Colourism and the quest to belong


Growing up we always made fun of guys who were darker than us. They always had nicknames that corresponded with their dark complexion. To be fair even light skinned people also got teased.

At that time it was more in jest and didn’t really have any intentional prejudice against dark or light skinned people. We didn’t think we were better than them in anyway. Did it affect them negatively later on life, I really cannot say.

But today colourism seems to be an issue. Not to say that its a new phenomena. Some insist that colourism was brought about by a colonial mindset which put forth that white was better than black, or that white is always right. But based on even my own totem Shava, which means fair skinned, is evidence that colourism was there before colonialism. And the Shava’s felt superior to the other darker skinned people and they set themselves apart.

Although it was there before, the effects of colourism seem to be more pronounced. The media playing a critical role in determining the narrative around skin colour and its association with beauty. Magazine covers, movies, adverts, and other forms of mass media. They are sending a message that fair skin is beautiful and dark skin is other. When darker skinned are put forth as some kind of token, their beauty is always exoticised.

Skin lightening which was big in the 70s and 90s has made come back with mostly women resorting to all sorts of harmful skin lightening chemicals so they can enjoy the ‘privilege’ enjoyed by those with fairer skin. Regardless of the consequences later on in life. They seek the instant gratification of recognition and acceptance.

In South Africa the son of the Reserve Bank Governor was questioned by the police who suspected him of being a foreigner because he was dark. Now some of these stereotypes may seem harsh but they are also true. South Africans are generally lighter. Even I go up a couple of shades of brown when I visit Zimbabwe for a few weeks especially in summer. Our daughter hasn’t been to Zimbabwe yet. We joke that some of her yellowness will be toned down to the ‘right’ brown after she visits Zim!

The real power in shaping peoples perceptions about what is beautiful and what is not is in who owns the media. Whoever owns the media determines the beauty narrative. What is beautiful and who is beautiful. And so long as there is the quest for wealth, power, influence and respect, people will find lines to divide each other with to get an advantage over the next, to be preferred by the next.