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solutions to colourism

I have been working on a post on solutions to colourism with commenter Mynameismyname. As it turned out, Myname had by far the best ideas, so it has turned into a guest post by him:

1. Create a solid basis of ethnic pride. Have a precise and thorough knowledge of your ethnicity’s achievements as well as a history of where you come from.

Black History Month, Asian-Pacific American Island Month, Hispanic Heritage Month, etc. are just one month a year. That’s why it’s important to explore the history and achievements of your ethnicity (as well as others’) year round. Read books and watch films that document this history. Learn as much as you can because without knowledge of where you come from, you won’t be able to know where you’re going.

2. Stress the beauty of all people, regardless of shade, hair texture, race, etc.

We’re all beautiful in our own way. There is no real hierarchy of beauty nor should there be one since no one’s beauty is inherently better than another’s. It’s important to embrace and, at the very least, respect the vast variety of human appearance.

3. Be aware of your own prejudices and biases. Even if you don’t consciously display them they may still appear subconsciously. Try to evaluate the nucleus of these prejudices.

Living in a place like the Western world, where racial bigotry and racialized thinking is part of its foundation, it is hard not to absorb some kind of racial bias. Very few of us are immune, even if we don’t verbally express some of these thoughts. That’s why it’s important to get to the core of the prejudices that we possess. Try to figure out why you think the way you do. Only then can you move forward in trying to erase these ideas. If not, this pathology will not only fester but continue to get passed down.

4. Know that media images are not real. Most of the “beauty” you see portrayed on television is created.

The “beauty” you see in the media is not natural. It’s the hard, labored work of the best makeup technicians, hair specialists, image consultants, fashion stylists, plastic surgeons, photographers and airbrush software that money can buy. Knowing just how false “the standard of beauty” is can help a young girl, for example, know that “without the works” Beyonce or Eva Longoria are no more beautiful than she is.

5. Get to know yourself and focus on your good points. Try to develop a strong sense of self so that someone else’s negative attitudes and actions don’t make you doubt your self worth. While we all have our faults, try to focus on your strengths and try to make them even stronger.

Yes, none of us are perfect. But we all have our strengths. Try to accentuate them. Hone them and make them yours. If you know yourself and your selves, how can anyone else tear you down?

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Here are the black men who currently (December 18th 2008 ) have a top 50 song in America (according to the Billboard Hot 100 list). Next to each I put the pictures  and names of the latest women they have dated (according to whodatedwho.com). I list up to as many as five for each, the latest five:

Note: Whodatedwho.com moved their pictures, so while I fixed the links I brought the list up to date. The following is as of December 30th 2009 – a year after I wrote the post.

T.I. Dating Hoopz Tiny Paula DeAnda LeToya Luckett

T.I.: Hoopz, Tiny, Paula DeAnda, LeToya Luckett.

Kanye West Dating Jennifer Metcalfe Amber Rose Amelle Berrabah Brooke Crittenton Alexis Eggleston

Kanye West: Jennifer Metcalfe, Amber Rose, Amelie Berrabah, Brooke Crittenton, Alexis Eggleston.

Ne-Yo Smith Dating Vivica Fox Casha Darjean Tennille Jimenez Jesse White

Ne-Yo: Vivica Fox, Casha Darjean, Tennille Jimenez, Jesse White.

Akon Dating Gina Wild Rozonda Chilli Thomas Mina Zia Karkaragh

Akon: Susan Owori (not pictured), Gina Wild, Rozonda Chilli, Mina Zia Karkaragh.

Lil` Wayne Dating Lauren London Sarah Bellew Trina Nivea Antonia Carter

Lil Wayne: Lauren London, Sarah Bellew, Trina, Nivea, Antonia Carter.

T-Pain Dating Amber

T-Pain: Amber

John Legend Dating Petra Nemcova Christy Teigen Tayo Otiti Danielle Abreu Wafah Dufour

John Legend: Petra Nemcova, Christy Teigen, Tavo Otiti, Danielle Abreu, Wafah Dufour.

Jim Jones: ?

Jay-Z Dating Beyonce Knowles Shenelle Scott Rosario Dawson Charlie Baltimore Amil All Money Is Legal

Jay-Z: Beyonce, Shenelle Scott, Rosario Dawson, Charlie Baltimore, Amil All Money Is.

Chris Brown Dating Natalie Mejia Rihanna Fenty Lil mama Keshia Chante Teyanna Taylor

Chris Brown: Natalie Mejia, Rihanna, Lil Mama, Keshia Chante, Teyanna Taylor.

Usher Raymond Dating Grace Miguel Tameka Foster Eishia Brightwell Joy Bryant Naomi Campbell

Usher: Grace Miguel, Tameka Foster, Eishia Brightwell, Joy Bryant, Naomi Campbell.

I know, I know: Who cares who they date? That is their business, blah, blah, blah.  True, but it is still hard not to be curious. A huge part of the magazine industry is built on this stuff. I went to whodatedwho.com to find out about Jessica White, who I was writing a post on, but then got drawn in.

The thing that struck me is how light-skinned most of these women are. Well, how most of them are considerably lighter than the men dating them.  I was not born yesterday, I know rich and successful black men often marry white women and all that, but even so I did not expect to see the light-skinned/white-skinned woman thing on such a scale.

I thought maybe it was just an accident of who I was looking up, so I chose just those who have a current hit song. That way I would have no control over who made the list, making it a fairer sampling.

The lightness of the women seemed strange to me because it does not match anything in my experience. Most black men I know married medium to dark-skinned women. On occasion there will be someone who seems to chase just light-skinned women or even marry a white woman, but they are hardly the rule.

It would be bad statistics to draw any conclusions from this list and, besides, everyone knows that Jay-Z and the rest do not live in our world.

But still I wonder why it is like that. Why?

The people at Essence or Black Men magazine would see nothing strange in this: black men prefer light-skinned women. It seems to be an article of faith with some black women. Others, like Steve Sailer and the intellectual skinheads at majorityrights.com, would say it is because black men secretly want white women because they are so much better looking than black women.

This list would seem support ideas like that since these men are rich and famous enough that they can have pretty much any kind of woman they want. Except that it would be dangerous to draw conclusions based on such a small and strange sample.

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Colourism, or colorism, sometimes called shadism, is where light-skinned people are seen as more beautiful or just plain better than dark-skinned ones of the same race. You see it among blacks in America, the Caribbean, Britain, Brazil  and probably elsewhere. You also see it in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh where it probably goes back at least 3000 years.

This post is about the American sort.

In America anyone who looks at least part black African is considered to be “black” – the One Drop Rule. To whites the big thing is whether or not you are are white. While they may favour light-skinned blacks over dark-skinned ones, they still see both as black and all that goes with that. “Black is black”.

Blacks, on the other hand, make a much bigger deal about the different shades, even within families.

Some dark-skinned blacks think the light-skinned ones have an easier life and hate them for it – and yet wish they were more like them!

Some of the light-skinned ones, on the other hand, feel their blackness is doubted and questioned, even though they experience racism too – though, yes, some are glad they are not so dark and may even look down on those who are!

All this is an effect of white thinking on black people: white is good, black is bad and therefore light skin is better than dark skin. It is a part of black-on-black racism.

On one level everyone knows light-skinned people are no better than dark-skinned people. But at another level people believe what they have been told since they were children in a thousand ways: that light skin is better.

And, yes, in some ways light skin is better:

  • Studies show that light-skinned blacks have more education and make more money. Some say this goes all the way back to slave days when light-skinned blacks worked as house slaves – because they were often the master’s children – while dark-skinned ones were field slaves.
  • Many black men prefer women with light skin and “good hair” over dark skin and natural hair, despite their lip service to black beauty. Thus the phrase, “You’re pretty for a dark-skinned girl.” Light-skinned women are more likely to get married. They also find themselves hated by dark-skinned women.

There has always been black men who truly love natural black beauty, all of it, over white beauty, even before the 1960s and the whole “Black is beautiful” thing. But, both then and now, they seem to be outnumbered by black men who prefer whiter-looking women.

But keep in mind that colourism can work both ways: sometimes light-skinned blacks are picked on growing up, being told that they are not “black enough”.

So how light is light? The most famous test is the brown paper bag test. In the early 1900s it was used to keep anyone darker than a paper bag out of paper bag parties.

But in practice it is not so simple. What is dark in Louisiana, for example, can be considered light in Georgia.

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