The secret is out. Among us, it never was a secret. But we didn’t speak of it… openly that is; only behind closed doors. And certainly never in front of White people. But there it was, being blatantly discussed in a mainstream TV documentary.
“Mommy, I hate my skin.”
“Why you say that, baby?”
“It’s ugly. It’s too dark.” This, coming from a beautiful Black child, young enough to be holding her mama’s hand as she walked.
There’s nothing new about this, you might say. Yes, but this child is not just being condemned by Whites, she’s being stigmatized by her own race as well.
Now, the secret even has a name: it’s called “Colorism.”
At different times in my life I’ve been Negro, African American, and Black, depending on where my race stood in its struggle for positive identity. Strangely enough, White people missed out on that struggle. They’ve always been “White,” and proud of it, with no shift in terminology throughout the years.
Having long ago settled into my own comfort zone of racial identity, I thought we’d moved beyond this; especially considering the “Black is beautiful” movement in the ‘60s and ‘70s; and now having a Black family in the White House. So I was both shocked and saddened that our young children are still being subjected to this abuse by our own people.
Little ones are shaped by outside opinion. Unable to form their identity from a point of objective reason, they absorb poison from without and incorporate it into their minds and hearts, creating an identity of self hatred.
Historically, this form of racial self hatred originated in the vulnerability of slavery days when, uprooted from their culture, Blacks became labeled by their owners. If your mother was “lucky” enough to have been raped by the slave master, your skin was lighter and you were transported to the big house with a rise in status. As a ‘house nigga” you escaped the backbreaking toil of field hands. Sadly, this externally imposed caste system became part of the Black racial identity, favoring light skin over dark, and perpetuating a schism within the race.
Both ends of the spectrum are affected, for Colorism has entered a new arena; that of racially mixed children. In itself, “racially mixed” is a recent terminology. In the past, these mulatto/high yalla/light skinned children were classified under the umbrella of Negro/African American/Black. Unless your skin was close to ebony, chances are you were racially mixed somewhere in your gene pool.
But now with the “mixed race” label, these children are also being subjected to Colorism from within. They are no longer guaranteed shelter under the Black umbrella. With skin too light to be Black, and hair too curly to be White, some are in limbo as to identity and acceptance.
This having been said, I must tell you that without a doubt, America has made progress; both hope and redemption are at work. Across the country there are a multitude of enlightened individuals and communities. In my personal life, and that of my family, I have seen a renaissance of understanding, acceptance, and just plain human kindness.
But I’m putting a shout out to all my folks. We are the “village” and these are our children. It is both our opportunity and our responsibility to reach deeply into our racial consciousness and cleanse ourselves of this last remnant of archaic thinking. For the sake these precious little souls, name all our children Beautiful.
Amy Bryant is the author of You CAN Go Home Again
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