NNPA – Some thought color discrimination among African-Americans had pretty much blown away with the Black cultural revolution of the 1960s and 1970s.
But according to sociologists, academics and other measures of the nation’s social barometer, the issue is still rooted in day-to-day life.
“There is evidence, no let me rephrase that, it’s a reality that people receive preferential treatment based on color,” said sociologist Cedric O. Herring, a professor at the University of Illinois and editor of “Skin Deep: How Race and Complexion Matter in the “Color-Blind” Era.”
He says, “It is something that for a long time was an impolite subject to talk about but it’s real.”
The subject reared most visibly recently when Detroit DJ Ulysses Barnes decided to promote his “Light Skin Libra Birthday Bash,” by offering free admission to light-skinned Black women.
The event set off a torrent of criticism and outrage nationally. Barnes was flooded with so many e-mails, telephone calls and negative publicity that he was forced to cancel the event. In his defense, Barnes said he had plans for “Sexy Chocolate” and “Sexy Caramel” parties too, and that “it was just party thing.”
It wasn’t just a “party thing” for people like Ayana Teal, an administrator for the Jewish studies program at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. Teal, 25, was made “painfully aware” early on that her dark skin was not seen as desirable.
“People would say, ‘You’re really pretty for a dark-skinned girl,’ qualifying it like dark-skinned people aren’t supposed to be pretty,” she said.
Now, the same prejudices she experienced are being visited on to her five-year-old daughter, Nia.
“Her father’s friend said when he saw her, ‘You don’t really see dark babies that are pretty like that,’” Teal said. “I could have hit him.”
On the other end of the spectrum, Tamika Brown of Hyattsville, Md., said her skin color has given her advantages.
“When I was little, I was treated differently because I had light skin and long hair,” Brown, 20, said.
The issue of complexion discrimination has long played out in the Black community-from slave days when lighter-skinned Blacks were made to work indoors while their darker counterparts toiled in the fields; to the antebellum age when entrance into mulatto organizations like the “Blue Vein Society” required that you be so pale that the “blue veins” on the underside of the arm were visible; to more modern times when Black fraternities and sororities administered the “brown paper bag test” to prevent people who were “too dark” from entering their ranks.
Such attitudes about color reflect “internalized racism,” said Melvin Thomas, president of the Association of Black Sociologists and professor of sociology at North Carolina State University.
“For some Blacks, the more White you are, the better,” he said. “It’s based on White racism but it gets internalized so that Blacks have the same negative attitudes towards Black skin and see European features as more desirable.”
Herring said color discrimination doesn’t only go one way.
“Light-’complected’ African-American women may be the most despised group of women,” he said. “They aren’t seen as Black and the treatment they receive from African-American women, especially, is hateful.”
Thomas and others argue that the preference towards lighter-skinned Blacks is reflected in various aspects of life, particularly the entertainment world, where lighter-skinned female celebrities—Lena Horne, Halle Berry, Alicia Keys and Mariah Carey—appear to be the preference.
Changa Bell, an area film director and former BET employee, used to direct hip hop music videos. Bell, 35, said that the emphasis on light-skinned African-Americans was one of the reasons why he drew away from the genre.
“Back when I was heavy into making hip-hop videos it was the ‘Blasian,’ Black-Asian mix that was popular,” he said. “But more often than not, it is the light brown to light skinned models who appear in these videos.”
The artist will usually ask for a certain type of look and the director will find models to fit that look, Bell said, David Hayrock, director of operations for Supergroup International, which produces hip-hop videos, denied that there is a bias.
“From the point of view of casting, there has never been any talk about choosing models based on their complexion,” Hayrock said. “It’s more about booties and how their faces look in closeups.”
Teal, who also works as a fashion stylist, said she also finds color discrimination in the fashion industry.
“It’s become really hot to look exotic, long flowing hair, fair skin, light-colored eyes,” she said. “At a fashion shoot in New York that I worked on, I noticed during the model call that they were picking only the tall fair models and when I called the [shoot director] on it, she said she hadn’t realized what she was doing.”
The bias against darker skin tone is also evident in the workplace.
Just ask Dwight Burch, a former Applebee’s employee. The darker-skinned African-American won a $40,000 law suit against the restaurant, claiming his lighter-skinned African-American manager discriminated against him because of his complexion and fired him when he complained of his treatment.
The author of a recent study on the effects of complexion on economic status said his research found that light-skinned Blacks are considered for jobs over equally qualified dark-skinned Blacks.
“The most shocking finding of this study was that dark-skinned Black males with an MBA and managerial experience was deemed to be less qualified than a light skinned male with a bachelor’s degree,” said Matthew Harrison, the study’s author and a University of Georgia doctoral student.
“The study showed that the economic gap between light skinned and darker skinned Blacks is similar to the gap between Whites and Blacks.”
Herring said he is doubtful that the social phenomenon would ever cease to exist.
Cheriss May, a Washington graphic artist and Howard University professor, agreed.
“Since we ourselves perpetuate self-hate it continues to exist,” she said.
May, who co-founded the clothing line, Hue Love and later ventured out on her own to form the Unified Soul: Love Who I Am line of clothing, said she started her brand to counter colorism and its effects with positive expressions of self-love and acceptance. “Until we start believing that we are beautiful in all our different shades, sizes and hair textures we will be revisiting this issue 10 years from now.”
Are African Americans still too caught up with 'internal discrimination?' Does this phenomenon only affect Black Americans? What do you think? Sound off and voice your opinion!