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Est. April 5, 2002
May 16, 2019 - Issue 789

The Other Racism: Colorism

"While 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 queens, too."

America 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.”

Colorism 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.

Ghanian-American 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.

SCHOOL 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.

Paulina 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.

Paulina, 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.

"You 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.”

Bioh’s 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.

As 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.

If you’re black, stay back;

If you’re brown, stick around;

If you’re yellow, you’re mellow;

If you’re white, you’re all right.”

The enduring legacy of colorism is a pall that still hovers over black women today - both within our communities and in the larger society.

Lupita 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.

"European 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 mortified.”

While 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 queens, too.

This 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. Editorial Board member and Columnist, The Reverend Monroe is an ordained minister, motivational speaker and she speaks for a sector of society that is frequently invisible. Rev. Monroe does a weekly Monday segment, “All Revved Up!” on WGBH (89.7 FM), on Boston Public Radio and a weekly Friday segment “The Take” on New England Channel NEWS (NECN). She’s a Huffington Post blogger and a syndicated religion columnist. Her columns appear in cities across the country and in the U.K, and Canada. Also she writes a  column in the Boston home LGBTQ newspaper Baywindows and Cambridge Chronicle. A native of Brooklyn, NY, Rev. Monroe graduated from Wellesley College and Union Theological Seminary at Columbia University, and served as a pastor at an African-American church in New Jersey before coming to Harvard Divinity School to do her doctorate. She has received the Harvard University Certificate of Distinction in Teaching several times while being the head teaching fellow of the Rev. Peter Gomes, the Pusey Minister in the Memorial Church at Harvard who is the author of the best seller, THE GOOD BOOK. She appears in the film For the Bible Tells Me So and was profiled in the Gay Pride episode of In the Life, an Emmy-nominated segment. Monroe’s  coming out story is  profiled in “CRISIS: 40 Stories Revealing the Personal, Social, and Religious Pain and Trauma of Growing up Gay in America" and in "Youth in Crisis." In 1997 Boston Magazine cited her as one of Boston's 50 Most Intriguing Women, and was profiled twice in the Boston Globe, In the Living Arts and The Spiritual Life sections for her LGBT activism. Her papers are at the Schlesinger Library at Radcliffe College's research library on the history of women in America. Her website is  Contact the Rev. Monroe and BC. 




is published every Thursday
Executive Editor:
David A. Love, JD
Managing Editor:
Nancy Littlefield, MBA
Peter Gamble

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