Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Colorism: A Conflict that Runs Skin-Deep

When learning about the civil rights era, not often is the issue of colorism addressed. Colorism can easily be defined as something like a sub-category of prejudice based on skin color. It originated during slavery when slaves with darker skin were placed in the fields to do work while lighter-skinned slaves were placed in the house to work. Similarly, lighter-skinned slaves tended to be more preferred by the slave-owners who would placed certain favoritism over them. This mentality continued over years and years, even into the Civil Rights time period. A common phrase amongst African Americans was, “If you are light, you are all right. If you are brown, you can stick around. If you are black, get back."

Alvin F. Poussaint, media director at the Judge Baker Children's Center in Boston and professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, explains "Colorism was venomous because it did so much damage to the psyche.” In a society where African Americans were already belittled because of their race, it did much more harm than good that within their own communities they were criticized for being a darker color.

Poussaint continues saying, "It may seem like nothing now, but I can remember how difficult it was for people to use the word 'black' to describe themselves. It felt derogatory. Even some leadership would not use the word 'black' because they thought it was a derogatory term. We have come a long way to get rid of colorism."
While colorism became less of an issue after the Civil Rights Movement, recent studies have shown that colorism affects income and marriage rates even today. It holds an underlying place in black communities where it quietly resides and still has negative and damaging effects on people.

There has been recent controversy in the media and advertising over Beyonce’s L’Oreal ads in which her skin is noticeably lighter. Critics attacked L’Oreal for making her look for Caucasian, but the company has insisted that they did nothing to alter the image of Beyonce. Even still, it shows that there is an ongoing issue of colorism in today’s media.

The issue of colorism relates to what we have recently discussed in class about the Black Power movement and the “black is beautiful” mentality. Society had held that it was more appealing to look for “white” by having smooth hair and lighter skin. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, however, many African Americans celebrated their “blackness” by leaving their hair natural or wearing afros. Light or dark skin didn’t matter, because it was all beautiful and celebrated. James Brown became a voice for this mentality saying, “Say it loud, I’m black and I’m proud!”

While colorism still has undertones in African American communities and the media today, it does not play a significant role in these communities or society as a whole. In the civil rights era master narrative, there is no mention of colorism, and it is just one of the many conflicts that were a part of race relations, especially amongst African American communities.



http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/07/10/AR2009071000022.html

9 comments:

  1. I've never noticed how light she appears in the L'Oreal commercials till just now, and it does seem to be somewhat concerning. Does anyone think that L'Oreal targets a specifically white female audience rather than simply a female audience? I'm not too familiar with what L'Oreal actually, but it would be quite an atrocity if Beyonce' was shown lighter to keep white female appeal.

    Also you mentioned how lighter skinned African Americans were treated better in the past, however I would say that it can be argued that at times lighter skinned Afrian Americans are discriminated within the African American community. I've seen numerous occasions when a lighter skin tone African American is said to be "less black" or even "more white" ( with both negative and positive connotations of each comment). Has anyone else seen this?

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    1. very true, im a black teenager and im extremely light skinned (like a little dakrer than vin diesel) and i have been belittled by both afro americans and white people by not being black enough.

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  2. L'Oreal obviously altered Beyonce's skin and hair color in their advertisement, even if they won't admit it. I think it is absurd that they did this because the ad looks totally unnatural and clearly retouched. Besides this, it is offensive to Beyonce and the African American community to completely change her skin color. The company only hurts itself by doing this because I don't believe it is necessary today to be "more white" on an advertisement to sell a product.

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    1. Beyonce actually had a tan in the left icture she is quite lightskinned and with a bright light from cameras she would be about that light.

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  3. There are other examples of the effect of different skin tones in communities. In places like Hong Kong and Taiwan, women are dying due to treatments they undergo in the hope to look more Caucasian. I feel like this trend can be associated with the extreme globalization that has happened in the past decade.

    if you want to read more about skin bleaching in Taiwan:

    http://www.womensenews.org/story/cultural-trendspopular-culture/090212/ads-pressure-hong-kong-women-whiten

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  4. It is obvious that the picture of Beyonce was retouched. I'm not even sure why, as Beyonce is seen as an absolutely beautiful woman by people around the world. I agree with Olivia when she said she didn't think models being "more white" would help sell a product. I examined the L'Oreal display the other day to see if they did in fact target a certain audience. I saw, however, a range of colors in their products, making it even more bizarre that the company should feel the need to lighten the skin color of Beyonce.

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  5. I have also heard of what Hamza is talking about with the lighter skinned blacks being referred to as "more white" or "less black". Back when Obama was running for president I remember coming across an article somewhere that talked about how Obama had been referred to as "less black" and also some called him a "Halfrican" referring to his mixed race. I'm not sure how much this goes on but I guess it all plays into the issue of colorism.

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  6. The two pictures put aside show clearly that her skin color is lighter in the l’Oreal commercials. L’Oreal definitely has an issue here on their hands.
    But I think the first person to be outraged by this should be Beyonce herself. The problem is: why did she let l’Oreal use her image and modify it for her to look “whiter”? And I’m going to push this a little further… Does Beyonce herself think of herself as prettier being “less black”? If this is the case, then both l’Oreal and Beyonce have a problem…

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  7. .
    There is actually no such thing as a so-called "Light-Skinned
    Black" person ... but rather ... such individuals and groups
    are actually people who are of a 'Multi-Generational
    Multiracially-Mixed' (MGM-Mixed) Lineage that some may
    have been pressured or encouraged to ignore or downplay.
    .
    http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Generation-Mixed/message/4160
    .
    People of Mixed-Race lineage should NOT feel pressured to
    'identify' according to any standards other than one's own.
    .
    http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Generation-Mixed/message/4157
    .
    The legal -application of the racist-'One-Drop Rule'
    (ODR) was banned in the U.S. way back in 1967.
    .
    http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Generation-Mixed/message/4162
    .
    http://www.facebook.com/groups/253286018082418/permalink/253341891410164
    .
    http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Generation-Mixed/message/4187
    .
    http://www.facebook.com/groups/253286018082418/permalink/253341281410225
    .
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    .
    Listed below are related Links of 'the facts' of the histories
    of various Mixed-Race populations found within the U.S.:
    .
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    .
    There is no proof that a 'color-based slave hierarchy'
    (or that 'color-based social-networks') ever existed
    as common entities -- within the continental U.S.
    .
    http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Generation-Mixed/message/4154
    .
    http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Generation-Mixed/message/4153
    .
    It was the 'Rule of Matriliny (ROM) -- [a.k.a. 'The Rule of Partus'
    (ROP)] -- and NOT the racist-'One-Drop Rule' (ODR) -- that was
    used to 'create more enslaved people' on the continental U.S.
    .
    This is because the chattel-slavery system that was
    once found on the antebellum-era, continental U.S.
    was NOT "color-based" (i.e. "racial") -- but rather
    -- it was actually "mother-based" (i.e. 'matrilineal').
    .
    http://www.facebook.com/allpeople.gifts/posts/309460495741441
    .
    There were many ways (and not solely the sexual assault
    and sexual exploitation of the women-of-color) in which
    'white' lineage entered the familial bloodlines of
    enslaved-people found on the continental U.S.
    .
    http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Generation-Mixed/message/4238
    .
    http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Generation-Mixed/message/4239
    .
    http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Generation-Mixed/message/4240
    .
    An 'Ethnic' category is NOT the
    same thing as a "Race" category:

    http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Generation-Mixed/message/4236
    .
    http://www.facebook.com/allpeople.gifts/posts/300777016632181
    .
    Other Topics:
    .
    https://www.facebook.com/allpeople.gifts/posts/279223868853420
    .
    https://www.facebook.com/allpeople.gifts/posts/164203590359746
    .
    http://www.facebook.com/notes/%C2%ADallpeople-gifts/the-facts-on-m%C2%ADixed-race/321878451159708
    .
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    .

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