All study results are from CNN). These kids by age 5 have already been told that they are less than their peers purely based on the color of their skin. Colorism can even aid discrimination in the workplace, because when two equally qualified black women are up for a position the deciding factor is sometimes who looks the most pretty based on european standards (Harrison). By teaching kids to have hatred of themselves at such a young age how can people wonder why statistically black kids particularly female are more likely to have issues of self-loathing and continue to be the least married group in America. (Dark Girls) Even today on social media many trends such as the #teamlightskin or #teamdarkskin on Twitter continue to promote colorism and even coin phrases like “You’re pretty for a dark skinned girl.” With the facts stated I believe that media continually chooses to promote colorism on a conscious and even subconscious level.

Although many feel this way about the dark skin issue such as Bill Duke the creator of the documentary Dark Girls, many including him wonder about the effect colorism has on girls of a lighter complexion. In his new documentary he explores this same idea except with women who are lighter skinned. In the documentary it reveals that many lighter skinned women or biracial women feel “not black enough” to be accepted by the black community but “too black” to be accepted by the white community, leaving them feeling isolated in society. Many of these women who were interviewed, such as actress and child star Raven Symone have admitted to addictive tanning to make themselves dark enough to belong to the black community where they could feel embraced and beautiful (Light Girls) Others interviewed also stated that there are stereotypes that come along with being lighter skinned such as being perceived as “over emotional” or “whiny” or not understanding of the “real” black struggle in America. (Light Girls/Dark Girls) With that being said, although I agree with points made by the lighter skinned people in the documentary, I still think colorism effects darker women more negatively than lighter women, because statistically darker women struggle more in this country and our not as widely accepted as beautiful by the media as lighter women are.

Colorism is an issue that I believe is something very raw and carries deep scars on both ends, light and dark for many women and men in America. I do believe however that it substantially negatively affects darker women much more when it comes to perception of their beauty and intelligence and also their representation in media outlets across the world. This type of ideology to live under in our society can at times prove difficult and can drive major internal struggles for many black women. This type of self loathing can lead to going to desperate measures for beauty through likes of skin bleaching. The distribution of only lighter skinned women as beautiful can also lead to teaching men that the desirable woman is the lighter, leaving darker women the most unwed group in America. (Dark Girls) Colorism also can affect women in the workplace because when two equally qualified black women are up for a position the deciding factor is sometimes who looks the most pretty based on european standards. I think moving forward colorism is an issue that should not be shelved as an issue only existing within a group, I think that this needs to be a broaden issue discussed by people of all races to end the pain and self hate that the idea of colorism causes. If more darker skinned women were celebrated in media I think it can begin the healing process, in the words of actress Lupita Nyong'o “ I hope with my presence on your screens and in magazines it can help lead you, young girl on a similar journey, that you will feel the validation of your external beauty, but also get to the deeper business of being beautiful inside, and there is no shade in that beauty.”(Link to Lupita Nyong'o Essence Speech)

Bibliography

11 comments:

  1. This is a very insightful article, Naomi. Thank you for posting a discussion of colorism. It helps to understand the reaction to a recent release of InStyle Magazine with a cover photo of a lightened Kerry Washington. On the one hand, it's nice she made the cover. On the other, the Kerry Washington in the photograph doesn't look much like the one you would see in the real world. Thank you again for sharing your views on this important topic. --Ms. Riches

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  2. Hello Naomi. This is such a insightful article, I really appreciate. Thank you sharing the idea of Colorism. Honestly, this is the first I heard about colorism, I am really shocked and impressed. Thank you for sharing this new idea with me. Do u think Michael Jackson has done skin bleaching? Why even the most successful pop star did the skin bleaching. I still think people haven't treated everyone equally, and people can't change the situation so they do the skin bleaching. It is really sad.

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    1. Hello DrBoomBoom thanks for your comment I'm glad I opened you up to the issue of colorism it is something that I am very interested in and passionate about. When it comes to your question about Michael Jackson I do believe that he bleached his skin. Many believe he did this in part due to an illness he had called Body Dysmorphic Disorder which is a mental disorder that causes you to think of your percieved flaws as overly apparent and this condition often causes many people to have major anxiety or to even bleach their skin. Michael Jackson also said he skin bleached due to a condition he had called vitiligo. Vititligo is a disease that causes one to have splotches of white skin often covering large areas of skin. Although many did not believe him when he said this after he died and an autopsy was performed it was confirmed that he indeed had vitiligo. I can not be 100% sure that colorism aided in his decision to bleach his skin but it very well might have. Alas I agree with you the entire situation was very sad. If you are interested in furthering research into body dysmorphic disorder I suggest looking on the body dysmorphic disorder website for information and background of the disease. http://bddfoundation.org/?gclid=CI6DkabjgcQCFQgxaQodGBoAhw Also for more information on Vitiligo here is a link to the national institute of arthritis, musculoskeletal and skin diseases http://www.niams.nih.gov/health_info/vitiligo/vitiligo_ff.asp Thanks!

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  3. Hi there! I really enjoyed this blog post! I had my mouth just drop open in some of these surprising facts that I read! It was so interesting to see how the media and technology can even have an impact of little children, and how it sways our everyday ideas about society! Thanks for bringing up such a good topic! I would ask however for you to also examine studies from other articles about other various minorities in the US and other places. According to the dissolve, in the100 top-grossing films of 2012, only 10.8 percent of speaking characters are Black, 4.2 percent are Hispanic, 5 percent are Asian, and 3.6 percent are from other (or mixed race) ethnicities. What do you think that this has to say about what producers in Hollywood, or filmmakers believe about showing minorities in films? Furthermore, how does this affect our lives: the lives of the minorities that are reduced in the media, and how does it affect the way people view us? I really enjoyed reading this article, because, I really liked getting to hear from the perspective or someone belonging to a minority.

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    1. Hi Helen I really appreciate your thoughtful comment it raises a lot of good questions concerning minorities in the media. To answer your first question about what I think producers and directors in Hollywood think about casting principle charterers who are minorities, I would start by saying that I feel as though directors and cast directors feel that if they cast a minority in a leading role then the movie all of a sudden becomes a movie made for a specific group. I would also go on to say that many people in Hollywood making films and writing them are white people who would be more inclined to hire actors who are white or write stories that they believe would appeal more towards a "white" audience. I think this under representation definitely affects minorities in a negative way I think it damages self esteem of young minorities when they only see one type of character or person portrayed in the media and it I believe it teaches minorities to aspire to try to conform and fit in with the ideal of "whiteness". Living in a culture of "whiteness" can also lead things such as cultural appropriation by white people who take work and art created by a minority group and claim it as their own without giving the original culture fair credit. This can been seen recently with the rise of white rapper Iggy Azealea who many believe is a current perpetrator of cultural appropriation I'd encourage you to watch this video made by Youtuber Laci Green for Mtv where she discusses the issue concerning Azealea more in depth. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-m_8waBY_fc
      Thanks again!

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    2. Hi Helen I really appreciate your thoughtful comment it raises a lot of good questions concerning minorities in the media. To answer your first question about what I think producers and directors in Hollywood think about casting principle charterers who are minorities, I would start by saying that I feel as though directors and cast directors feel that if they cast a minority in a leading role then the movie all of a sudden becomes a movie made for a specific group. I would also go on to say that many people in Hollywood making films and writing them are white people who would be more inclined to hire actors who are white or write stories that they believe would appeal more towards a "white" audience. I think this under representation definitely affects minorities in a negative way I think it damages self esteem of young minorities when they only see one type of character or person portrayed in the media and it I believe it teaches minorities to aspire to try to conform and fit in with the ideal of "whiteness". Living in a culture of "whiteness" can also lead things such as cultural appropriation by white people who take work and art created by a minority group and claim it as their own without giving the original culture fair credit. This can been seen recently with the rise of white rapper Iggy Azealea who many believe is a current perpetrator of cultural appropriation I'd encourage you to watch this video made by Youtuber Laci Green for Mtv where she discusses the issue concerning Azealea more in depth. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-m_8waBY_fc
      Thanks again!

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  4. Hey Naomi! Good job with your blog. I found it to be extremely insightful and interesting. It opened up new doors for me on this topic. I really liked your first sentence. It captured my attention and I am sure that it will capture many other peoples attention as well. I agree with your point that African American people have faced a lot of prejudice in America, but what about all of the homosexuals? I agree with you that there are not a lot of African American women on the covers of magazines, but that can be said for homosexuals as well. Every now and then you might see Ellen Degeneres on covers but that is about it. I found this link about the prejudice that homosexuals receive (I will put it at the end of the comment). This link is about sports and homosexuals that come out and receive prejudice. Another link I found was about homosexuals and African Americans who are often treated differently. In this article it talks about how certain things are banned for homosexuals similarly to how there used to be things banned to African American peoples. Overall, magnificent job with your blog, it really educated me on the topic. Here are the links: Link 1 --http://www.miamiherald.com/sports/college/article4071422.html
    Link 2 -- http://www.huffingtonpost.com/eric-segall/gay-rights-racial-prejudi_b_1844528.html

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    1. Interesting comments for Naomi, GraceGiraffe! I think your point that many people feel the need to hide who they are, in terms of sexual orientation or skin color, in order to gain acceptance is a sad one. Your second article link deals with the discrimination against gays in 2012. In it, the authors state that 40 states ban same-sex marriage. It's amazing how that situation has changed. Currently, 13 states ban same-sex marriage. Of course, much of the change came through the courts and not a groundswell of popular opinion. Do you--and Naomi--think that social change will come to colorism? Great blog post, provocative comments!! --Ms. Riches

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  5. Hey Naomi! I've heard of colorism before, but I really didn't know much about it. Not only are women alone being discriminated, but women of different colors too. I think magazines should include more women with darker skin colors. I agree that women of darker skin are not as respected, but African American women with lighter skin are still having an internal struggle of reaching society's perfection. When mentioning biracial slaves who were treated differently, I thought about how this problem still exists today. I found an article here from Huffington Post. In the article it talks about a documentary called "Light Girls" featuring African American women talking about their insecurities of being light skinned, as well. Your blog is a very empowering idea, good job!

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    1. The videos shared in that article are quite powerful, Ann. Thanks for sharing the link. I've known about colorism for a long time, as it was of particular interest to me as a student of American history. (I was horrified to learn, for example, that there was a mathematical formula used to determine whether or not someone of mixed race was "black enough" to be considered a slave.) Seeing #TeamLightSkinned and #TeamDarkSkinned in this social media age, however, is still shocking to me. So many issues of identity are wrapped up in this culture where it seems like we are constantly trying to define what is "beautiful." I'm not sure what the best response is, but it sure feels like we could all use more help in developing our empathy for others and spend much less time judging everyone. More and more people identify as mixed race every year...how will that change the landscape of identity and standards of beauty?

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    2. Hello Ann thanks for your insightful comment I really appreciate it! I agree with your point that lighter skinned black women often face a deep internal struggle as well as darker skinned black women, however I due think because of lighter skinned women's more prevalent representation in our media it makes it ever more isolating to the darker skinned women leaving many darker skinned women with the thought that they are not as beautiful and I think the fact that they are typically neglected in our media it can cause a different and sometimes deeper pain than that of a lighter skinned woman. If you are still interested in the topic of colorism I highly recommend watching both Dark and Light Girls from start to finish I think it can give you even more information on the issue and a clear insight as what its like to walk in the shoes of those women. Thanks Again! Link to movie website: http://officialdarkgirlsmovie.com/

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