For Harriet Colorism Essay


The effects of colorism in pop-culture are no secret. From celebrities having their skin lightened on magazine covers, to Lil Kim debuting her bleached skin and blonde hair on Instagram, to Zoe Saldana darkening her skin and wearing a prosthetic nose to portray the darker-skinned Nina Simone in the recent biopic. Colorism on this scale is a global phenomenon that - as highlighted in a recent essay by Vulture writer Mallika Rao - society is "still so bad at talking about."

But Chika Okoro, a 2nd year MBA student at Stanford Graduate School of Business, is talking about it on a big stage. Her speech at the TEDx Stanford conference in May is going viral as she breaks down colorism, not only in pop-culture, but in her own life, too.

It was the casting call for the movie Straight Outta Compton that inspired her speech. The Sande Alessi Casting agency advertised a list on their facebook ranking “A Girls” as the “hottest of the hot,” women of all races, with long hair and no extensions. “B Girls” were light skinned with long natural hair with great bodies - “Beyonce is the prototype here” it said. "C Girls" were African Americans with medium or light skin tones and weave.

And then there are the "D Girls." It read, “These are African American girls. Poor, not in good shape. Medium to dark skin tone.”

Under this criteria, Okoro would have been a “D Girl,” she solemnly admits.

eeWhen I first read this, I felt betrayed, Any given year there are just a handful of movies starring Black actors and actresses, just a handful of of opportunities when people can see actresses that look like me on the big screen and see that we’re fierce and beautiful and desirable, so I felt betrayed that when even in these small circles where I’m allowed to feel beautiful, I’m still shoved aside for those with more “Favorable” features: Light skin, light eyes, long soft real hair.

Casting calls like this perpetuate colorism, setting unattainable standards of beauty for so many Black women (she notes that technically, even Beyoncé doesn’t make the cut for an “A Girl” by those standards).

Okoro first noticed colorism in high school, she said, but she “didn’t actually know the term or formally learn about it until college.”

“You’re so pretty... for a dark skinned girl” is the back-handed “compliment” she remembers hearing in school - an all too familiar refrain for darker-skinned women in America. These are messages that have stuck with the Harvard alum ever since.

“[The] Stanford Graduate School of Business has a program where they give students a chance to give 9 min talks on a topic of their choice and once I saw that casting call, I knew I wanted to give my talk on colorism.” Okoro said.

Her TEDx Stanford video is going viral, raising awareness on this global phenomenon. It hits all of the poignant facts about colorism: the history - the discrimination between field slaves and house slaves - and the societal effects - from the infamous brown paper bag test to the 2010 CNN study where even elementary aged Black children labeled images of dark children as "dumb" and "ugly."

"The first step to change is awareness" Okoro says in her talk. And her speech is a part of that change helping society understand that "D Girls are beautiful too." colorism education Ted talks

Colorism In The Black Community Essay

The Association of Black Psychologist (ABP) (2013) defines colorism as skin-color stratification. Colorism is described as “internalized racism” that is perceived to be a way of life for the group that it is accepted by (ABP 2013). Moreover, colorism is classified as a persistent problem within Black American. Colorism in the process of discriminatory privileges given to lighter-skinned individuals of color over their darker- skinned counterparts (Margret Hunter 2007). From a historical standpoint, colorism was a white constructed policy in order to create dissention among their slaves as to maintain order or obedience. Over the centuries, it seems that the original purpose of colorism remains. Why has this issue persisted? Blacks have been able to dismantle the barriers faced within the larger society of the United States. Yet, Blacks have failed to properly address the sins of the past within the ethnic group. As a consequence of this failure, colorism prevails. Through my research, I developed many questions: Is it right that this view remain? How does valuing an individual over another cause distribution to the mental health of the victims of colorism? More importantly, what are the solutions for colorism? Colorism, unfortunately, has had a persisted effect on the lives of Black Americans. It has become so internalized that one cannot differentiate between the view of ourselves that Black Americans adopted from slavery or a more personalized view developed from within the ethnicity. The consequences of this internalized view heightens the already exorbitant mental health concerns within the Black community, but the most unfortunate aspect of colorism is that there is contention on how the issue should be solved.
History of Black Colorism
Colorism in the United States has been an integral part of the Black experience. During slavery, it was considered a privilege to be of fairer skin amongst slaves. Slaveholders held a special preference for “light-complected blacks” that were used for household duties (Bodenhorn 2006). Lighter-skinned slaves were also more likely to be skilled in a trade, which became a salient indicator of future manumission (Margo 1992). Furthermore, these slaves would develop the Black elite, becoming the earliest Black business leaders, leaders, clergy, teachers, artists, and politicians (Hunter 2007). In spectrum, Phyllis Wheatley, Richard Allen, and Frederick Douglass were lauded as innovators in their respective fields of the pre-emancipation era where as an individual such as Harriet Tubman, a darker-skinned Black woman and ex-slave is defined by beastliness and insanity, by the larger white society. The color divide established by the white hierarchal structure that maintained slavery laid the foundation for a continued acceptance and realization with the Black community. The color hierarchy established by whites has been able to keep consistent division within the Black community. The “animosity and...

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