African Americans Still Victims of Colorism

Color has always been the dividing line to make African Americans feel less worthy of a legitimate social identity than Euro-Americans and less favored over those with lighter skin within their own race. Consequently, this color line between light and dark complexioned African Americans has caused division, schism, and contention among themselves that still exists today. Many African Africans have accepted the ideology of the white racial frame that lighter skin tones and straight hair makes one more acceptable to dominant group members. Mainstream advertising sustains subtle self-differentiation based on color preferences for African Americans. A case in point, L’Oreal was recently denounced for making Beyonce’s skin lighter than what it really is in their new series of L’Oreal product ads, according to this article. Although the company refuted the accusation, the fact that it raised a racial issue is evidence of the on-going contention that the color of one’s skin constructs different realities for African Americans and other social groups. There is a general consensus that the color line division among African Americans has caused self-hatred between those with lighter skin and those with a darker hue.

Beyond this, the CNN documentary, Black in America, alludes to this fact too. In the second airing of Black in America: The Black Man, some of the participants indicated that the color line division between lighter and darker skinned blacks has been evident in their lives. Other Black participants believe this negative social identity stems from slavery and has made its way into the new century. You will have to watch the entire video to fully appreciate this documentary.

Historically, African Americans with lighter skin have contributed to colorism because they have benefited from the privilege of having a skin color closer to that of Whites and have embraced the notion that privilege comes with having light skin in America. For example, during slavery, the house slave received more privileges than the field slave. In modern times, lighter complexioned or biracial African Americans appear to gain more access to the social, political, and economic institutions of America than darker skinned blacks, generally speaking. Even though W.E.B. DuBois was an advocate for the Black cause, his skin tone was of a lighter hue, and he was a graduate of one of the most elitist and prestigious universities in America, Harvard University. However, he experienced problems when he took on the Black cause.

Look, for instance, at President Barack Obama. Although he embraces the African heritage and his wife is African American, he nonetheless is biracial. He, too, is a Harvard graduate. I believe if he addressed the racial issue in America, he would be crucified. He would be told to focus on job creation rather than racial issues because white America, as a whole, is not interested in black problems. Anthony Williams, a participant in the CNN documentary said, “You have to almost change yourself, dilute yourself, to live in a white society.” Another African American male, Vince Priester describes reaction to the CNN documentary on race here. ( Vince Priester describes being black in America) I, by no means, discount the positive experiences of darker hued African Americans because some are doing quite well for themselves but at what price. Despite this notion, America remains a racialized society where skin color and race still matters.

As Angela P. Harris states,

. . . Colorism operates sometimes to confound and sometimes to restructure racial hierarchy. Meanwhile, the circulating meanings attached to color shape the meaning of race. . . . Colorism as a series of symbolic economies is embedded in material economies of production, exchange, and consumption. (Shades of Difference: Why Skin Color Matters, Stanford University Press, p. 2)