Internalized Racism and Colorism

…My light-blue eyes were going to hypnotize them…then they would understand why I had never picked up a southern accent, or spoke the common slang, and why I had to be forced to eat pigs’ tail and snouts. Because I was really white and because a cruel fairy stepmother, who was understandably jealous of my beauty, had turned me into a too-big negro girl, with nappy black hair, broad feet and a space between her teeth that would hold a number-two pencil.” (Angelou, 1970). This excerpt came from part of Maya Angelou’s biography. Many people would read this and wonder why someone who was as beautiful, creative, and inspirational as Ms. Angelou would feel this way about herself but it is something that has been happening, especially in the black community for centuries. Internalized racism and colorism hand in handedly effect many aspects of our everyday lives no matter what your race is. This is a topic that hits close to home for me, especially because I am a product of a Light skinned dark skinned couple as well as a multi-cultural family. Also through reading many psychological studies and watching documentaries on the subject, I know that I am credible to inform you on this topic. internalized racism and colorism is something that affects us all whether we realize it or not, and it is not just something that happens in the black community although that is the particular group that I will be outlining in this speech today. Internalized racism and colorism are not two different races discriminating against each other, therefore it tends to be overlooked, but events in the past that created division within different ethnic groups still affect us today in how we feel about other people within our groups and how we feel about ourselves.

 

Before I get into the cause and the effects of colorism and internalized racism let me explain to you what exactly these two issues are and how they intermingle with each other. Colorism is prejudice or discrimination based on the relative lightness or darkness of the skin; generally, happens within one’s own ethnic group (Dark Girls, 2011). Internalized racism is when you are racist against your own race and even against yourself; also known as internalized oppression, internal colonization and the colonized mind. Although internalized racism is the big issue, colorism is what makes internalized racism a problem. Because of skin tones, people are judged on whether they are good looking, smart, and able or not within an ethnic group.

 

With this in mind, let’s take a trip into the past so that we can better understand where this issue began. 1712 a British slave owner that owned slaves in the West Indies by the name of Willie lynch came to the colony Virginia to give a speech about his methods of slave control. In his speech he says the following, “I have a full proof method for controlling your black slaves…It will control your slaves for at least 300 years…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.” He continues to say that you have to put the men against the women, the young against the old and finally the light against the dark. That is where the terms “House Slave” and “Field slave” were developed. The lighter skinned slaves were allowed to work in the house as maids or butlers and nannies for the children, where the darker skinned slaves worked in the fields picking cotton, tending to live stock, and manual labor. This also brought along concepts like the snow and blow test which says that if your skin is as white as snow and your hair blows in the wind then you are more beautiful and intelligent, and the paper bag test that says that if you are lighter than the brown paper bag that you are smart and beautiful and better. While this was going on in black America black Latinos were having their own set of issues. Haitians and Dominicans share the same island but they are definitely a people divided. After watching a documentary called black in Latin America I learned that Dominicans, although they are a rainbow of tans & blacks they denounce their “Blackness”. They don’t consider themselves to be white but they don’t see themselves as black either. They claim Spain as their motherland although they are descendants of Africa and they speak Spanish. Haitians on the other hand embrace their blackness and the African culture. They come from many different West African countries so they infuse parts of the different cultures into their own, they also speak creole which is an 18th century French with influences of West African languages. Dominicans hate Haitians because they feel superior to them. They rejected everything about Haitians and their culture. Dominicans treated Haitians much like how the whites treated the blacks in early America.

As a result, the question that we are now left with is, what does this mean for us now in our present and in our future. Today in black America, there is always a constant battle of light skin vs dark skin. People are claiming team dark skin or team light skin and a lot of darker skinned people are left feeling insecure about themselves where a lot of lighter skinned people feel isolated and unable to fit in to black culture. In 1940, Kenneth Clark conducted a doll experiment. In this experiment, he used four identical dolls. The only difference between them were the skin tones. These were used to test racial perception. Most of the black children preferred the white doll and assigned positive characteristics. In a psychological study in journal of men’s study, they found that black males that are seen as lacking intellectual skills and that they are more likely to be accepted for appearing dumb. They also found that educated black men learned to act as if they aren’t educated in order to be accepted by their black peers. In another article by ben hooks, he found that mass media images promote race disempowerment. For example, Kanye west’s debut album, “the college dropout” suggests that college education is over-rated and getting a degree is worthless. On television, you would always see that the lighter girls were the ones that were always chosen first and the darker girls are left as a second option. With messages like these it is easy for internalized racism and colorism to continue to flourish.

Overall the past and the present dictates the future as far as internalized racism goes. It seems to be an issue that isn’t going away anytime soon and the worst part is that it isn’t just happening in America, it’s a worldwide issue. Willie lynch said that his methods would control slaves for at least 300 years. For 346 years blacks had no basic rights, and even after the civil rights movement the concepts still carried on. It makes you wonder how much longer this form of racism will continue on, or if it will ever end. Maybe one day we will all accept each other and really united in America.

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