Colourism is a problem prevalent in many black communities in a fragile society where they have been discriminated against on the basis of their skin colour. The black skin tone is classed and differentiated not only for descriptive purposes but rather unfortunately for some kind of classification for the degree of beauty and status. In this blog we attempt to understand why black people would rank and attach a psychological value of inadequacy or superiority to the different black tones.
There are visible physical degrees of variation of blackness and there is a perceptive importance placed on each degree of blackness. The grand question is when did black people start to place their blackness into some kind of a scale, a hierarchy of value? Physical beauty has to be ‘exceptional’ to be seen in a darker person.
Arguably, there is a misconception that the lighter the skin, the prettier the individual and the opposite is true with the darker pigment. Where did this perception come from and have black communities always despised the darker shade? I am wondering if the two inhumane events in the history of humanity (slavery and colonialism) and especially the accompanying myth of white supremacy have a role in black people’s perception of their skin colour.
The fallacy of light skin superiority is ingrained in most black communities such that some black people especially women, though not exclusively, spend a huge proportion of their annual income on skin lightening beauty products. It is no surprise that the beauty products industry enjoys a sizeable market share among black people for skin lightening products.
Some people believe, with a degree of truth, that black men tend to be attracted to lighter shades of black but why is it? Is it a coincidence that a lot of rich young black sportsmen tend to have relationships with white women? There is reason to suspect the delusion of white superiority still holds true in most of these young men and an involvement with a white person somehow completes their ‘successful’ lives.
I am tempted to claim a link between the black conception of the darker shade and the racial myth of white supremacy. Did slavery and its successor colonialism play a role in configuring black people’s mentality about their blackness? During slavery, for instance, the lighter skin slaves stood a good chance of being used in domestic quarters just as the dark skin slaves were guaranteed a place in the harsh plantations.
The myth of white supremacy meant that being allowed relatively free access to a white family’s quarters and the possibility of a better access to food was construed as a status symbol by some blacks. This might have developed tensions, feelings of superiority among lighter shades on the one hand and inferiority among darker shades on the other, and invariably resentment among the black people.
Racial discrimination was central to the day-to-day social engagement during the colonial period. In Zimbabwe (former Rhodesia), as in all areas in Africa that suffered the indignity of colonialism, black people of mixed race parentage (black/white) were ranked higher than the rest of the non-white races. In general the lighter skin natives had a higher probability of being given favourable consideration by the white administrators in contrast to the often dehumanising treatment meted out to darker skin blacks. Subconsciously, the mentality of dark skin inferiority has remained indelible in the minds of many and the desire to be lighter burns within.
The fact that the skin colour prejudice is still deeply rooted within blacks is testimony to the failure by blacks to break away from the clutches of the perceived white supremacy. Although the white supremacy myth is still being reinforced in various forms today, it would be folly to blame white people for the intra-racial complex displayed within black communities. It is the responsibility of black people to deconstruct and dispel the myth of light skin superiority within their communities.
The fragile status and marginalisation of black people conjured during the slavery and colonial period remains a point of concern in black society today. There is, unfortunately, very little effort by black people to see their value independent of white supremacists’ conceptualisation of the black skin, that is, black people looking at themselves as simply black, defining their own ideals of beauty without reference to white myths. The starting point would be for black people to stop using middle class white people’s achievements, norms and values as the definition of human achievement.