Panelists call for sensitisation to colorism in the Caribbean

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By Carlena Knight

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The matter of colorism has been a social issue which has been plaguing the black community for some time.

Colorism is defined as prejudice or discrimination against individuals with dark skin tones, typically among people of the same ethnic or racial group.

Across the world, the discussion has gone to new levels following reports of persons with kinky hair or “locs” being denied jobs or even not being permitted to attend specific schools.

Academics and researchers often trace this norm in Black societies in the Americas, back to colonial slavery societies –which married the idea of having dark skin – with the idea of ugliness and low worth.

This issue has seen black activist groups regionally and internationally speak out on the discrimination persons face in the workplace and everyday life for not fitting into what society deems acceptable.

It is because of this why a number of researchers and advocates are calling for a number of measures to be implemented to change that ideology.

Marisha Duncan, a PhD student in cultural studies believes that not only should education on this matter be implemented in schools, but also in homes.

Speaking on Observer’s Big Issues on Sunday, Duncan added that this is the first place where we are taught as black people about colorism.

“I think that it should not only begin in the education system but it needs to occur in the house which is the first place of socialisation. That idea of education being used in the school system as a means to allow others to understand what colorism is, I think it’s important. We are faced with these things in the Caribbean and the ramifications for hair, not only within the educational system but professional as well, is existent,” Duncan said.

She further mentioned that the international hair and makeup market and the media also play an integral role. She believes they should pay more attention to the specific stereotypes they portray to be beautiful.

“We come down to the question again of, how can we disrupt these narratives? How can we disrupt policies and agendas which reshape and alter the black woman’s body? It is important that we recognise the impact the global hair and beauty industry has on black women from skin bleaching to hair altering,” she said.

“The reality is we think of these ideals; when dating, we think of how to do our hair to make it look more beautiful or about how our future children will look, what texture of hair is acceptable and even how light they will be, and that is because of the media. You turn on the television and you see for example, the main character lighter skinned, having curly hair or straight hair. You see these ideals. We need as citizens of this Caribbean to really engage in narratives that promote the ideals that we will like but the main gist of it is for companies who have that power to really look at what is happening,” she added.

Dr Monique Kelly, who is the Dean’s Research Associate in the Department of Sociology at Michigan State University, also echoed Duncan’s sentiments.

Kelly, who was also a guest on the Big Issues programme, believes that policies also need to be implemented by the government and various work places, as the issue of colorism can not only affect a person mentally, but systematically, based on her studies.

According to Kelly, it has been proven that a larger number of light-skinned persons have received preference for blue collar jobs and are assumed to be of a higher economic status.

Although colorism has been more focused on the discrimination of dark-skinned persons, light-skinned individuals are also being discriminated against.

Many light-skinned persons have complained of being ostracised by the black community due to their skin colour. In these cases, they have been told that they cannot relate to the ‘struggle of black people’ due to their skin colour. This of course has brought about a divide.

Linisa George is one such activist who is calling on that change within the black community.

“There is that inhouse fighting. There is this big thing for me to say ‘you can’t speak on the black experience as a light-skinned person because you have not dealt with the disadvantages that I have dealt with, so therefore, your definition or your experience or understanding of your blackness is nowhere as big a measure as mine’.

“There is that division right there, but a lot of it comes from the systems that are in place,” she concluded.

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