Everyone had always told Feyi growing up that she should stay away from bright colors that would be too garish against her dark skin.
From You Made A Fool Of Death With Your Beauty by Akwaeke Emezi.
There’s a preference and glorification of light skin over dark skin and it is visible to everyone who has eyes to see, especially in typical Nigerian social settings. It has always been an issue and we have reached a point in our society where it’s gradually getting regarded as the norm because it has taken up different shapes that have crossed into our familiar terrains. Whitening products in skincare for example. The only issue is we are yet to see it as a problem that requires a solution.
From a broader perspective, colorism is prejudice or discrimination, especially within a racial or ethnic group favoring people with lighter skin over those with darker skin. It’s a form of discrimination in which people who share similar ethnic traits or perceived race are treated differently based on the social implications that come with the cultural meanings that are attached to skin color. Lupita Nyong’o referred to colorism as the daughter of Racism and I agree with her. They are branches from the same tree.
Every child who was brought up in a typical Nigerian neighborhood knows what it feels like to be dark-skinned. Growing up, some people knew my name but chose to address me by the word that has been made into a derogatory term for dark-skinned folks: ‘blackie’. If they felt like getting me riled up they would add “monkey” and we all know that monkeys aren’t so cute. In primary school, it became worse. I was continuously bullied. The boys taunted me by saying only my white teeth would be visible in the dark and they would all laugh. I, also, would laugh with them in a naive attempt to stop them from taunting me. Every day after school, especially at night, I would switch off the lights and ask my brother if he could see only my white teeth in the dark. I wanted to confirm if I was that dark or if the guys were only exaggerating. I never found out which, thanks to my brother.
In Secondary school, I was nominated as the neatest girl in Js1 but in the end, a light-skinned girl was given the award instead of me. Because somehow, the lightness of her skin made her cleanliness more believable and acceptable than mine. Thus, the award was given to her. The incident gave me an inkling of how deep light-skin privilege is. I saw that it goes deeper than the ignorant children that taunted me in primary school and the demeaning names I was called. Among my school’s colorist acts was their decision to feature only light-skinned students on the school billboard. What happened to the dark-skinned kids? Are they not worthy enough to also represent the school? Let’s say only the intelligent ones get to be on the billboard. Does it mean that no dark-skinned kid is intelligent in the entire school? Sometimes I don’t blame the schools for acting this way. I blame the country, Nigeria, for constantly trying to inject “whiteness” into her citizens. We were indeed colonized by Great Britain but we can’t be Great Britain.
The schools are not only the guilty ones. The preference for light skin over dark skin is also seen in other social settings. After I completed senior secondary school, I was asked to submit a form. The day I was to submit the form was hot but I didn’t have the option of choosing not to go, so off I went. When I got there, I met other people that also wanted to submit their forms in a queue and I joined them. But, it wasn’t long before the man that was collecting the forms made it obvious that he was infatuated with light-skinned girls. On that day, I saw colorism to be beyond the way I was taunted when I was younger again. The man called out the light-skinned girls, even though some of them didn’t get there first, to collect their forms. He dismissed the fairness that the queue we were on was supposed to establish to cater to his god-forsaken infatuation. Then, he horridly proceeded to tell the light-skinned men to be men; to bear the brunt of the sun. As per, being a man must be a natural screen against ultraviolet rays. In an attempt to justify his actions, he went on to say the stupidest thing ever uttered:
“You dark people are already resistant to the harsh sun naww, pity the oyinbo people. You know that their skin is soft and tender.”
Then, he laughed and went inside. He abandoned us dark folks under the hot sun till we could almost smell grilled meat.
The preference for light skin over dark skin is also visible in families where light-skinned babies are often carried around and dark-skinned babies are not as regarded. Light-skinned babies are ‘babies’ while dark-skinned babies are ‘pikin.’ Another occurrence that deserves a mention is the incessant demeaning arguments among men about who is prettier; the light-skinned girl or the dark-skinned girl that walked past them. Adding a layer of colorism to the sexual objectification.
Amidst the constant comparison and glorification of light skin over dark skin, there is glory in being dark-skinned too. It comes when you accept that your skin shade shouldn’t /doesn’t define who you are; even if you live in a society that constantly tries to make you feel otherwise.
Colorism is wretched and once internalized, it causes a tremendous amount of psychological, emotional, and physical damage. It is known to lead to low-self esteem and self-hatred for one’s skin color. Hence, I cannot overemphasize how important kindness is and how it should be regarded as a relay baton that must be passed. Pass some kindness to the dark-skinned child. Ignorance is not a valid reason to be cruel to others. Don’t taunt. No one should be likened to a monkey. It’s not right nor is it fair; we are humans with dignity.
Dark skin is not a badge of shame and neither is light skin a prize.