Colorism Within Black Families

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The Unspeakable and UnwrittenTaboo Within Black Families

The Black family is often the main source of strength and a stalwart bulwark against the outer/outside society. It is within the Black family where many Blacks receive the utmost of nurturance, support, reassurance, respect, and encouragement. In almost every family, including Black ones, there exists a modicum of dysfunction whether it is sibling rivalry and other related familial dynamics. However, quite a few Black families are extremely reluctant to mention the last taboo..... the issue of.colorism.

Colorism exists in many Black families either overtly or covertly. The issue of colorism began during slavery when dark skin was denigrated and considered to be unattractive while lighter skin was prized. and viewed as being more comely. During slavery, lighter skinned Blacks were treated more preferentially by the slaveowner than the darker skinned Blacks. This perception of light vs dark carried over into the post-slavery era.

As a result of this incessant indoctrination that lighter is better and darker is worse, many Blacks started to believe that lighter skin was indeed better as it bestowed privileges that being of a darker skin did not. There was even separation into different clubs and societies among Blacks based upon skin color. There were the blue vein societies in the South and there was the infamous paper bag test which prohibited admission to Blacks who were darker than the paper bag. These light skin clubs and societies wanted to be "racially pure" and separate thus no darker skinned Blacks were to be admitted to those clubs.

Because of the emphasis on skin color, many Black parents from the post-Reconstruction to the early twentieth century prayed that upon the birth of their children that they would be light and not too dark. They knew that being too dark was a detriment in society as there were few or no opportunities for dark skinned Blacks. Even though there were few opportunities for Blacks to achieve a modicum decent living, lighter skinned Blacks were more likely to be hired than darker skinned Blacks.

In the early part of the twentieth century, the majority members of the Black middle to upper middle class were light skinned. In comparison to the majority of Blacks who were impoverished, they had privileged lives. They intended to retain that privilege by establishing by-laws and rules to keep their line "pure" so to speak.

In such families, the members were exhorted to stay within their particular color line regarding dating, courtship, and marriage. Many Black middle and upper middle class families were just as elitist as the wealthiest Caucasian families. They stressed only marrying other light skinned members. Their sons and daughters were strongly admonished not to especially marry anyone who was darker than they were.

Throughout the 20th century, colorism has become somewhat less prevalent in the Black community. However, it has not completely disappeared. In many Black families, lighter skinned members are especially prized and given preferential treatment over their darker skinned members. For example, in some Black families, the lighter skinned child is favored by the parents over his/her darker skinned siblings.

This coloristic favoritism not only occurs in the immediate Black family but also in extended Black families also. I remember a maternal aunt gushing over one grandniece being so light-skinned and beautiful. Conversely, while the lighter skinned members of the family, both immediate and extended are adored and lionized, the darker skinned family members are often denigrated, just considered to barely exist, and/or in more extreme cases, scapegoated. Many darker skinned members in families remember being called pejorative names regarding their color by family members in the heat of anger or merely in jest.

Of course, there are cases of reverse colorism in some families where the lighter-skinned family members are seen as being too good and/or uppity for the rest of the family. Other light skinned family members are viewed by their family members as not being authentically Black while the darker skinned family members are considered to be real and authentic people. There is no clear cut application of colorism in Black families. Some light skinned family members are praised while others are derided as with darker skinned family members. The colorism issue is solely dependent upon the variables and the particular family at hand.

Even in this postmodern era, there are some light skinned Black families who adamantly insist on keeping their racial lines pure so they admonish their family members to only date and/or marry within their skin color perimeters. They are strongly exhorted not to have the unmitigated audacity to bring anyone home who is noticeably darker than they are so the parents do not want the racial lines "tainted" with.

There are many light skinned Black families who have married only other light skinned members for generations. That action is totally de rigueur in many light skinned Black families. If a light skinned family member elects to date and/or marry a darker skinned person, he/she is coerced either subtly or more forcibly to stay within the family skin color perimeter. He/she is warned by the parents or other family members that they do not want any dark babies. In essence, such families want to stay light or perhaps, go lighter but never darker.

In a few Black families, darker skinned members are often unfavored by their parents and/or other relatives. Many darker skinned family members, especially if they are females, are constantly inculcated that they are not attractive enough and their dating and marital prospects are extremely few and far between. Many a darker skinned daughter can vividly recollect a parent or other relative telling them that they had better be smart since they are not attractive enough to draw a man. They are even told that they would be extremely lucky if a man does look at or consider them. In the documentary DARK GIRLS produced by Bill Duke and D. Channsin Berry, a young dark-skinned Black woman relayed how her mother praised her to a friend; however, the mother made a comment of how much more beautiful her daughter would be if she was lighter.

Many darker skinned women purported to seldom being told that they were beautiful. In one article, a light-skinned woman was gloated over by a mother who openly detested her own daughter because she was darker skinned. According to this mother, her daughter was definitely not considered to be beautiful in comparison to the lighter skinned woman. Worse yet, many Black families pay a backhanded compliment to their darker skinned daughters that they are pretty and/or beautiful for being dark skinned. However, in many Afrocentric families, darker skinned daughters are taught to appreciate and revel in their beauty.

Many darker skinned family members are inculcated by their relatives to expect little or just be content with the crumbs of life. They are often given lower expectations from their parents and/or other family members than their lighter skinned family members who are exhorted to achieve. Many more darker skinned family members are told by their families that they have to be smarter and more qualified than their lighter skinned members and/or Caucasians just to get in the door and/or to be noticed.

Many darker skinned family members are treated more harshly by parents and/or other relatives to season them to survive the harshness of life in a mostly Caucasian society. In some families, dark skinned children are disciplined and inculcated more stringently than their lighter skinned siblings and/or relatives. These parents and relatives portend that this training and discipline is just to train them for survival.

Many Black families are divided because of the issue of colorism. As a result of such colorism in many families, many darker skinned members believe that they are worthless and less than human. They feel quite inferior. Many darker skinned members date and/or marry lighter skinned or other non-Blacks because they do not want their children to suffer as they do. There are some darker skinned Blacks who pray that their children will not be dark because to be dark means to be a second class citizen within both the Caucasian and Black communities.

There are many lighter skinned members who believe that they are superior to the darker skinned members of their families because of the preferential treatment received from parents and/or other relatives. In many families, the lighter skinned members are often the favorites or the golden child. This often causes dissention within the family albeit for the worse! Because of the mollycoddling that many ligher skinned members receive from their family, they portend that the outer society will afford them the same treatment. However, they often are shocked when the outer society oftentimes treat them as any other Black person. The Black family is often a source of constant strength and renewal for its members. Artificial issues such as skin color has no place within the Black family structure.

In summation, the issue of colorism is quite an insidious one within many Black families. Family members are often idolized or denigrated based upon skin color. Furthermore, the issue of colorism divides members of the Black family who should be able to have a rapport and seek communion with each other. The Black family is a wonderful institution of love and strength and clearly colorism is quite destructive to this institution!

For More Information About The Subject

© 2012 Grace Marguerite Williams

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Comments 16 comments

lone77star profile image

lone77star 4 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

It's sad that color has any meaning. Why would the lighter shade of African American be called "black" in any event. Don't they have some "white" within them, too. Our current president is called "black," but what of his mother? What of that other part of his heritage?

We are all Homo sapiens and thus share a common bond. We are all part of the same family. I happen to think black is beautiful, but so is white (pink), yellow, brown and every other shade. My pigeonhole is Caucasian, but the people of the Caucasus may actually be from the "red" people of Atlantis, and all of those so-called "white" people are likely a mix of original "white" plus others. And my wife is a beautiful brown. I wouldn't have it any other way. She once mentioned lightening her skin and I asked her not to.


Allpeople Gifts profile image

Allpeople Gifts 4 years ago

.

There is actually no such thing as a so-called "Light-Skinned

Black" person ... but rather ... such individuals and groups

are actually people who are of a 'Multi-Generational

Multiracially-Mixed' (MGM-Mixed) Lineage that some may

have been pressured or encouraged to ignore or downplay.

.

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Generation-Mixed/mes...

.

People of Mixed-Race lineage should NOT feel pressured to

'identify' according to any standards other than one's own.

.

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Generation-Mixed/mes...

.

The legal -application of the racist-'One-Drop Rule'

(ODR) was banned in the U.S. way back in 1967.

.

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Generation-Mixed/mes...

.

http://www.facebook.com/groups/253286018082418/per...

.

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Generation-Mixed/mes...

.

http://www.facebook.com/groups/253286018082418/per...

.

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Listed below are related Links of 'the facts' of the histories

of various Mixed-Race populations found within the U.S.:

.

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There is no proof that a 'color-based slave hierarchy'

(or that 'color-based social-networks') ever existed

as common entities -- within the continental U.S.

.

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Generation-Mixed/mes...

.

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Generation-Mixed/mes...

.

It was the 'Rule of Matriliny (ROM) -- [a.k.a. 'The Rule of Partus'

(ROP)] -- and NOT the racist-'One-Drop Rule' (ODR) -- that was

used to 'create more enslaved people' on the continental U.S.

.

This is because the chattel-slavery system that was

once found on the antebellum-era, continental U.S.

was NOT "color-based" (i.e. "racial") -- but rather

-- it was actually "mother-based" (i.e. 'matrilineal').

.

http://www.facebook.com/allpeople.gifts/posts/3094...

.

There were many ways (and not solely the sexual assault

and sexual exploitation of the women-of-color) in which

'white' lineage entered the familial bloodlines of

enslaved-people found on the continental U.S.

.

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Generation-Mixed/mes...

.

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Generation-Mixed/mes...

.

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Generation-Mixed/mes...

.

An 'Ethnic' category is NOT the

same thing as a "Race" category:

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Generation-Mixed/mes...

.

http://www.facebook.com/allpeople.gifts/posts/3007...

.

Other Topics:

.

https://www.facebook.com/allpeople.gifts/posts/279...

.

https://www.facebook.com/allpeople.gifts/posts/164...

.

http://www.facebook.com/notes/%C2%ADallpeople-gift...

.

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Esther  Strong profile image

Esther Strong 4 years ago from UK

Well done for raising a taboo subject. Voted up etc.


AllPeople 4 years ago

.

There is no proof that a 'color-based slave hierarchy'

(or that 'color-based social-networks') ever existed

as common entities -- within the continental U.S.

.

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Generation-Mixed/mes...

.

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Generation-Mixed/mes...

.

It was the 'Rule of Matriliny (ROM) -- [a.k.a. 'The Rule of Partus'

(ROP)] -- and NOT the racist-'One-Drop Rule' (ODR) -- that was

used to 'create more enslaved people' on the continental U.S.

.

This is because the chattel-slavery system that was

once found on the antebellum-era, continental U.S.

was NOT "color-based" (i.e. "racial") -- but rather

-- it was actually "mother-based" (i.e. 'matrilineal').

.

http://www.facebook.com/allpeople.gifts/posts/3094...

.

There were many ways (and not solely the sexual assault

and sexual exploitation of the women-of-color) in which

'white' lineage entered the familial bloodlines of

enslaved-people found on the continental U.S.

.

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Generation-Mixed/mes...

.

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Generation-Mixed/mes...

.

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Generation-Mixed/mes...

.

An 'Ethnic' category is NOT the

same thing as a "Race" category:

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Generation-Mixed/mes...

.

http://www.facebook.com/allpeople.gifts/posts/3007...

.

Other Topics:

.

http://www.facebook.com/notes/%C2%ADallpeople-gift...

.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

.


Express10 profile image

Express10 4 years ago from East Coast

This is sad and true in MANY ethnic families and cultures. Colorism affects people of all ethnicities in India, China, Japan, Brazil, and many other countries. There are some for whom this is not a blatant issue, so it is out of sight and out of mind and comes as a surprise when they do come across it.


Sunnie Day 4 years ago

This was a very interesting topic. Having two biracial children we have experienced many situations concerning skin color and how they and even I have been treated through the years. I do think "colorism" is very much alive today and plays a big role in the lives of many and more than what we would like to believe. Thanks GM I always learn so much when I read your hubs.

Sunnie


gmwilliams profile image

gmwilliams 4 years ago from the Greatest City In The World-New York City, New York Author

You are quite welcome indeed.


Herne Webber 3 years ago

You want to know what pisses me off the most? The ads by Google at the head of this article are for SKIN LIGHTENING. Hey, Google, are you stupid or what?


Express10 profile image

Express10 3 years ago from East Coast

Yes, google is stupid. I'm seeing two skin lightening ads right now on this hub.


kamgabri 3 years ago

can i use this article for my Communication Studies research?


gmwilliams profile image

gmwilliams 3 years ago from the Greatest City In The World-New York City, New York Author

Yes, you may kamgabri.


kamgabri 3 years ago

thanks :-)


kamgabri 3 years ago

thanks you! :-)


brownsugar8 3 years ago

I think interlized racism has a lot to do with history of america,but also because current statues in america. Opportunitys are given more to people with lighter skin e

,education is still given to people with lighter skin. Higher income , job promotion. Studys have found that people with whiter names got more called backs for jobs. Studys have shown that black men ars three times to get refused a job. Studys have shown ligher skin are mixed people are more accepted in jobs. The beauty idea is still heavily western. Plus media about black people dosnt make things better. So i can see why some black people still get the conclusion why lighter is better. We as black americans have civil rights to work here but are still not accpted unless were lighter our mixed. That makes people feel unjustified,and causes suppression. Which can cause racism towards each other. We have to go against the system,not each other.


realtalk247 profile image

realtalk247 2 years ago

Your article was very well written. The documentary Dark Girls was revealing, emotional, and STILL very applicable to the attitudes of African American people today. It's so ridiculous, and to other cultures it must appear downright foolish for a people to celebrate features that are not unique to their ancestry. Beauty is beauty, regardless of shade. Shade does not define beauty by default. It is the shape of the eyes, cheekbones, and skin tone. While we have women like Grace Jones and Lupita Nyong'o, not enough people see beauty in chocolate tones.

I guess Willie Lynch was correct in his teachings:

I HAVE A FOOLPROOF METHOD FOR CONTROLLING YOUR BLACK SLAVES. I guarantee every one of you that if installed correctly IT WILL CONTROL THE SLAVES FOR AT LEAST 300 HUNDREDS YEARS. My method is simple. Any member of your family or your overseer can use it. I HAVE OUTLINED A NUMBER OF DIFFERENCES AMONG THE SLAVES; AND I TAKE THESE DIFFERENCES AND MAKE THEM BIGGER. I USE FEAR, DISTRUST AND ENVY FOR CONTROL PURPOSES. These methods have worked on my modest plantation in the West Indies and it will work throughout the South. Take this simple little list of differences and think about them. On top of my list is "AGE" but it's there only because it starts with an "A." The second is "COLOR" or shade, there is INTELLIGENCE, SIZE, SEX, SIZES OF PLANTATIONS, STATUS on plantations, ATTITUDE of owners, whether the slaves live in the valley, on a hill, East, West, North, South, have fine hair, course hair, or is tall or short. Now that you have a list of differences, I shall give you an outline of action, but before that, I shall assure you that DISTRUST IS STRONGER THAN TRUST AND ENVY STRONGER THAN ADULATION, RESPECT OR ADMIRATION. The Black slaves after receiving this indoctrination shall carry on and will become self refueling and self generating for HUNDREDS of years, maybe THOUSANDS. Don't forget you must pitch the OLD black Male vs. the YOUNG black Male, and the YOUNG black Male against the OLD black male. You must use the DARK skin slaves vs. the LIGHT skin slaves, and the LIGHT skin slaves vs. the DARK skin slaves. You must use the FEMALE vs. the MALE. And the MALE vs. the FEMALE. You must also have you white servants and over- seers distrust all Blacks. But it is NECESSARY THAT YOUR SLAVES TRUST AND DEPEND ON US. THEY MUST LOVE, RESPECT AND TRUST ONLY US. Gentlemen, these kits are your keys to control. Use them. Have your wives and children use them, never miss an opportunity. IF USED INTENSELY FOR ONE YEAR, THE SLAVES THEMSELVES WILL REMAIN PERPETUALLY DISTRUSTFUL. Thank you gentlemen."


gmwilliams profile image

gmwilliams 2 years ago from the Greatest City In The World-New York City, New York Author

Thank you for stopping by and for you're quite eloquent commentary. It is immensely appreciated in kind.

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