Ah yes. The colorism conversation. After completing my thesis, I knew I wanted to write a post about colorism. To give some clarity, colorism is the discrimination based on skin tone. But for this blog post, I wanted to take a personal approach to it. I wanted to talk about my experience with colorism.
The first time I was made aware of my skin tone was when I came back to the United States. I was in Senegal for three years, from the age of five to eight. When I came back, my skin was darker. Everyone noticed, of course, including my mother. To give some context, my father is light skin and my mother is dark skin (we’ll talk about this more).
People began to talk. People that saw me before I went to Senegal. A woman saw me and asked my cousin if I was Diakha. My cousin responded, and the woman called me ugly in our language. I remember constantly glancing at the mirror in my bathroom wondering how I could change this skin tone. Change this dark skin. How could I become lighter?
Yet, I knew how I could become lighter. I saw my own mother do it to herself. The lightning creams became a necessity, her best friend. In Wolof, we would say “ngoul” (it means “dark”, probably spelled it wrong). My mom said I was always ngoul. Her tone. It was her tone that got me. The way she would say it, with disappointment. As if she was saying, “how can you be my daughter and be this dark.” As I watched my mother become lighter, I became angry. I did not know that this was colorism.
When I entered high school, my self-esteem was low. But that’s common amongst teenagers. I hated my skin tone. I hated how dark I was. At the age of 15, I craved to be light. I wanted to change my skin tone, I wanted to at least be light skin. I would be in the shower, trying to scrub away this dirt, nonexistent dirt. At the time, I wasn’t complimented on my beauty. So, I convinced myself that I was indeed ugly. One thing I never thought about was using the lightening creams. Though they were easily accessible, I refused to use them. I saw what it did to my mom and my aunts. They hated their dark skin tones as much as I did. And it’s not their fault that they hated it. It’s the way people have made them feel for being born with a darker skin tone. Along with the fact that being light skin is viewed more desirable, beautiful.
The first time I learned the definition of colorism was during my high school internship. We worked on a project and created a video talking about our experiences with it. It was the first time I thought about what it was like being dark skin. It was an eye opening experience for me. From that day, I never looked back. Meaning, when I glanced at the mirror, I saw something different. I did not crave to be light anymore. I began to educate myself on colorism, it’s history and impact on Black people. As I am writing this, I am fighting back tears. I am ashamed of myself for ever hating my dark skin.
In college, my appreciation for my skin tone grew. I noticed how other dark skin people talked about their love for their skin tone. I noticed a change in social media. Being dark skin was trending. We were starting to become “chocolate.” Our skin tones were being associated with food (still is). At first, I didn’t think much of it, but when I started working on my thesis, it bothered me. Why are we being compared to food? Even with makeup foundations, the names of the foundations for dark skin tones. To some it’s a good thing, but to me it’s sad. We’re only desirable when associated with food.
Why am I telling you all this? Colorism is still significant. It’s an issue ingrained within the the Black community. Yes, I know it’s in other communities as well but I’m only speaking of my own. There is this divide, light skin and dark skin. When I was completing my thesis, I remember looking at my data for people with medium brown skin tone. For some reason, we do not talk about people who are brown skin. Our conversations are always centered around light skin people and their privilege, and dark skin people and their disadvantages. All of these conversations are important. However, these conversations never lead to anything, a solution, something.
But like I said in the beginning of the blog, this post only focuses on my personal experiences with colorism. My mom eventually stopped using the lightening creams. But I don’t know how she feels about her skin tone now.
Though it took time, I am happy with my skin tone. I feel comfortable with my skin tone. It saddens me though that there are people who are not comfortable with their skin tone. It saddens me that there are women with dark skin who bleach their skin and use lightening creams. But, I must highlight that there are women with dark skin who LOVE their skin tone. I do not want you to think that all dark skin women dislike their skin tone.
You may have noticed that I only talked about dark skin women. As for the men, that’s another conversation. This is where I will end this post. But, this is not the end. If you have thoughts on this, please feel free to comment or message me.
Thank you for reading.
Writer: Diaka Thiam