continues to struggle with its battle against white racism. However,
what’s not addressed is the internalized racism people of color
struggle with, too- consciously and unconsciously. And, it’s
called “colorism” or “intraracism.”
is a topic not discussed openly enough in African-American, African
and African diasporic communities, because it is our third rail, and
the pain, embarrassment, and humiliation from its legacy still
lingers with us even today. Colorism is a topic that cannot be
explored enough since bleaching creams are still being sold in
drugstores across the country and natural hair in many circles -
professional and social - are still frowned upon.
born playwright Jocelyn Bioh has adeptly tackled this thorny topic in
“SCHOOL GIRLS; OR, THE AFRICAN MEAN GIRLS PLAY ” now at
the Speakeasy Stage Company in Boston with no-holds-barred. I had to
go see “SCHOOL GIRLS” because it has been the talk across
the country, and it is the 2018 winner of the Lortel Award for
Outstanding Play. And, for 75 taut yet hilarious minutes, Bioh
unapologetically forces us all to examine ourselves.
GIRLS” which is also a nod to Tina Fey’s 2004 teen comedy
film “Mean Girls” now on Broadway, explores the theme of
colorism between the two main protagonist-Paulina and Ericka. And, if
you’re a black girl like me, you know these frenemies, not just
from grade school but throughout your entire life.
is a Ghanian born dark-skinned, queen bee. She’s the
personification of “mean girl culture” and thinks she’s
a sure- shot in being selected to become Miss Ghana to represent West
African nations at the Miss Global Universe proudly. Ericka, a
biracial native Ohioan, returns to Ghana, her father’s
birthplace, after the death of her mother who is white. Ericka
personifies the trope of the “tragic mullatto.” Tension
reaches a crescendo when Ericka is chosen to represent Miss Ghana.
who is awash in Eurocentric notions of beauty and self-worth, thinks
Ericka is blessed to be light-skinned and embraced by white society.
Ericka, however, disabuses Paulina of the notion by revealing her
difficulties being biracial.
think those white kids wanted anything to do with me? You think there
were any other black kids in Portsmouth?! I was always alone! ...And
my father...was here. With his cocoa factory... And his wife and
children. Living this perfect life... Not even thinking about me...
Ashamed of me... His white daughter.”
inspiration for the play derives from a true story. In 2011,
Minnesota native Yayra Nego, who is biracial and never resided in
Ghana, won the Miss Ghana title. Nego’s win touched off a
global debate about colorism throughout the African diaspora as well
as in Africa. Due to the harmful effects of American slavery and
European colonialism, the preferential treatment given to
lighter-skinned blacks was intentionally executed to sow deep-seated
resentment, dissent, and competition among blacks while at the same
time keeping in place the racist concept of black inferiority. And,
among us sisters, Spike Lee’s 1988 film “School Daze”
brilliantly dramatizes the warring tension of colorism, showing two
sororities - one light skin and the other dark skin -at a
historically black college ferociously going at each other. “The
light skinned girls also have a term called “jiggaboo”
to refer to the dark skin girl with wild hair and the dark skin girls
use a term “wanna be’s” to refer to the light skin
girl wanting to be white,” Spike Lee shared about the movie.
a little girl, I heard the children’s rhyme on colorism, which
told me my place in the world before I stepped out in it.
you’re black, stay back;
you’re brown, stick around;
you’re yellow, you’re mellow;
you’re white, you’re all right.”
enduring legacy of colorism is a pall that still hovers over black
women today - both within our communities and in the larger society.
Nyong’o, an Oscar-winning actress, is a dark-skinned
Mexico-born Kenyan. In a 2014 interview with “Her”
magazine, Nyong’o opened up about her inner struggle and
society’s obsession with lighter skin blacks, especially women.
standards of beauty are something that plagues the entire world. The
idea that darker skin is not beautiful, that light skin is the key to
success and love. Africa is no exception. When I was in the second
grade, one of my teachers said, 'Where are you going to find a
husband? How are you going to find someone darker than you?' I was
African American sisters are opening doors, cracking glass ceilings,
and disrupting Eurocentric paradigms of beauty more has to been done
in terms of allowing chocolate - complexion and darker-skinned
sisters, like our former First Lady, Michelle Obama, to be pageant
year sisters of African descent have done a trifecta in being crowned
the winners in three major national pageants: Miss Teen USA, Miss
USA, and Miss America. All, however, are light-complexioned.