November 24, 2009 § 3 Comments

i think a lot about colorism.  but i dont write about it much.  it is a tense topic among people of color.  not that ive seen it cause a lot of arguments among poc.  but a lot of silence.  and a lot of diminishment of the power of colorism.  its a bit silencing.

i have never been to a majority brown and black folk country, aka third world, in which there were not major social issues around colorism.  especially for women.  since women’s social power is so tied to their physical attractiveness.

i would love to have conversations about colorism/hueism among woc-light and dark.  i would love to hear woc who are light say that light skin is a privilege. a complicated privilege, yes.  but a privilege all the same.  that has economic, social, and political consequences on an everyday level.

Testing Perceptions

He and his colleagues took different photos of then-candidate Obama and digitally manipulated them to alter just the areas of exposed skin. “So we sort of isolated the head and the hands of Obama and altered the skin tone to make it relatively lighter in tone or relatively darker in tone,” Caruso says.

The research team then showed the altered photos, plus the unaltered ones, one at a time to undergraduate students and asked them to rate the photos in terms of how representative they thought each photo was of the candidate. They researchers also questioned the students about their political views.

Liberal participants were most likely to rate a lightened photo of Obama as being most representative of him, while conservatives were most likely to say that about a photo that had been darkened, according to their findings published in a report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Perceived Lightness Tied To Votes

What’s more, the researchers found that the degree to which someone saw a lightened photo as being representative of Obama was related to whether he voted for him a week later.

That was true even after the researchers controlled for political views and measures of bias against blacks, says Caruso. “Assuming that people had equal levels of political conservativism,” he says, “the extent to which  you rated the lightened photos as more representative was, over and above your ideology, also predictive of your voting intentions and your voting behavior.”

The researchers also showed students digitally lightened and darkened photos of John McCain but did not find that political affiliation affected people’s ratings of the photos.

because lets be honest.  at a really  basic level. like employment opportunities, housing accessibility, and other basic day to day issues.  being a dark skinned woman is something i am not allowed to forget for too long. i cant diminish my own darkness.  and the associations that people bring to my darkness.

Caruso also says he recently has been looking to see if skin tone can affect people’s level of support for a novel biracial candidate when people’s political affiliation with that candidate is ambiguous.

In one new study, his team used altered photos of a person described in the experiment as a candidate for a position with the Department of Education. People were shown either a darkened, lightened or unaltered photo of the fake candidate and then asked a few questions about their views on various issues facing the department.

All participants were told that the candidate agreed with them on half of the issues. But when asked if that candidate would get their support, says Caruso, “lo and behold, those who saw a photo with darkened skin accompanying the candidate’s biography just a few minutes earlier reported that they were less likely to vote for this candidate.”


§ 3 Responses to darkness

  • Aaminah says:

    “i would love to have conversations about colorism/hueism among woc-light and dark. i would love to hear woc who are light say that light skin is a privilege. a complicated privilege, yes. but a privilege all the same. that has economic, social, and political consequences on an everyday level.”

    true true true. and i’m light skinned/could “pass”. i deal with a whole different “otherizing” as a Muslim woman who covers, but even so – i have very real light skinned privilege in regular society, and amongst Muslims. As hard as it is, for example, for me to find work or living arrangements because i am perceived as a foreign Muslim other, i believe absolutely that a darker skinned woman with or without hijab has an even harder time. i also know that i have been allowed to be a “bridge” at times, the one that whites feel more comfortable to approach hoping that i will be more open, while ignoring or openly disrespecting a darker sister standing right next to me, and that there are things i can say that are accepted better, or not accepted but tolerated better, coming from me than from a darker sister. This is, sadly, just as true amongst Muslims where i am prized for my pale skin up to a point, sought out as an “acceptable” Western voice, as an “acceptable” face for Western Islam (as long as i’m not wearing niqab, and as long as i don’t press that i am not white, and up until i actually speak and they realize that i am the “radical” sort).

    • mama says:

      yeah i would definitely say that covering complicates the idea of ‘passing’. which is making me think of something isabel said. which that racial identity is based upon geography. like, part of what has me thinking about colorism is that i have a light skin daughter. and here in egypt she is ‘average’ skin tone. maybe slightly lighter than average. she reads as ‘arab’ until people see her parents. but ‘arab’ doesnt necessarily read as ‘of color’ here.
      and i think about this in terms of how back in the nineties i had a few arab friends. who identified as white. all of them. the way they would put it is: technically, im white…so… and they are right. i mean there is no designation for ‘arab’ on the check one race forms. and yet after 9/11 i have met very few arabs in the states who identify as white.
      and i am thinking about how i have designated myself over the years. until a few years ago i primarily identified as biracial, as in black/native. this was in response to the fact that there was just so much intermixing in my family that to put a quantum to it — especially from black families that werent allowed to read or write and thus werent allowed to keep family records–is historically dishonest. and our family cultural practices obviously have some deep native roots.
      but then i came to an understanding that to identify as slave black is in itself an acknowledgement of the intermixing of white native and african peoples in a specific place in a specific time. ( i need to go back and read morrison’s mercy again)
      which seems like i have veered away from the issue of light/dark. but to me the existance of light poc is a genetic roll of the dice. i have been trying to figure out what is it about some racial rhetoric from poc rubs me the wrong way. and it is this. that being light skin is a privilege and thus you have to apologize for your ancestry, or feel bad cause you arent ‘pure’. as if there is anything like pure in this world.
      but see, you could be 3/4 african, and 1/4 white and have pale skin and blue eyes. and you could 1/4 black and 3/4 white and have blue black skin.
      and so i see some dark skin folk clinging to their ideas of racial authenticity. and some light skin folk clinging to their ideas of multiraciality. and each side denying that the color of our skin only tells us a tiny bit about our ancestry and history…

  • […] i want to go off on a rant about the self hate of black folks, and internalized racism, colorism, and making money off the self hate of black folks is like shooting ducks in a barrel.  but im […]

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