Colorism in the media

Aniya Greene

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The latest breakthrough of representation regarding people of color on screen has prompted an often disregarded conversation about prejudice involving colorism, which focuses on shade of one’s skin, rather than the color. It has proven to be an issue for black women, specifically.

During an episode of the ABC sitcom, Blackish, parents Dre and Bow, played by Anthony Anderson and Tracee Ellis Ross, are outraged when they find their daughter appears darker in her classroom photo as a result of a lighting issue. Their anger sparks a tense conversation throughout the remainder of the show about colorism and its effects within the black commmuity.

Despite the rise of diversity in the entertainment industry, many black young girls are confronted with the harsh reality of not recognizing people who look like them on screen. In Hollywood, producers and casting agents fail to attempt to push boundaries in hiring darker skinned black women for roles, and more importantly roles that were made for them. Often, dark-skinned women are give roles, that feed directly into the stereotype of being loud, angry, and combative, while light-skinned women are more likely to be given roles with characters that are desired and pleasant.

The popular ‘90s sitcom, “Martin,” is representative of this problem. Gina, a light-skinned woman, was an attractive, intelligent, and funny character in contrast to her dark-skinned friend, Pam, who was often portrayed as unattractive and was the butt of Martin’s many jokes.

It is an issue that is very near to iSchool junior,  Kianni McCain. “I just think there’s this assumption that if you’re light skinned you’re somehow more desirable. All black women of all shades are capable and desirable.”

Many light-skinned actresses have tried to tackle the problem with what many call “light-skinned privilege.”

21-year-old actress Zendaya has weighed in, acknowledging that she is “Hollywood’s acceptable version of a black girl and that has to change.” She accepts that casting agents, producers, and directors gravitate towards a certain type of black girl, who is typically light-skinned, slim, and possesses more Eurocentric features while using that privilege to advocate and lead in a more positive and inclusive direction.

While actresses like Zendaya are trying to use their privilege to tackle colorism in the television and film industries, there is no doubt that it is still an issue that has daily implications in modern society.  

Michelle Leimsider, assistant principal at the iSchool, understands that she would be “naive to think that something impacts society is not impacting the iSchool as well.” So, instead she imagines “that it exists here, as it does everywhere else.”

With the existence of this systemic problem, comes the male experience. For many men, particularly ones of color, colorism is not something that affects their lives day to day. However, this in no way suggests that they have no experience with racism. They very much deal with the implications of systemic racism in society on a daily basis, but as for colorism, it isn’t as much of an obvious thing for males.

Luis Sanchez, iSchool junior, is aware of colorism and its effects on the women in his life, but doesn’t feel impacted by it himself. “I see how it affects my female friends and the women I see in the media, but I don’t really feel it as much in my own life. I know it is a problem, but I don’t think it affects me as much.”

While lighter skinned people of color and males are not exempt from racism, they can use their privileges to combat the issues that dark-skinned people in our society face on a current basis because it has long lasting impacts on their livelihood.

A study found that out of about 12,000 female prisoners, those that were light-skinned served 12.9% less prison time than dark-skinned women. They are also proven to have lower levels of education, income, and job status. They lastly, are less likely to even marry.

With the knowledge of these disadvantages, it is necessary that the public continues to have meaningful and progressive conversation. Being mindful of the language one uses, can help as well.  For example, being “pretty for a dark-skinned girl” is in no way a compliment.

There is no denying that all black people and black women in particular struggle to find roles and recognition within the entertainment industry. Any black woman’s success, no matter her shade is valuable and appreciated. However, it is incumbent upon members of the black community, especially to champion dark-skinned women who have been for so long excluded from this movement of representation and inclusivity.

The industry will not reach true inclusivity until they are represented properly and adequately. And this will ring true, when any young black girl across the nation can watch a film or television show and see actresses that look like her, talk like her, and perhaps even share her hair texture.