What’s sex got to do with … colorism?

 “Divide the slaves by skin tone and you’ll control them for the next 300+ years.” 

-William Lynch

A debate that has gained a lot of momentum in the African American community lately is the light skin versus dark skin debate. Though many members of the African American community may not realize it,this is an issue that has plagued this community since centuries ago.

The social construction of “light skin” and “dark skin” can be dated back to 1712 when William Lynch devised a plan to separate and divide the slaves as a mean of controlling the slave population. He knew that unity would increase the likelihood of slaves revolting. One of the ways in which he decided to divide the slave community was enacting color differentiation by labeling them as “light skin” or “dark skin.” Much like many other social constructions, these labels were used to justify and even exacerbate inequalities within the African American slave population. During this period, it was established that lighter skinned slaves would work in the house while darker skinned slaves would work in the fields. This established a hierarchy within the slave community. Dark skinned slaves grew to envy the light skinned slaves because of the preferential treatment that they were receiving. Inevitably, this led to the separation of the slave community in which dark skinned slaves mingled and interacted mainly with other dark skinned slaves while light skinned slaves mingled and interacted mainly with other light skinned slaves.

During the 1900s, members of the black community began implementing the “brown paper bag test” in which in order for members to gain acceptance into certain fraternities, sororities, elite social clubs, and even historically black universities, they must first pass a brown paper bag test; passing this “test” meant that one’s skin must be lighter than a brown paper bad. This practice alone established and exacerbated the hierarchy in which “light” skinned people were placed in a position higher than “dark” skinned individuals.

 “Though the brown paper bag test is antiquated and frowned upon as a shameful moment in African-American history, the ideals behind the practice still lingers in the African-American community” — Rivea Ruff


Presently, we’re living in a society in which rappers praise women who are lighter skinned African American women. We’re living in a society in which lighter skinned African American men are viewed as “sensitive”;I believe this may be attributed to the fact that darker skinned African American men believe that since men are typically viewed as being “hard-working,” light skin black men who, during slavery, were responsible for completing house chores (which is associated with femininity), are feminine.

Do you think that this is relevant issue in the black community? Do you think President Obama’s lighter skin made it easier for him to be accepted by the majority culture?




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