Through centuries of suffering under the discriminatory effects of colorism within the Diaspora, many Blacks wonder if a change in the ethnic group’s historical perspective on the beauty and acceptability of lighter skin and thus the disagreeable tone and unacceptable nature of darker skin is possible. And justifiably so. Within the rhetoric of the culture-based debate is a derisive set of unspoken rules and regulations beset with prejudice against darker-skinned Black people, rules that infiltrate all aspects of life, including social, professional, romantic and familial affiliations. While some conclude that, while slow, progress and change are possible; most people of color, particularly dark-skinned people of color, espouse that the cultural cue is here to stay. Moreover, “bright” (read: light) will always be right; and, well, dark just isn’t lovely.
Within the debate of the future of colorism inside the Diaspora, many intellectuals point to a history of imposed divisions based upon color. Historical documentation notes that most clear color discrimination within Black ethnic groups dates back to the beginning of the “maafa,” the African holocaust, which starts with the trading and transporting of Africans around the world and the invasion and ensuing colonization of nations throughout Africa.
During this period and following, Blacks were initiated into an imperialistic Western ideology that naturally showed preference for “whiteness,” which, as it was virtually impossible within their group, translated to an understanding of the worth and glory of “lightness.”
For example, abducted African women who found themselves in bondage at Ghana’s Elmina or Cape Coast castles, what should be called slave dungeons, during the 1400s and 1600s respectively, were often raped and held as sex slaves by their European captors. When some of the women became pregnant, their evil captors would move them to apartments and homes close to the dungeons where they could care for and raise their mixed-race children.
As could be predicted, these mixed-race children, kin to the European slave captors, received preferential treatment. It should be noted here that while many people today can only imagine that the slave dungeons operating off the coast of West Africa existed for a few years, the Atlantic Slave Trade, when millions of captured Africans were shipped from dungeons dotting the shores of West Africa, went on for centuries.
Further, abducted Africans often spent weeks or months in the dungeons before dying or being sent off on ships.
Thus, the psychological implications and impact of the new mixed-race children, who were the result of rape, had time to brew among the captured.
Directly, many African women were forced to consider rape as a way out of a certain fate of death in the filthy dungeons or an uncertain (yet predictable) fate after boarding one of the slave ships on the other side of the “door of no return.” For some, the sad short game must have been to attract the eye of her captor. The despicable, though understandable long game would be to get pregnant and produce a child, thus ensuring some form of protection.
For them, there was a clear and direct message that aligning oneself with “whiteness” meant safety. And producing “lightness” meant livelihood.
But that was centuries ago. What of the impact over time? How could this occurrence and occurrences like this be connected to the ongoing Diasporic baffling battle Blacks face with colorism?
ROLLING OUT Journalist MICHELLE WILLIAMS investigates the centuries old issue of COLORISM within the BLACK COMMUNITY, and makes the case for BLACK BEAUTY In ALL SHADES.