COLORISM: A CRITICAL REVIEW OF DARK SKIN VS LIGHT SKIN REPRESENTATION

in slaves vs the dark skin slaves” (Willie Lynch 1712), the idea that the fairer your skin the more you are desired and accepted has had negative effect on the black communities for centuries now. Colorism was systematically implemented as a tool used in maintaining control over slaves and also bringing division and distrust amongst slaves, for it is easy to control a group of people that are divided than one that is united.

In Cultivation theory Gerbner and Gross argue that people that people that frequently watch television will overtime develop ideas based on what they see on television, as a result they are blinded from the reality of the world, thus their perception become distorted. They also argue that this is something that cultivates slowly overtime, and the effects are therefore long term, (George, G., Gross, L. Morgan, M, & Signorielli, N. 1986. Living with television: The dynamics of the cultivation process). This theory is especially effective with children, for example if you are growing up seeing other children or adults on television that do not reflect how you look, there is a possibility that you could begin to feel that you are not attractive. Especially if the women or girls that you are seeing have long silky hair with blue eyes, which is contrasted by your kinky curly hair, dark complexion and brown eyes. The result of this is that you will begin to reject your skin and as a result these feelings will ultimately manifests as you get older.

In The Doll experiment conducted in the 1940 by Kenneth and Mamie Clark, Kenneth and Mamie use a black doll and a white doll to tests the psychology of children aged between 4-6 years old when it comes to race, we see how the black children have remarkably internalised racists ideology that associates dark complexion with, violence and being ‘mean’, ‘ugly’ and less ‘smart’. Not only this but the white and black children shockingly show how they are negatively affected by the representation that they see , though they do not understand that these ideas are racists and unacceptable.  We can therefore argue that the perpetual stereotypes that are associated with dark skin women is damaging to the psychology of children because in most cases they only experience their own culture, and for those that are non-black they experience black characters or culture through what the media shows them. The result is that these children will develop judgements that are narrow and prejudice towards themselves and other races, that is very difficult to challenge and when challenged it is hard to change. Hence why it is pivotal for the media to construct truthful portray of the diversity that different races across the world have, so that everyone has equal representation.

As time has progressed these same stereotypes and internalized racism are still dominant in society and within the media. Dark Girls (2011) is a documentary created by American film producers Bill Duke and D Channsin Berry, it shows how there is a big division amongst black women, those that have fair skin tone do not want to be associated with those that have a darker complexion, after hundreds of years have passed the effect of colonialism and colorism is still prominent. In the documentary one women recalls that when she was growing up she would ask her mother to “put bleach in her bath so that she can wash all the dirt off her skin” and she would close her eyes at night and wish she could wake up “fair skinned or even white.” From watching the documentary and looking at it from a historical perspective it is clear that colorism as mentioned before is rooted deep within the European colonialism, this skin colour stratification amongst the black community can be seen as a form of oppression, which is expressed through the treatment that different individuals receive based on the shade of their skin. Black women that have fair skin are more privileged in comparison to those that are darker which is a manifestation in the mistreatment and discrimination against dark skinned girls. We are living in a society that tells us anything that is white or anyone that  resembles whiteness is pure, desirable and acceptable, whereas anyone that is in the likeness of brown skin is palpably evil, violent, undesirable and in some cases unintelligent just to name the few.

Adding onto what I said earlier on, when it comes to skin colour, dark skinned women are almost non-existent within the mass media, whether it being on adverts in television, fashion catwalks or news and even surprisingly in music videos. We see how she is not used in music videos because she is often swapped for another black woman that are fair skinned with European features, and in some cases Caucasian woman are used as an option as they conform to the dominant ideology of beauty standards. This is arguably one of the reasons as to why skin whitening (bleaching) creams are so sought-after in many places in the world from Asia, to Africa and America, hence why the bleaching industry has remained lucrative and strong, back to the first point that I was making, and not to exaggerate but even looking at some of the most successful black men we can see that they are mostly with or married to black women of fairer skin colour or white women. From Kanye West, Magic Johnson to Michael Ealey, this has without doubt put most dark girls in a position whereby they are left to feel unworthy, unattractive and even isolated because they feel that they would only be wanted when they start to look like other women that have fair skin.

 

 

Although the representation of black women in the media is vastly stereotypical and negative, some ‘dark’ female celebrities have been able break free from these depictions to certain extent, from Viola Davis to Lupita N’yongo. N’yongo who is famously known for her grand breaking film 12 years a slave, has arguably defiled the stereotypical representation of dark girls, she has managed to be the face of luxury brands like Lancôme, which is greatly dominated by white middle aged women and she has also graced the cover of huge magazine publications like Elle, Vogue and many more. This is great as it celebrates the dark girls because often when discussing dark skin, we see that the darker skin takes on a sexual approach as opposed to the quality of their character and they are often not taken for long term relationship such as marriage. However, my criticism of this still remains the fact that her darker skin is always the center of attention, which makes me question whether the media’s obsession with her complexion is due to the fact that it is so difficult for people to accept the fact that dark is beautiful, or is the media simply just celebrating the fact she is just appealing, or is she considered desirable because she physically resembles the figure of a white female body.

 

To conclude, it is reasonable to indeed argue that from the colonialism period to now, the representation of black women has for the most part remained negative, hence why most girls precisely those that have darker complexion tend to believe that they are racially inferior and they see their other black women with fairer complexion as more acceptable and desirable. I would argue that these internalized racist ideology of dark skin being ‘ugly’ and ‘dirty’ would not be changed until we start to see the rise in the representation of women with darker complexion within the media, where by dark women are given equal opportunities whether it being on television, music, fashion or news. Another argument would be that yes the history and media has played a huge role in colorism and the representation of black women, but we can also say that the black community has a role to play in terms of teaching black men and women to be loving and accepting of their own race regardless of the shade of their skin.

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. Really really interesting and very well written. What a brilliant post💞

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Marie Kilapi says:

      Aww thank you so much, I’m glad that you enjoyed it

      Like

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