The Caucus of Working Educators and the Black Lives Matter Week of Action - Philly hosted a conversation themed “Colorism: Women of the African Diaspora” at the Community College of Philadelphia (CCP) on Tuesday evening.
Educators, students, parents and activists filled a classroom and talked about how they have seen the issues of being a dark-skinned or light-skinned Black person play out in their lives and strategies to combat it.
“These conversations on colorism need to be discussed in detail so that we can kind of destruct some of the white supremacy ideology that has been happening since Europeans came to colonize black people from Africa and brought them over to the Americas as slaves,” said Angela Crawford, facilitator for the conversation and an educator at King High School.
“Lighter-skinned people, still in 2018, seem to have a higher value in society. It doesn’t mean that they don’t go through a set of problems by being Black, but do they have certain advantages for their lighter skin.”
The discussion was preluded with clips from the documentary “Dark Girls,” which included some history and the psychology of colorism; social media commentary and interviews with local youth.
The organizers also presented a set of statistics showing that lighter-skinned women had better employment outcomes and had higher marriage rates, amid other quality of life measures. One particular statistic reported in a 2011 issue of The Social Science Journal showed that dark skinned women and men received harsher prison sentences than their lighter-skinned counterparts.
The attendees shared stories of experiencing colorism growing up or continuing to see it regularly.
“What impacts me the most is when I have a student who is darker than me, telling me they are not Black,” said Keziah Ridgeway, a World History teacher at Northeast High School. “But I don’t get angry, I use it as a teachable moment.” Ridgeway explained that some of her Black students from places like Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic express that they aren’t Black, moving her to respond, “the only difference between you and me is language.” She added that she also sees this as a point to teach the difference between race, nationality and culture.
“We don’t teach [about] slavery in South America and the Caribbean and that’s why they don’t understand the connection. We forget we got a whole section of the population that doesn’t have the history of the United States. So, you have to approach it from that lens,” she said. “We are all mixed. When you understand the fact that we are all mixed, then you understand the concept of blackness.”
Nuala Cabral, an educator and organizer with the University Community Collaborative of Temple, shared that some of her Black male students express that they “‘happen to prefer light-skinned girls.’” She said her response is that they need to look at why they have this preference, as should others.
“You may have that preference but who is training your eye?” she said. “A lot of young people and a lot of us in general - we don’t want to think we’ve been swayed by the media, by society or by these institutions. This history piece is so crucial.”
A Central High School senior suggested that Black teachers, rather than caucasian teachers, teach African-American history because “white teachers can learn the facts and figures but not the feelings.”
Ridgeway advised that the educators and parents use every instance they witness colorism, as a teaching moment.
“Blackness can be what you make it and don’t be ashamed of it. Embrace it,” she said. “We have got to let them know and shut it down.”