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Why is colour still an issue in 2017?

CHANGE: Lil Kim

IT’S COOL to be a black woman these days. Well, to emulate black culture and the very essence of black
womanhood, anyway. From our trendy hairstyles and creative nail trends, to our thick lips and curvaceous figures, black womanhood has reached a level of popularity amongst other races, who also decide to take these trends on for their own.

But while what we’ve created might be used by others, we’ve also seen an influx in pro black movements over the years that would suggest that black women might be getting their fair dues.

From the growing popularity of #blackgirlmagic, to tentatively tagging every Instagram selfie with #melanin, to the influx of ‘black inspo’ beauty pages like @blackbeautyworld and @blackkbombshells – being a black woman has never been more celebrated by others but also for us to feel comfortable standing firmly in our blackness.

However, there’s always been one frustrating aspect about black culture, and this issue of colourism has remained a constant for centuries. For black women specifically, colourism is a constant reminder that even when we stand strong in celebrating our blackness – in whatever shade that is – there’s always that pesky reminder that colourism still remains alive and well, whether in the form of ignorant social media comments, or the absence of different shades of black women in ad campaigns and magazine covers.

During the enslavement of black people in the 18th and 19th centuries, black women were raped by their masters and would have mixed-race, light skinned children. Although they were not considered as worthy as “full white breeds”, mixed race slaves were often pitted against their dark skin relatives, creating a divide amongst black people that lingers today.

As a result, a certain ‘hierarchy’ was developed according to skin colour, with lighter skinned slaves becoming ‘house slaves’, while darker skinned black women and men were quarantined to work in the fields, enduring the hardest of labour com- pared to their lighter skinned counterparts.


ISSUES: A scene from the animated film Yellow Fever by Ngendo Mukii which explores the effect of ideals on African women

This division is precisely where colourism began, creating prejudices and discrimination within one ethnic group, and seeing the beginnings of a ‘colour-struck class’, which openly plays out in black families, social settings and various aspects of our culture that discriminate against darker skinned people.

Although the circumstances are relatively different today, these deeply ingrained issues within the black community have never been dealt with, resulting in an internalised self-hate which remains in the collective unconscious of many black people – and arguably of many people of colour around the world.

Shaking an issue that has been culturally imbedded in us for centuries can’t be done overnight. But unfortunately for many dark-skinned black women, the emotional abuse they’ve received as a result of colourism can cause deep rooted self hate issues. For many dark-skinned women, they have been victims of emotional abuse because of the ignorant nature of colourism.

As a result, this self-hate can become a prominent aspect of their lives, which often stems from the collective idea that whiteness represents beauty and has been reinforced throughout history. This mentality is something that has trickled down through generations, and we’re seeing a stream of young women turning to extremes, from plastic surgery and bleaching in order to change their appearance in an attempt to comply with these Eurocentric beauty standards that often ignores dark skinned black women.

Take the well-documented transformation of rapper Lil Kim – a woman who openly admitted to having self esteem issues in the past. In an interview with Newsweek, Kim admitted “I have low self-esteem and always have. Guys always cheated on me with women who were European-looking...that left me thinking ‘how can I com- pete with that?’ Being a regular black girl wasn’t good enough.”


CONTROVERSIAL: Azealia Banks

Her choice to have plastic surgery and bleach her skin clearly connects to the idea that some black women feel pressured to conform with western beauty ideals, because it’s portrayed that this is the pinnacle of beauty and what men desire.

Another example of this is Azealia Banks, pictured left, who openly admitted to bleaching her skin in a Facebook Live video last year, and claimed that it’s no different than getting a weave or a nose job. Despite these women finding success in the skin they were in, the collective pressures to confirm to certain westernised ideals can take a toll on many dark skinned black women, resulting in internalised issues of self hate that still exist today.

In a world where people on Twitter will pit #teamlightskin vs #teamdarkskin against each other, it’s clear that our issues with colourism and the self hatred it’s perpetrating, still needs to be addressed.

Read part 2 of Why is colour still an issue in 2017? tomorrow

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