Shadeism is a huge issue in our community. The false dichotomy of light skin over dark skin is perhaps one of the most damaging legacies of chattel enslavement.
Growing up, I was unfortunately dubbed a “lightie”. An arbitrary term of ignorant endearment used to describe black people of a fairer complexion. Admittedly I enjoyed being labelled in this way. I enjoyed the separation I gained from my darker skinned friends and the inevitable appeal that being a “lightie” brought (especially when it came from girls!). The most worrying thing about my enjoyment of this situation is that my fairer complexion facilitated the denial of my “African-ness.” Despite the fact my father was born in Cameroon, and my mother being born in the Caribbean of African descent; it never occurred to me that someone of my complexion could identify as fully being black, let alone African. (As if African is a higher gradation of blackness).
My reason for raising this issue is to highlight the damaging affect that shadeism has in our community. The fairer skin among us can no longer gain the tangible rewards of massas favour and thus any elevated status we grant ourselves or is granted to us is completely false and only serves to further divide us.
It is also important to remember that any reversal in this prejudice i.e. darker skin blacks claiming that fairer skin people are not “black” enough, is equally as damaging. Although not on mass, I have noticed this trend. I made a point at an African community meeting and unfortunately a lady hinted that my point should be taken with a pinch of salt due to my fairer complexion. I must stress, this is not a common issue, but anything that creeps into our community and divides us must be ironed out.
It is of vital importance that we as a people come together. Especially in the wake of the recent killings of several black men by the US police force across the pond. In the UK, Mark Duggan received no favours from the police when they brutally assassinated him in cold blood, for being of a fairer complexion.
Anyone with a vague understanding of history as it pertains to African enslavement will understand exactly why in our community we lend favourable status to blacks with a fairer complexion. As a means to subjugate the slaves, they were taught that their dark skin was a mark of shame and even a curse from God. They were taught that whiteness was synonymous with Godliness, and thus the closer one was to their complexion, the more desirable they were. In common parlence we see among black males a tendency to chase “lighties” and you will often hear a black men jokingly refer to how undesirable dark skin women are.
“Black” among many young inner city Britons, no longer refers to people of African descent but rather exclusively refers to dark skinned black people. Growing up this caused me huge internal conflict as my parents had always taught me to identify as black. Thus when I saw a black person of a darker complexion I saw something in them that I could relate to , perhaps even a sense of home. It was only as I got older that it dawned on me that the same dark skinned black people with whom I felt a sense of companionship with based on my perceived shared identity, may have not looked upon me the same way. This realisation hurt but further facilitated my self denial and allowed me to adopt a new identity as a “lightie”.