The Origins and Continuance of Colorism in the Black American Community
Colorism Within The Black Community
The History and the Persistence of Colorism in the Black American Community
When slavery was introduced to the United States, there were several methods of separating enslaved Africans in order to keep them divided as to not threaten the authority of the slavemaster. Enslaved Africans who spoke the same language were separated because if they were kept together, there would be a more likelihood of an insurrection. Enslaved Africans were brutalized by having their ethnic identities taken away from them. Enslaved Africans were no longer associated with their ethnic origins but were known as less than human chattel at the disposal of the slaveowners.
Racial miscegenation between enslaved Africans and Caucasian slaveowners was an integral part of slavery. As a result of this racial miscegenation between enslaved Africans and Caucasian slaveowners,there was a new class of mulattoes, quadroons, and octoroons among the enslaved Africans. No matter how light the complexion of the enslaved African was, he/she was nevertheless classified racially as Black in the eyes of Caucasian slaveowners.
There was also a division of labor among enslaved Africans-the field worker and the house worker. Field work was considered to be more arduous than house work. An enslaved African's skin color was often instrumental as to what type of work was assigned to him/her. Lighter-skinned enslaved Africans were usually given assignments to work in the house while darker-skinned enslaved Africans were assigned to work in the fields.
Slaveowners usually preferred light-skinned enslaved Africans for house work assignments because the light-skinned enslaved Africans looked more like the slaveowner than dark-skinned enslaved Africans who were perceived as more threatening. After Emancipation, light-skinned Black Americans began to assume better socioeconomic status because of the treatment they received from the slaveowners.
From the period of Emancipation to the early 20th century, many light-skinned Black Americans assumed leadership positions within the Black American community. At many Black American colleges, there was the paper bag test. The rules of the paper bag test decried that any Black American darker that the paper bag was denied entrance to certain clubs, university organizations, and churches. The paper bag test occurred in many Black American fraternal organizations.
Despite immense prejudice against Black Americans in the early 20th century, some lower level white collar jobs were opened to light-skinned Black Americans that were closed to dark-skinned Black Americans. From the early to middle 20th century, many Black Americans in high political and/or other leadership positions were light-skinned.
As a result of jobs being opened to light-skinned Black Americans, many moved into the middle class. Light-skinned Black Americans were more likely to be hired by Caucasian Americans because it was believed that light-skinned Black Americans appeared more Caucasian looking and were seen as less African and Negroid looking than dark-skinned Black Americans. Caucasian Americans further believe that light-skinned Black Americans fit in more with the American scheme of things than dark-skinned Black Americans who were more noticeable and ethnic appearing.
From the early to middle 20th century, light skinned Black Americans were often the elite in Black American communities. Light-skinned Black Americans were the ones to be emulated and desired as role models in the Black American community. Light-skinned Black Americans were more likely to obtain better jobs and to be promoted than dark-skinned Black Americans. Until the late 1920s, the Cotton Club in Harlem, New York only hired light-skinned Black American women in their chorus. In the early years of Hollywood , light-skinned Black American entertainers were given better acting roles than dark-skinned Black American entertainers. This prompted Josephine Baker to go to Paris to be an entertainer to great reviews.
In the Black American community and/or even in some Black American families, the light-skinned Black American was favored over the dark-skinned Black American. Many successful dark-skinned Black American men often married light-skinned Black American women as symbols of upward mobility.. By marrying the light-skinned Black American woman, the dark-skinned Black American male was seen as a success by his colleagues. Furthermore, the light-skinned Black American woman was deemed as more upper class and more refined than the dark-skinned Black American woman. Also, the light-skinned Black American woman was nearer the approximation of being Caucasian.
In the late 1960s and 1970s, the fixation with light-skinned Black Americans decreased. The opposite occurred- the dark-skinned Black American was viewed as purer and more Black. The dark-skinned Black American during this period was glorified and deified. However, this did not last long. The image of lighter is better started to reappear.
Many Black American men still express a preference for light-skinned Black American women. Many rap stars use light-skinned Black American women in their videos and on CD labels. Many Black American colleges still select light-skinned Black American women as beauty queens. Many Black Americans still associate being handsome and/or beautiful as being light-skinned. Sociological studies disclose that many Black Americans and Caucasians still perceive light-skinned Black Americans in a more positive light i.e. being more affluent, intelligent, and educated than they perceive dark-skinned Black Americans.
Many Black Americans perceive dark-skinned Black Americans as more lower class, less educated, criminal, thuggish, and as having other negative characteristics. There are a lot of dark-skinned Black Americans who have self-hatred because of their skin color and the perceived lack of economic opportunities resultant of this. Sociological studies reveal that light-skinned Blacks with less education are usually hired over dark-skinned Blacks who possess more advanced educations. Colorism is alive and flourishing in the Unites States and within the Black American community as evidenced by the statement, "He/she is light skinned with good hair and is fine" . Will this fixation of skin color fade in the United States and within the Black American community? It must if the United States is to be a beacon of total racial tolerance and Black American community wishes to succeed economically and spiritually.
© 2010 Grace Marguerite Williams
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