We Need To Talk About Colorism

There is a memory from my childhood that continually pops up when I think of issues surrounding the hatred of brown and dark skinned women in the overall African community.

I was about three or four and my mum and I were in a bus. I saw an advert for a soap which I shall not be naming in this article. I don’t know where I had heard that this soap could make my skin lighter but what I do remember, was begging my mum to buy that soap for me cause I wanted to be lighter. 

My mum, a beautiful dark skinned woman ignored me and then I could not understand why.

More than twenty years later, I have since come to understand why she did so and I am more than grateful to her for ignoring that request. Now, I am not conventionally dark skinned; if anything I’m what some people would call light brown. However, because I have an elder sister who is light skinned, growing up I was often on the receiving end of nasty comments from people who should have known better. I remember how growing up, people often said my sister was definitely more beautiful than me because she was lighter than me. 

I love my sister to no end indeed she is a very stunning woman. But I still cannot comprehend how her light skin automatically made her more beautiful than I am.

Although majority of the people in sub-Saharan African do not experience everyday racism like the Black people in America or Europe, it must be said that colorism is alive and well in sub-Saharan nations. It also has to be said that colorism which is believing one skin tone to be better than others, most times shows itself in societal views on women. It is seen in the way most Nigerian musicians cast light skin women and even outrightly white women in their music videos as video vixens. There is nothing wrong with casting any type of woman in a music video but what is wrong is when music video models are taken primarily from those of a certain shade.

Colorism is also seen in the way dark skin men receive love and are praised for being real men while dark skinned women, are made to feel that their skin is dirty. This is because dark skin is seen as equal to true masculinity while light skin is seen as equal to true femininity. So when a woman is dark skinned or even not remotely light, she is automatically seen as stepping away from what is approved for women and will be on the receiving end of terrible comments and offers of bleaching creams.

The effects of colorism are multiple, harmful and far reaching. The most common effect is the loss of esteem in the women and men who are shamed for something they did not orchestrate. This then makes them to seek out bleaching creams even if they know the health hazards involved in using those items. In terms of health hazards, another effect of colorism is that through the use of bleaching creams and soaps, there is a very high chance of developing one form of cancer or the other.

How then do we address colorism? It starts with celebrating black skin as beautiful and worthy of praise in the media.

Yes, I agree that women should be raised to feel worthy regardless of how “beautiful” they may appear to the world.

That said, if dark and brown skinned women do not see themselves in popular portrayals of what is beautiful in the media, it can and will lead to them believing that their skin automatically makes them not worthy of being desired and valued.

Even more, if the only time dark skinned women see themselves is in portrayals of ugliness, “ratchedness” and “hardness”, it will also inform not just them but the general public that a dark skinned woman is always to be on the receiving end of disrespect especially from romantic partners.

Black is beautiful. All shades of Black are beautiful. As Black African women, we must celebrate how our skin goes well with any choice and colour of clothing.

We must ensure to raise daughters who know that their midnight colour is not undesirable and so they must not tolerate the words of insecure people telling them to erase themselves.

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