The light skin verses dark skin inequality has been an ongoing issue within the African, Caribbean and Asian community for decades. Being light skinned or being called light skin, to most people within these communities reinforces the image of beauty. This ideology of being beautiful due to the shade of one’s skin often translates into being presented with better opportunities and a better way of life.
The mentality behind this thinking leaves others feeling worthless, discriminated against, insecure and at times causes them to take extreme measure, which often has long term lasting effects on their well-being.
So, why is this issue of light skin/ dark skin only prevalent within Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) communities? And why is being a shade lighter seen as advantage within our communities?
- Legacy of slavery: During the era of slavery, the social ladder presented a hierarchy of shades associated with power, status and worth. This scaling of lightest to darkest shades often presented slave owners who were white placed at the top of the ladder, followed by light skinned or mixed raced persons (in house workers) then followed by darker skinned person who often laboured in plantations doing back breaking work. While society’s mentality about slavery has changed over the years, for many in the Black and Asian community, the idea of colourism is still relevant to them – “a psychological prison of self-loathing and envy”.
- Media’s perception: A recent survey conducted by a lecturer (Dr Kanazawa) at the London School of Economics, caused international controversy in 2011. The survey concluded that black women were uglier than other races. The lecturer justified his survey in reporting that “Africans on average have higher levels of testosterone than other races. Women with higher levels of testosterone have more masculine features and are therefore less physically attractive”. Dr Kanazawa failed to state how many people took part in his research and did not mention the race of the women used for his research. Although there were failings in his research, it has to be acknowledged that, when such unreliable information is presented to the media, it becomes a global affair. Some viewers may not have the ability to critically challenge such matters and might classify such findings as factual information. Inaccurate findings combined with the legacy of slavery mentality contributes to this issue of colourism within our communities to date.
- Ignorance: Some individuals from BME communities fail to reflect on their acquired views and stay ignorant to this issue of colourism. An ignorant person might not consider the impact of their terminology “I prefer light skin girls because there are prettier”, “light skin is better”, “dark skin girls are ugly” on self-concept. Some individuals who say “light skin is better” are unable to justify such statements as, these views are often obtained from influential sources (friends, role models etc) who are not challenged due to the fear of exclusion.
Subsequently, the issue of colourism within BME communities is causing life changing physical, emotional and psychological impact on people. Bleaching has become a growing problem as a result of this issue of colourism. Side effects of bleaching includes: skin turning darker, thinning of the skin, visible blood vessels in the skin, scarring, kidney, liver or nerve damage, abnormalities in a new-born baby (if used during pregnancy) and possible death in extreme cases due to absorption of toxic chemical into the skin . Due to the mentality of light skin being favourable within our society, some people are ignoring warnings and risks associated to bleaching.
This is of great concerns as, younger people in some cases children within our communities are bleaching without the understanding risk and chemical these bleaching products contain.
This present issue of “lighter is better” is what we as a community are feeding our children growing up. Our children might grow up to believe that the definition of beauty is based on the shade of their skin. Despite the challenging mentality of working twice as hard to make it as a minority, they also have to face the reality of feeling, worthless and insecure regardless of their talents and strengths if they are not “light skinned”.
Beauty or the opportunity one is presented with in society should not be determined by the shade of their skin colour. Colourism within BME communities should be non –existent because “You are seen as the black person to other races irrespective of the shade of your skin colour”.
References and further Reading