With ‘Shades of Black,’ the Guardian Enters the Colorism Conversation

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The Guardian/YouTube

We talk about it. We joke about it. We resent it. We reinforce it. We rage about it.

Anyone who has lived this life as a black person—and especially, a black woman—knows all too well the loaded conversation that is colorism. It’s a worldwide epidemic, and not one unique to black people, but the ways in which it specifically manifests for black Americans is the subject of a weeklong series by the Guardian US, titled Shades of Black.

In the age of 40—no, 50—shades of foundation, colorism can be an increasingly easy issue to gloss over, but like being “post-racial,” it would be a fallacy. Colorism is still real, insidious and being experienced daily, both within and outside the race.

Funny enough, though a centuries-old phenomenon when I first began studying and writing about colorism during my college years, the term wasn’t even recognized by dictionaries; it was black feminists who intellectually acquainted me with a concept I’d intuitively always been familiar with.

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But naming a thing doesn’t necessarily diffuse it (often, quite the opposite), and while we can recognize and call out colorism in its many facets and forms, we are seemingly still a long way from ending it. Through a series of firsthand essays, videos, panels, and illustrations featuring 27 black women, the Guardian is doing its part to contribute to the already exhaustive conversation around skin color in the black community, writing:

This subject remains taboo, as colorism is the result of centuries of white supremacy in America, where lightness of skin has associations with wealth and power. That so many Americans impacted by racism can also be impacted by colorism is an issue rarely discussed, but the impacts are profound. … throughout this series, dark skinned black women spoke openly about reclaiming their worth in spite of a system that has been holding them back for so long. …

Shades of Black illuminates the shame, guilt and pride felt by those women, and aims to encourage dialogue around this topic in black and non-black communities.

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The series includes actors Dewanda Wise (She’s Gotta Have It), Danielle Brooks (Orange Is the New Black), Ashley Blaine Featherson (Dear White People) and Charnele Brown (A Different World), a photo essay by artist Shaniqwa Jarvis, scholar and activist Aurielle Marie Lucier and more. Topics covered include skin bleaching, interracial love, online dating and the inevitable intersections of class, queerness and color.

Will having yet another chorus of voices name the thing that plagues us help us heal it? One can only hope—but the conversation is open.

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