Friday, August 23, 2013

Because of the Color of My Skin PART I - Light vs. Dark: Insecurity, Mistreatment, Bias, and Cultural Stereotype

I'm back from my long hiatus with my long anticipated Blog Series: Because of the Color of My Skin.
It has been a long time coming, but now I've returned to get my thoughts out there on some very serious and deep rooted issues people of color face in society―in America, as well as all over the world.

I'll be bringing these stories to you in increments  As of right now I have five total topics for discussion, but this series has the potential to be quite ongoing.

I will begin by saying that I am in fact a young Black woman, descended from West Indian parents, though I was born an American. Though I relate best to the issues that plague my own people, I recognize and understand the turmoil other people of color face that are often as serious as my own personal struggles. I will do my best to address them as best as I can without bias or misinformation.

Let's jump right in.

Light Skin VS. Dark Skin - A Brief History

It's the most dangerously debated issue in the Black Community. It has caused hardship for countless people of color all over the world. Lighter skin is seen as purer, cleaner, and more desirable to have than darker skin.

People with darker skin have a long history of struggle. One of the most infamous instances of this was during the Era of Slavery in America. Darker-skinned slaves were limited to field work while lighter-skinned slaves worked in the home. At the time, slave owners often raped their female slaves and produced offspring that was mixed, and in most cases, of lighter skin. However, at the end of it all, those offspring were still slaves and property to said slave masters to be bought and sold at will. Slaves of mixed origin were often "bred" to produce more desirable lighter skinned "house slaves", who would be maidservants in the home, caretakers of children, and conductors of other homely duties. It was a highly rampant practice―one that we often rather forget but cannot ignore. It has left behind a rampant stigma that places lighter-skinned Black people above darker-skinned ones. There was pride and privilege in a world of despair if you were born with lighter skin. There was hope that you wouldn't bear the lash in the field, roast daily in the bleating sun, that instead you will wear nicer clothes and tend to the wife and children inside the bright and shining plantation house, away from it all.

Sadly, regardless of skin color, a slave was indeed a slave and was mistreated and used no matter their place in the social hierarchy.

A similar plight effects the people of India, where people with darker skin are deemed as undesired. This stigma is a remnant of the Caste System, which placed people of a certain social status in hierarchy over the others. In many cases, those with darker skin were in the lower castes. Once you were born into your place within it there was no real way to move up. People could only marry within their own castes. People of the lowest castes, the Untouchables, did the most menial of work, such as garbage disposal and sewer cleaning. Even with the abolishing of the discriminatory system, the Indian people still favor lighter and fairer skin even today as it's a sign of beauty, refinery, and in some instances even being closer to godliness. People of higher castes were often of lighter skin. The stigma in Indian culture still holds true as well even despite the fact that the population of lighter skinned Indians is much less than that of more brown complexion.

This "trend" is visible in so many cultures all over the world. It's seen in Latin America, where being more "European"―meaning more White, is highly favorable. Those who are of the descent of indigenous South Americans or of African descent are seen as lower in society. "Marrying up", as in being with someone who is more European, is favored. A child produced who is less indigenous or African is seen as hope to improve the family's societal rank.

In many Asian countries too, there's a history of those not of fair skin being seen as dirty, of lower class, and undesirable. Darker skinned Asians were poor farmers who did work in the fields, or laborers who lived only humble lives. Fairer Asians were seen as regal and refined, their paler skin a result of spending no time in the fields and in the sun. They were royalty or highly privileged individuals. Some aspects of that have remained.

These stereotypes and biases still resonate with the people of the present day.

This video documentary, called "Shadeism", on Vimeo puts a lot of the struggles around the world into perspective, I strongly advise viewing it, click here to watch.

The Skin Color Hierarchy - A Personal Struggle 

Let's go back to the deep rooted issues within the Black Community once more. It is what I personally know, understand, and identify with most. Let's start by identifying myself. I am what's considered to be a "light-skinned Black girl". My skin is a caramel brown with a bit of a toast in the summer months. Under different conditions I appear to be paler as well as deeper in complexion.

And I have been judged for it in various ways.

Time to break it down in plainer words. The stigma is still blaring within the Black Community that lighter-skinned males and females are more beautiful than our darker-skinned counterparts. We are "closer to white", and put on a pedestal to be admired and desired. Racist folk find us to be more "acceptable". We are to be attained and kept by those who are darker in hopes that by having children with us, they will be born with fairer skin. Sound familiar? It falls right in with the old ideologies of slavery.

Q: But I thought we moved past that?

A: No, not at all.

It's everywhere; in the media and movies where lighter-skinned Black people are more often featured than those of darker complexions. There's this shining beacon of the "caramel skinned, curly or straight haired Black girl with the light eyes" on the cover of a magazine (if even, or at least as a feature...ahem), as the main girl in a Hip-Hop video, the lead role in a Black Cinema movie (or the lead supporting role in a Hollywood movie...ahem #2), etc. Many of you probably know what I'm talking about. There's no denying that it's discrimination. It applies to men too, but it's most often with females from what I have seen.

Lot's of people can tell me, "Well, you fit that glorified stereotype, so who are you to talk?" I've been told that I'm lucky to be light-skinned. I'm prettier because I'm light-skinned. I have better hair because of my light-skin (though lighter skin does not always mean less course hair, but we'll come back to that later). People have denied that I was Black and claimed that I was of another race or that I couldn't possibly be "fully Black", as in that I had to be mixed. I'm sure there is some European blood in me due to the colonialists who were in control of the islands my parents were born on (whether that mixing was legitimate or not, I do not know.) I was envied to a certain extent by other girls because of my features. As a child, I didn't fully understand the cause of the resentment, but now as an adult, it couldn't be more obvious.

I wish we could move past it, but that's easier said than done.

Insecurity in Darker Skin
The flip side of this issue is clear. If fairer Black people continue to be favored, then those of darker-skin are much less desired. The majority of society believes that darker is "uglier". In the simplest of words, it's saddening.

Young people of dark skin, girls especially, grow up not feeling as beautiful as those lighter than they are. Some are made fun of, judged by their peers, and in more extreme cases, deemed to be uneducated and unruly individuals―all due to the fact that they were born with darker skin.

Darker skinned Black females are often in the background in the media or barely represented at all. This is opposite to what I mentioned before about lighter-skinned Black women. It's rare and surprising when it's otherwise, and I applaud when it is, but it's not enough to believe real progress has been made.

In social media, there's the rampant meme "Light Skin Girls/Guys Be Like" and "Dark Skin Girls/Guys Be Like", though meant to be comical, really make it apparent that the stigmas still exist. Often times, darker-skinned Black people are trying to appear lighter, or lighter-skinned Black people are vainly flaunting being seen as more desirable by all. It creates more friction between those of light and dark complexions, battling for attention and tearing each other down.

Light skinned girls are often written off as snobby and haughty. 

There's also "#TeamLightSkin" and "#Team DarkSkin" that furthers the separation between the shades. Men and Women often rep themselves under these labels and say why they will or will not date someone or be associated with someone of a certain skin tone. At a certain point the jokes (or what sometimes are completely serious biases) must come to an end and the real underlying issues must come to the light and be resolved.

And parties like this become a thing of the past. I really hope this was a joke...
Celebrities have also been accused of or caught skin bleaching, another depressing aspect of the desire to be lighter. In less extreme measures, their skin tones are often lightened on magazine covers and editorials using photo editing software. Also, keep in mind that under different lighting conditions, a persons skin tone can appear lighter or darker at any time, so sometimes the comparisons are quite unfair. You see them all over the internet; celebs like Rihanna and Beyonce being accused of bleaching their skin, when there is no known proof other than the fact that they appeared lighter in one setting and darker in another. However, these photos of Beyonce raise eyebrows a bit. But I don't believe that skin bleaching is to blame here. Simply Photoshop. Skin bleaching is highly practiced in many West Indian and African countries. The practice is also used in India and Asia. Not only is it unethical, its also dangerous for your health.

The practice of wanting to appear lighter, regardless of the measures taken, is dangerous to ones self esteem and that of others. It's a trend that needs to be slowly removed from our society and the world.

In India, where the men and women in the movies are all of fairer skin, the women especially, and seen as the highest attainable form of beauty.

In Asian countries where pale skin is often favored, the sun avoided to neglect appearing tan.

In Latin America where those of darker skin non-European descent are being "erased" through fervent and unjustified intermarriage tactics―along with being discriminated against in general.

It needs to all come to an end.

Moving Forward - All Shades are Beautiful

Photo: Oprah's "Dark Girls" documentary
In order to move forward, we must all first come to terms with ourselves, embracing the tone of our own skin and loving and appreciating that of others. In the Black community, you have the luxury of lining up at least ten different people and having no skin tone be the same. It's beautiful, and something we should be proud of.

The mixing of races and tones should not be for the desire for lighter children, but because you value each others cultural differences and come together to form someone new purely by chance and out of love for each other.

Dark skin is just as beautiful as any other lighter shade. Across all cultures this is true. There are so many people in the world, so many people of color at that, so why must we subject ourselves to the colonial and/or primitive desire of "whiteness is best" any longer? It's time to shed away these stigmas and love ourselves for all that we are.

I can't say it in any simpler way. Again, it's not easy to change the thoughts of an entire culture, but it all starts with how we all feel about ourselves. If we can love ourselves, then the opinions of others won't matter. When the naysayers see how much we embrace our own skin tones, they will slowly realize that their stigmas are stupid.

Just stupid.

There is so much more to add to this discussion. Lots more coming.
How have you dealt with the Light VS. Dark stereotypes? Share your personal stories in the comment section. Join the discussion, it's the only way things can change.

Thanks for reading.

- Aria