Photography and Author: Danielle Lawson
Growing up, I viewed different women of all shades, and at a young age, I was taught we are all beautiful. I didn’t see any problem with my skin or hair until I was in elementary school. I remembered being in the second grade, and my teacher rearranged our seats in groups of eights. It wasn’t until a classmate of mines said this is the “ugly” table (the one I was at) and the other one was the “pretty” table. Me confused at the age of 8, evaluated what classified us as “ugly,” and the other table as “pretty”. We had the same clothes and shoes because we were technically in uniform, it wasn’t our body shapes because we all were the same size (no one hit puberty yet). It wasn’t by level of intelligence because the top student in our class was sitting at my table. The only evidence I gather was by our skin tones. Mind you we are all black students, so it wasn’t whites versus black or as my mother taught me to say Caucasians versus African Americans, it was the lightest skin versus dark skin.
For parents, at times, it is hard enough to get through the everyday struggles of parenting, and for black mothers raising black children, there comes a whole mass of obstacles I see as a challenged. In society, we often discuss black parenting in regard to race, but rarely do we talk about parenting in regards to colorism.
(Left to Right: Amber, Reneicia, Sariah & Shauntia)
Colorism is an issue that has been present within the black community for quite some time. It is a symptom of racism. To educate those that are unaware or unclear, it is prejudiced attitudes or discrimination based on the tone or shade of one’s skin complexion. Racism, on the other hand, is prejudgment against people based on their perceived racial status. To even paint a better picture, the brown paper bag test was implemented within our community. If your skin was darker than the bag, you did not merit inclusion. (Dennis, Angela)
My parents had “the talk” with me when I was in the second grade after the seat arrangement incident. For those that do not know what “the talk” is, it is the discussion that every black parent has to have with their kids at some point that lets them know there are people in society that won’t like them because they are black, or that in order to not be gunned down by the police they must live by an entirely different set of rules than their white peers.
(Left to Right: Stella, Tamia, Regina and Alex )
The objective is to raise a girl that, despite society’s under-appreciation of her and her skin tone, has a good understanding of her immense worth and is equipped with the tools to navigate the world to her advantage. Here are some tips from blogger Grace (DDS magazine) to help you do just that:
1. Compliment Her Dark Skin
Many parents attempt to battle colorism by sometime ignoring darker skin and light skin and try to view them the same. You need to counter the media’s influence, and to do this, you’re going to have to work extra hard to make sure she associates dark skin with beauty. Don’t say you are beautiful for dark skin, implied they are beautiful regardless.
2. Educate Her About Colorism From An Early Age
Colorism is a sensitive topic, and overlooking the issue and hoping your child never has to encounter is not the best solution. If you have a dark-skinned daughter, she’s going to encounter colorism, whether it comes in the form of insensitive comments, or rears its ugly head in another aspect of her life.
3. Create Inspiration Of Beautiful Dark-Skinned Women And She Can Look Up To
Make sure that the shows and music videos she’s watching are sending good messages about darker skin. Shows that place dark-skinned black women in lead roles and position them as desirable, beautiful, smart, and valuable are a good place to start. Teaching her to take pride in her dark skin can be done by showing her the legions of beautiful, smart, and worthy darker-skinned women who have been successful, who have found love and who have been able to live their best lives.
4. Teach Her To Go Where She Is Celebrated, Not Simply Tolerated
Encourage her to cut off toxic friendships and to seek out relationships with people who positively impact her life and make her feel like the best version of herself. As she grows older, it may be a good idea to discuss the fetishization and hyper-sexualization of dark skin in the media, and encourage her to steer clear from those who fetishize any race or skin tone.
Encourage her to support entertainers and popular figures who embrace and appreciate dark skin, as well as to not lend support to those who may publicly disrespect it.
5. Teach Her About The Richness of Black History And Culture
Teaching young black girls about their history and cultural inheritance is another excellent way to prevent mental damage and hurt that can arise as a result of colorism. By ensuring that she’s aware of the fact that she comes from a rich culture and history—one that predates the enslavement period—she will be able to build some ethnic and racial pride and feel more connected to other blacks around her, as well as those from the past.
(Left to Right: Victoria, Courtney, Jasmine & Kelly)
Despite all of this, your daughter may still express a desire to have a fairer complexion, after my experience, I did too but don’t panic! Because of the way our society is structured, it may take your daughter a while to reach a place of self-love. Be consistent in reminding her that dark skin is gorgeous, and discourage the use of bleaching creams (I learned the hard way). Moreover, if your daughter is struggling with loving her dark skin or any form of mental illness, don’t hesitate to provide her with professional help such as regular counseling or group therapy.
Remember, colorism is extremely tough to overcome, especially when you’re experiencing all the hormonal changes and trials of adolescence. The best thing you can do for your daughter is to be a safe space for her, which means being someone she can talk to and vent to and, most importantly, being someone she can trust.
What tips or advice you have on this topic? Leave a comment below.
Special Thanks to These Wonderful Women for Being Apart of this project for me.