The all too famous speech by Willie Lynch is what created the colorism ball and got it rolling.
The Willie Lynch Letter: The Making of a Slave states that his method for controlling slaves encompasses an entire list: “On top of my list is “age” but it’s there only because it starts with an “A.” The second is “COLOR” or shade, there is intelligence, size, sex, size of plantations and status on plantations, attitude of owners, whether the slaves live in the valley, on a hill, East, West, North, South, have fine hair, course hair, or is tall or short.”
Almost all of these differences, with remembrance to their characteristics being used as a method of subjection for hundreds of years, are currently being used to invalidate the humanity of black people. The most emphasized, and probably most lethal when carried out correctly, form of control is separation by “COLOR.” After all, “You must use the dark skin slaves vs. the light skin slaves, and the light skin slaves vs. the dark skin slaves.” This is verbatim the “light skin vs dark skin” language that is used today. Arguably as potent as “Separate but equal”, the “light skin vs. dark skin” atrocity pins the black body against itself and influences the treatment given and received from each other, as well as other races.
Prime example: I overheard a conversation in which a white speaker was talking about a tan she recently received and how it was not a good one. Her exact words were, “No seriously, like…I looked black.” I turned to the mirror in front of me and looked at my black skin.
Interesting. White people tan to get darker—apparently, no one likes to look pale—and then complain when the shade is too dark. It seems that the goal is to be tan enough for beauty, but not dark enough to considered “beastly” . At that moment in the mirror, I felt the internalization of “light skin vs. dark skin.” I saw beauty standards from the white perspective and felt the false weight of inadequacy.
After this run-in, I started paying closer attention to who occupied the same rooms I did. During a course of two semesters, I was frequently the only black person in the room, and in the rare event that I wasn’t, I was the only dark skinned person in the room. Noticing these small distinctions fell into the trap that Mr. Lynch wanted black people to enter, so I concluded my research into this form of colorism.
I shifted my focus to language. Resembling clockwork, I soon found myself in a conversation with a racially ambiguous woman who told me, “You’re pretty for a black girl.” Mm…to what honor do I owe the distinction? I’ll credit Mr. Lynch for such an intrusive and successful method that has lived for over 300 years.
In order to eradicate colorism, I offer small, calculated steps that can be implemented and executed. Below are some broad categories that could serve as opportune places to start.
1. Acknowledge colorism
Harvard professor Jennifer Hochschild addresses colorism in her journal article The Skin Color Paradox and the American Racial Order. She states, “Most Blacks see the fight against racial hierarchy as requiring their primary allegiance, [so] they do not see or do not choose to express concern about the internal hierarchy of skin tone. Thus dark-skinned Blacks’ widespread experience of harm has no political outlet— which generates the skin color paradox.”
In order to address colorism, there must be agreement that it exists. At which point, the process of atonement and healing can begin. As such, it is important to point out that colorism doesn’t only affect the black community—Hispanics and Caribbeans find themselves in a similar predicament.
2. Media Representation
How many leads held by people of color on TV shows or movies are light skinned vs the number of dark-skinned? See, there it is again. After acknowledgment, it’s easy to use colorist language because its culprits become evident. The lynch mentality will continue to plague until representation is at a level where it is no longer noticeable. When thinking about skin color does not come first or second nature, the human race has arrived without colorism, or racism for that matter, setting the precedent for it.
3. Discontinuing the implication of light skin
Hochschild’s abstract states, “Dark-skinned Blacks in the United States have lower socioeconomic status, more punitive relationships with the criminal justice system, diminished prestige, and less likelihood of holding elective office compared with their lighter counterparts.”
It’s less about the possession of having light skin and more about the actions and abilities associated with it. Dark-skinned people simply want the same associations and luxuries, assuming these even exist because at the end of the day black is black. However, any progress should be progress available to all.
This is in no way a conclusive analysis of colorism nor the only ways to get rid of it. If anything, this article serves to open conversations about it and stimulate the thought process into it.