Diabolical Opposition – Colorblindness and Colorism

dennisWe live in a society that superficially superimposes colorblindness over colorism.  I’m sure you’ve heard it, “We should all be colorblind…and so on and so forth…” The reality is that nothing could be further from the truth.  You see, kids aren’t born colorblind (in the literal sense) and neither are we, but somewhere our image of color has become perverted.  In fact, we as adults provide tremendous context for a child’s ideals of who they are, whether or not they see themselves as beautiful, and how they view others who are not like them (in color or in class).  Children only have the historical context of color provided by adults.  So why do some children prefer to “wash away their color” if they had the choice?  Why are some children ashamed simply because they are a darker shade of their peers within their ethnicity?  How did we arrive here?  Are we comfortable with this destination? I AM NOT and I will tell you why.  Colorblindness and colorism have both marred us as a society.  One of these perspectives appears harmless and the other clearly catastrophic.  Long term, they both prove deadly to one’s identity.

Color blindness, innocently enough suggests that skin color is not seen as a differential characteristic of one’s ethnicity. Color blindness, by definition, is not a form of blindness at all, nearly a deficiency in the way one sees color.  While those who are genetically colorblind have no choice in the matter, society purports color blindness as the goal, when it is an outright choice not to recognize one of the many external facets of our beauty.  I can see evidence of God’s love for color in creation from the beautiful shores of Capetown, South Africa to the smallest pores on the skin of the human being.  If we were all the same color, I believe our world would be bland and not nearly as beautiful.

If we shift to the other end of the extreme, we run headlong into the concept of colorism.

col·or·ism  [ˈkələrˌizəm]
noun
  1. prejudice or discrimination against individuals with a dark skin tone, typically among people of the same ethnic or racial group.
    “colorism within the black community has been a serious emotional and psychological battle”

How am I to feel when I enter the store and see skin lightening cream with my name on it and a much lighter image of an skin lighteningAfrican American woman advertising her skin color as the color to aspire to?  Colorism affects so many young women and men around the world, that I could not “not talk about it.”  When most think of racism, it is primarily between two distinct ethnic groups, however, colorism has caused additional division among people within their own ethnicity.  Today, many praise and extol the beauty of Yale graduate and Oscar winner, Lupita Nyong’o, but Lupita herself did not initially find beauty in her own skin because of its darkness.  And even when others began to describe her as beautiful in recent years she admittedly was perplexed and desired to reject this view because of the seduction of inadequacy.  You can read her entire speech at the following link http://www.salon.com/2014/02/28/read_lupita_nyongos_amazing_speech_about_blackness_and_beauty/.   To paint a fuller picture of colorism’s deep impact, I would like to use a few clips from a compelling documentary which is now on Netflix, called “Dark Girls.”  Below, I have included the trailer from this documentary which gives a snap shot of some of the challenges and impact to young men and women who are darker.  You can also take a look at the history of colorism and an everyday example of how this plays out.

Does opposition always have to be diabolical?  It seems that there has been such a negative connotation of opposition, which has in essence produced a myopic view of the need for opposition.  As an engineer, I learned that resistance, or put another way, opposition, was necessary and in fact useful in certain situations.  I think we can all appreciate the healthy resistance of electrical current flowing through the appliances in our home.  Too much resistance and it doesn’t work properly, too little resistance and we have a fire on our hands.  However, just the right amount of resistance and it operates exactly as intended.

The imperfect perspective of humanity means that there will be natural resistance in our relationships with others.  Healthy and honest dialogue allows us to work through our opposing views.  Don’t resist resistance; welcome it. In honor of of Black History Month and the history of humanity, let us do away with colorblindness and colorism as both ask individuals to devalue themselves in some fashion.  This devaluation happens by ignoring the uniqueness and beauty of various people groups (colorblindness) or by espousing the idea that one gradation of an ethnicity is better than another (colorism).   I want to live a life in opposition of these positions and celebrate the creativity, beauty, and intentionality that God demonstrated when He made us different.  As John Cheng states, “We should strive to be color “full” rather than colorblind.”

We are all beautiful.  Lupita has learned as we all will, that we can either lead voluntarily or involuntarily.  She now uses her position to help others see their own beauty as she writes to a viewer who decided not to lighten her skin after seeing her success, “I hope that my presence on your screens and in the magazines may lead you, young girl, on a similar journey,” Nyong’o said, in closing. “That you will feel the validation of your external beauty but also get to the deeper business of being beautiful inside. There is no shade to that beauty.”   Help someone to see their own beauty today.

And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good…Genesis 1:31 (KJV)

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