“Our race issues are cellular”. Those were the comments made by Iyanla Vanzants in the opening of the Light Girls documentary with regard to the black communities issues with colorism. The term cellular however, maintains that the roots of colorism are innate in our person rather than learned behavior. While Light Girls did open up a dialogue last night on Twitter, the conversation was mostly focused on what was missing, rather than the “aha moments” that should evolve from a documentary.
In an episode of Politini last year, Color Wars: Dark Skin vs Light Skin, Dr. Yaba Blay, author of (1) Drop: Shifting the Lens on Race and founder of the Pretty Period project, educated our listeners about the core of the color issue—white supremacy. “I like to think of colorism as the first cousin of racism—more globally it’s white supremacy. White supremacy speaks to the ideology behind the actions i.e. colonialism, Jim Crow etc”, she said.
This was the mark that Light Girls missed.
Light Girls wanted to deliver viewers what they believed to be the opposite of the of color coin. If one side is dark than the other must be light. However, deducing colorism into nothing more than a self-esteem and appearance issue leaves the true culprit off the hook—white supremacy.
White supremacy is the racist belief, or promotion of the belief that white people are superior to people of other racial backgrounds and that therefore whites should politically, economically and socially dominate non-whites. The term is also typically used to describe a political ideology that perpetuates and maintains the social, political, historical and/or industrial dominance of whites (as evidenced by historical and contemporary sociopolitical structures like the Atlantic Slave Trade and Jim Crow laws).
What Light Girls did was devolve into a conversation that seemingly unbeknownst to them, pinned dark and light skinned black people against one another. It was the light skinned black women relaying tales of being emotionally and physically abused by dark skinned black people followed by a retort that simplistically claimed, “we just need to love ourselves”.
Except “loving ourselves” is not what this conversation should have been about. Instead it was another missed opportunity to highlight how global white supremacy has devalued blackness in all its forms to maintain a power structure that assumes political and economic dominance be upheld my a white patriarchy system. In other words, if whiteness embodies all that is right, then blackness by default embodies all that is wrong. So, aspiring to whiteness should be everyone’s goal and motivation.
Now, if you take that narrative into account then you can begin to better understand the historical context of colorism and its contemporary effects on black culture. Then you will see that “loving ourselves” isn’t the issue—learning our history and power structures is.
We live in a time some 50 years removed from the Civil Rights Act, where we still have to chant ‘Black Lives Matter’. Why? Historically speaking, our lives have not mattered. We weren’t brought here to begin a life of our own, but instead to make white people’s lives easier.
We were divided by our color, language, physical characteristics etc. This historical divide is at the root of many present-day ills. Therefore, not only is it imperative that when delving into conversations about race and colorism that we get to the root of the issue, it’s also counterproductive at best and dangerous at worst not to.
I am absolutely here for conversations that focus on the black community—but you can’t have this dialogue without the presence of the proverbial white elephant in the room!