Editorial Staff

Why Colorism Is The Devil That Wont Die

There is no black community. There. I said it. And the reason I’m saying it is not because of how black men and women treat each other, or the high out-of-wedlock birth rate of blacks, or poverty rates or anything having to do with rates. I’m saying that there is no black community because there is no clear definition which determines who is and who is not black and I don’t believe a thing can exist if you cannot clearly define it and determine who is a part of it–and equally importantly, who is not a part of it.

When African people were brought to the shores of the United States as slaves and children began to be born of mixed parentage, the children born to Africans–even if one of their parents was not African–were still considered to be “negro,” or “coloured”. In America, a part-black child was still black. A child was not white unless they assume a white identity–meaning that a person was white only if they looked white with no discernable non-white ancestry and could seamlessly integrate into white society. A cinnamon-colored person was lumped in with all the other much darker-skinned coloured people because there was no alternate category for them to belong to.

When Hypodescent Became De Facto Law

The socially-defined racial/ethnic group classifications in the U.S. have always been created by white people, as white people were the dominant group. Hypodescent–the automatic assignment of children of a mixed union or mating between members of different socioeconomic groups or ethnic groups to the subordinate group–was the de facto law of the land in the US.

For white people, not allowing people of clearly mixed heritage to identify as white worked out well. For black people, hypodescent has been a disaster due to the rampant colorism that took hold among black people.

A “black” woman can have blond-hair and blue eyes; she can have a Filipino mother; or a Cherokee father; or she can be a Nigerian immigrant who came from family that never had any member that was a slave in the U.S. I can think of no other group of people that are defined so liberally that literally every look, color, complexion, and ethnic heritage can be included under it’s banner.

On the other hand, white people will not accept a non-fair skinned women as being white.

The Problem of Representation

The end result of keeping the label of “white” pure while allowing “black” to become a dumping ground for every phenotype under the sun is that it becomes difficult–and controversial–to discuss “black” beauty. After all, if a black women can have any type of look from possessing fair-skin and eyes to being pitch black with brown eyes, how do you decide which type of women gets to represent the standard of black beauty? If you select a fair-skinned women–see Halle Berry or Paula Patton–there is a good chance that this woman does not look like the vast majority of black women, who have darker skin and more tightly-coiled hair. If you select a darker-skinned woman with short hair, then the fair-skinned women feel like they are being excluded or intentionally being “hated on”.

The existence of black women who assert that they are “biracial” or “multiracial” or “multiethnic” further complicates matters. Excuse me if I offend anyone with the comparison I’m about to use. Let’s say that a French Bull Dog (male) and a Chihuahua (female) get together and have puppies. The resultant puppies will probably be cuter than cute, but since they are not Chihuahua’s or French Bull Dogs I can’t enter the puppies in any dog shows for Chihuahua’s or Bull Dogs. The puppies are not Chihuahua’s and they are not French Bull Dogs–they are a Chihuahua/French Bull Dog mix, and the beauty of that mix should probably not be used to judge the attractiveness of either Chihuahuas or Bull Dogs because in all likelyhood the puppies don’t look entirely like either parent.

Well, mixed race people are kinda like those beautiful puppies that don’t quite look like either parent. Admittedly, existing in a sort of vague middle-ground half-way between one parent and half-way between the other can be a bit confusing. So to erase this confusion, parent’s of half-black (or less) children often identify their children as “black,” even if they also identify their child as “biracial”.

Despite the fact that most children who were the product of a black parent and a non-black parent were probably easily identifiable 200 years ago, distinguishing a child of a black/non-black union from a black/black union is almost impossible. I know plenty of fair-skinned/light-eyed black people with two black parents; and these children of two black parents will have lighter eyes, straighter hair, and fairer skin than many children who have one totally non-black parent. There has been so much racial/ethnic mixture among black people and non-black people–and the resultant children were historically socially deemed black–that trying to identify what percentage of African ancestry a person has just by looking at them is impossible.

Where Does That Leave Us?

Should we go back to calling black people coloured,since that is what black people in America technically are anyway?

Should there be a major media push on the part of darker-skinned black people to tell biracial and multiracial people to stop calling themselves black while asserting that they “aren’t really black like those other black folks; they’re biracial black”?

I don’t know what the solution to colorism is, but I don’t see the problem going away any time soon.

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