There’s no denying that a wave of body positive activism has taken social media by storm. There’s now a collective standing up and saying that all bodies are beautiful.
Sure there’s still a lot of body shaming going on with comments like ‘you’re too skinny’ and ‘you’re too fat’ on every single social media platform, but, overall, there’s an increased number of confident men and women of all shapes and sizes, without a care in the world, displaying their confidence.
Another social media wave I’ve personally paid a lot of attention to, and joined, are the natural hair and melanin appreciation posts. For the first time, since maybe the era of The Black Panther Party, in the 60s-70s, there’s a large number of black people embracing their natural kinks and curls, as hair relaxer companies continue to lose revenue each year.
There’s an increase of posts with hashtags such as #MelaninPoppin and memes playing on the words of the famous Maybelline slogan, ‘Maybe she’s born with it, maybe it’s
Maybelline Melanin’. Despite this large number of people celebrating all the hues seen in black communities, colorism, and the skin bleaching industry, are very much still alive.
What is colorism?
It is a form of discrimination or prejudice in which people are treated differently based on the social implications attached to skin color/shade. I could spend hours talking about this subject, so I’ve split it into two parts.
Let’s have a look at the background of colorism. During colonial times and the triangle trade, black people of darker complexions were forced to do the more physically demanding work out on the fields. They lived in worse conditions and were overall treated worse than their lighter counterparts.
The slaves, who’s complexion revealed some European admixtures, were assigned lighter housework, better clothing and an overall better treatment (under the circumstances, they were still slaves after all). Just like hair texture discrimination lives on, colorism is still alive and thriving.
Just watch the famous Doll Test video below, where black children all choose the black doll over the white one because it’s “prettier”, “nicer” and “better”.
The French psychologist, writer and philosopher, Frantz Fanon, observed that members of an oppressed group will frequently internalise the attitudes of their oppressors and then direct that aggression at each other.
This is something I have witnessed and experienced myself with black people making fun of darker relatives and friends, while uplifting those of brighter complexions.
The Brown Paper Bag Test
This was a type of discrimination in which a brown paper bag was used to determine whether or not an individual could have certain privileges. Those of the same colour or lighter than the paper bag were allowed these privileges, while those darker than the bag, were not.
Those privileges included membership to exclusive clubs. Some of these clubs were called “Blue-Vein Societies” because it meant an individuals’ skin was fair enough to reveal the blue cast of veins.
Privilege is something that has been associated with skin tone across the globe in non-black communities like Asia, Europe and, The Middle East as well.
One of the first times I wrote about colorism for Afropé.se, I received a comment from a Swedish woman who explained that even back in the day in Scandinavia, darker complexion meant that you were poor and probably worked as a farmer, while lighter complexions meant that you were well off and didn’t need to spend time working outside in the sun.
I can’t help but mention how different it is today though, with fake tan products selling like no tomorrow.
It is not uncommon for black families to have a mix of complexions represented. I, myself am the darkest out of my sisters, and my aunts, uncles and cousins all come in various shades as well. I remember years ago, being told by a relative that I wasn’t as pretty as my sister because she’s lighter than me. Thankfully my mum never bleached her skin and always reminded me that there was nothing wrong with my complexion.
I have friends who want to have kids with someone who’s either half white or fully white to ensure that their children get “good hair” & “pretty skin,” and I think these thoughts stem from the fact that they have been made to feel less desirable themselves due to their darker complexions, and the fact that we, as black people, keep many beauty ideals alive by passing it on from one generation to the next.
In part 2, I’ll get deeper into the role hip hop music and movies have played in enforcing colorism, the skin bleaching epidemic and personal thoughts on the matter.
There’s beauty in strength.
/ Love Tima Ahimsa
I do not own any of the media in this post.