20 July 2011

The Psychology of Colorism That Permeates The Diaspora

Dr. Na'im Akbar, a leading black psychologist addresses the issue of the psychology of colorism and self-destruction .  We see the well known study of black children preferring white dolls and their belief that being black means you are bad or not as good as those of lighter hues.  This particular study forces us to realize just how insidious the impact of white supremacy is and what it does to our young.      Dr. Akbar warns us of the  legacy of self-hate and low group esteem experienced by people of African descent in this country and throughout the diaspora.  Yet, somehow we've managed to forge on with each generation in spite of it.There is also an admonishment that while many of us continue to struggle and do well, there are many casualties that must not be ignored who suffer psychologically, socially, politically and economically within many of our communities.  The building of self esteem and worth in our children begins at home and is either challenged or enhanced by adults or our peers  in our schools, churches, civic organizations and media.  The sad and disturbing fact is that for many of our children, the first time they are told or feel inferior or "less than" is with their parents or relatives---the folks who look like them.                                                                  
I don't want to go on and on about the subject of colorism--but I will.  My request at this point is to indulge my revisiting an article featured on Yahoo News some time ago by Dr. Neil Persadsingh a leading Jamaican dermatologist, who wrote about the growing number of dark-skinned women opting to lighten their skin.

Briefly, he spoke of the devastating consequences of women in his country who are using home made bleaching concoctions to lighten their skin and for those who can afford it are buying creams with hydroquinones mixed with steroid cortisone.  They feel that having lighter skin tones will increase their chances for advancement in jobs, educational opportunities and social connections.  He cites unfortunate outcomes of hyperpigmentation, skin mutations, Cushing's syndrome and cancer risks for many of them.  This practice is so widespread and insidious that he recounts an event in his office that was especially disturbing.

"I know of one woman who started to bleach her baby. She got very annoyed with me when I told her to stop immediately, and she left my office. I often wonder what became of that baby." 

He further states that it's not just self esteem issues but the colonial past of this country and the fact that black was viewed as bad or evil.  Every country that has a history of imperialism, colonialism and slavery by proponents of white supremacy continues to deal with these issues.

More are shedding light on this problem.  Producer Bill Duke is trying to secure funding for his film titled "Dark Girls" which addresses this subject and hasn't had much success in public donations.  I can't help but wonder why he hasn't spoken to the well-known black filmmakers to solicit their help.  Who knows?  He may have done that and there is a skittishness about the subject or it may have the makings of a flop, i.e. poor attendance by people of color.  Many of us are in denial or hide behind the taboo of airing our "dirty linen" or frankly have become group weary and if it doesn't pertain to them as individuals--it's not a problem.  I see more of that now and it's disconcerting.

Please view the trailer on "Dark Girls" and begin the dialogue in your homes and talk with your children when you hear them utter denigrating statements about darker skin hues.  As adults watch what you say around our children. Stop the name calling.  Remember our children are clean slates and what we say or how we say it becomes a part of who they are.  We should have art in our homes depicting people of color with our wide spectrum of hues.  I grew up in a neighborhood and in my own extended family where our hues varied and we didn't make distinctions based on that.

When we are reading those bedtime stories, get books that showcase our experiences as well as Dr. Seuss and Charlotte's Web.  I used to read Children of the Sun and similar books  with beautiful illustrations of black children and adults to my daughters when they were young.  Lastly, adults should "call each other out" when denigrating remarks are made regarding  skin color.  It's hurtful with implications that stay with us and unfortunately are passed on to the next generation.  This preview of Dark Girls makes that fact painfully clear.



Anonymous said...

Great post! Colorism is an insidious toxin that permeates our lives and creates jealousy and conflict where none should be. I wonder what the answer/solution is to this.

Carolyn Moon (Amina) said...

@Desertflower: When writing this post; I was immediately struck with how widespread this issue is on a global scale and how do you change systems that perpetuate colorism. In the late 60's and early 70's there was this cultural revolution and "Black is Beautiful" campaign in the U.S., however, it ceased to be and people either returned to the old ways of thinking or no longer viewed it an substantive issue. Many black people are and have been introducing their children to cultural/social activities as well as art that depicts and celebrates the varying hues and especially those of us who have Hershey chocolate skin tones. But there are significant others who don't and schools, churches and other community organizations just won't address the issue on a broad scale. They feel like we are espousing a form of "black supremacy" which is discerning. We are advocating inclusion and respect for all of the human family. I remember Curtis Mayfield wrote a song titled,"We The People Who are Darker Than Blue" during the cultural revolution and there was a verse that specifically addressed this issue:

"This ain't no time for segregatin'
I'm talking 'bout brown and yellow too
High yellow girl, can't you tell
You're just the surface of our dark deep

We need a global cultural revolution about this problem but I'm afraid there will be major resistance and as long as institutions make this distinction; there will be people who will do whatever they can to fit in.

I guess the "teach one--reach one" principle
that I addressed towards the end of my post must not be abandoned and among ourselves we've got to speak up when we hear that kind of nonsense. If we consistently become intolerant of it; there will be more substantial changes.

Also, more articles and documentaries like "Dark Girls" and films featuring those of us with darker hues in varied roles should become more widespread and financially supported. For this is truly a sad state of affairs.

Nelson said...

Thank you for stopping by! I really do appreciate your taking the time to leave a comment...I read each and everyone of them. I hope your day is a good one and that you will come back again soon. Have a lovely weekend!Take care. Nelson Souzza :)

Aisha said...

I find it very sad that this continues to be a deep psychic wound among people of color everywhere, particularly black americans, with such far-reaching consequences. I will rejoice in the streets when these sort of films and discussions become irrelevant and passe, and all kinds of beauty are celebrated. Until then, the fight continues, thanks for shedding even more light.

Ms Afropolitan said...

It's so sad that the "black is beautiful" movement of the civil right's era was abandoned prematurely. Although it is true, as Lauryn Hil lamented we still want "long hair like europeans, fake nails done by koreans", etc, the natural hair movement is now rife. I hope it will be followed by a collective drive to once and for all stop this nonsense of colorism. The answer I believe, is in understanding that lightening the skin is actually being racist towards yourself! We should instead seek to our ancestral heritages to alternative views of beauty.

Thanks for this thought provoking post.

PS & heartfelt thanks also for my blog of the week spot last week. I'm honoured to have participated.

psychiatrist in new york said...

Often times we look at colorism from the perspective of how women are aesthetically perceived

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