Complexion competitions in night clubs in Atlanta and Detroit pit teams of light-skinned and dark-skinned women against each other to win prizes for best hair, tattoo, or figure. Fights between girls of different hues on the campus of prominent HBCU's because of colorist insults. Zoe Saldana is chosen to play Nina Simone in an upcoming biopic. This is the face of colorism in 2012.
Colorism, the color complex, "the light dark thing" that just won't go away.
When I wrote my book, Don't Play in the Sun: One Woman's Journey Through the Color Complex, I became a member of a growing community of cultural and image activists challenging and dismantling stubborn and enduring colorist beliefs. Despite the continued prevalence of colorism globally, not just in the black community in America, we are at a watershed moment in the process of challenging this belief system that at its root is about power and privilege.
With the release of Dark Girls, Bill Duke's provocative documentary about colorism, the widening Internet conversation about the subject and the work of scholars from Howard University to Harvard and academies around the world that quantifies the psychological and sociological impact of color discrimination, this painful subject has been yanked out of the proverbial closet.
I believe it is time to move from defining colorism to actively creating sacred spaces where we can gather to combat the denial, discomfort and silence colorism imposes and to develop the consciousness and the vocabulary to dismantle colorism in our relationships, families, work places and communities.
Colorism can be challenged and defeated most effectively one person, one conversation at a time. This is the philosophy underlying my upcoming workshop for women of color Sisters Under the Skin: Healing the Wound of the Color Complex which will be held Friday, Oct. 26 and Saturday, Oct. 27 at the Thurgood Marshall Center in Washington, D.C. [See my website www.maritagolden.com for information on how to register].
The workshop will bring together image activists, scholars, students and other women deeply concerned about enhancing their own journey through colorism and who want to become color complex change agents. I have designed a workbook we will be using in the workshop and my primary goal is to enlarge the circle of sisterhood among women of color so that we can see each other beyond skin tone, hair texture and phenotype.
Writing Don't Play in the Sun was one of my most challenging and satisfying creative and intellectual journeys as it allowed for frank and honest conversations with men and women all over the country. I grew in my understanding of how complex the color complex really is. The color complex makes victims of those who are light as well as those who are brown and black. I also became much more compassionate for all of us light, brown and black who are its victims.
I now feel that if you are a parent who has never talked with your children about colorism, what it is and how to respond to and more importantly how to truly and deeply love themselves no matter their skin tone, or the texture of their hair, you have failed them. Each of us can be a color complex change agent by shaping healing, courageous conversations with those we love about one of the most persistent yet unaddressed forms of discrimination.
Marita Golden is the award-winning author of over a dozen works of fiction and nonfiction. She is President Emeritus of the Hurston/Wright Foundation and teaches in the M.A. Creative Writing Program at Johns Hopkins University.