Have you heard or used this phrase, "So and So is pretty to be dark-skinned"? Often, the African American community is "woke" and vigilant when other races or cultures discriminate against us because of the color of our skin. However, some take a blind eye or are silent when it comes to discriminating within the same race or ethnic background. It then shifts to harmless jokes and teasing. Right? This behavior is coined as"Colorism." Colorism is defined as the discrimination of individuals of a lighter or darker complexion. Burker and Embrich's (2008) article titled Colorism describes it as a systematic privilege or disadvantage based on the lightness or darkness of one's skin, with favoritism typically granted to those with lighter skin. It is a form of racism that is expressed from the conscious or subconscious that is centered on the individual decisions formed by the personal perceptions of skin color.
Receiving compliments on looks start at infancy. Validation is often communicated through compliments from others at those impressionable ages. When family and friends meet a new baby, one may say, "Oh, look at the pretty baby, it is so cute." Now, visualize this baby of a dark complexion. One may hear, "Oh, this is a pretty, dark-skinned baby"; "Oh, this baby is a pretty chocolate baby"; or "Oh, that is a pretty, black baby." Growing up, this writer recalls hearing each of these. My innocence as a child did not allow me to catch the shade. Several nicknames come to mind; some possibly intended as terms of endearment like "chocolate" or "Hershey," referencing the milk chocolate candy, Hershey's kiss. However, equally, there were names used condescendingly like "blacky", "skillet", "night", "darky", "midnight". Despite being well-known and respected by my peers, there were still times that others would not allow me to forget about the dark complexion. It was as If I was different from another part of the world or something (rolls eyes). However, maturing and learning to love myself allowed me to grow to embrace this beautiful black skin!
Fast forward into adulthood, now loving the skin I am in and encouraging others with a similar complexion to embrace their beauty and not allow others to make them feel inferior. Those past feelings of hurt, shame, and embarrassment were a thing of the past. Well, so I thought! It was not until participating in a class discussion last year I realized those emotions might have only been suppressed.
Our instructor asked the class if anyone asked had dealt with colorism. I noticed that even in this class, I was a part of the minority. There was only one other student of a dark complexion, and the expectation was that this student would be the one to raise her hand to share similar experiences. Surprisingly, it was the fairer skin student who raised her hand. I inadvertently developed an attitude and minimized her experiences before she ever opened her mouth. After listening to the classmate speak, I realized that though our physical appearances differ, there were similar experiences. I also realized that I had subconsciously judged the classmate and her experience based on the color of her skin. We spoke briefly about experiences, but more so, feelings from the past and the class discussion. It was almost like a bonding moment. This young lady and I became friends and continue to communicate quite frequently.
As a professional, over 30 years old and confident in most facets of life, I am still very quick to correct someone who says, "you are pretty for a dark-skinned girl." I quickly redirect them and say, "I AM PRETTY PERIOD." So much so that I have the T-shirt. No, I do. There was an instance where I was approached by a gentleman in a night club that uttered those words—"You are pretty for a dark-skinned girl."Needless to say, that individual lost any chance of getting any further conversation, much less a telephone number, not even a wrong number (LOL). I realize everyone does not mean ill will when making this statement, but because of my history and past experiences, it is difficult to let it go after being said. When telling someone, you are pretty to be a dark-skinned individual, pretty to be a big individual, or pretty to be anything; it lends a condescending undertone. It implies that everyone that usually looks like them is less attractive, but for some reason, they are the exception. This is a pseudo compliment, in turn, not a compliment at all. It is, in fact, degrading and hurtful. The message to be conveyed whether guilty of using this phrase or the recipient, YOU ARE PRETTY, period!
Written by: Tandrea Elmore, MS, ALC, NCC