Messages from Media
We cannot underestimate the tremendous power of advertising and media to influence our perceptions and standards of beauty, particularly images in magazines, music videos, TV shows, and movies. Not only is there power in advertising and media, there is also great thought given by people who study how to get consumers to respond to an image. Research has shown over time and from the testimonies of people I’ve worked with, most of the images seen on television hold lighter skinned people in higher esteem than darker skinned people. Because of this messaging, many people hold lighter skinned people in high esteem and aspire to be lighter. This aspiration manifests itself in skin bleaching. Globally, one of the most popular products is skin-bleaching cream. Hundreds of millions of dollars are spent on skin bleaching products every year all across the world because of the idea that lighter skin is to be preferred over darker skin.
Messages from Family and Society
All of our families send us messages about self-worth, value, and love. Sometimes those messages are good and sometimes not so good. It is important for each of us to acknowledge what positive legacies to receive from our families and what negative legacies to leave behind. Unfortunately, many people receive messages that demonize black people and deify white people. Personally, as a person with all different shades of people in my family, I was raised believing that folks with lighter skin were more desirable because that was what was taught covertly and sometimes overtly. Our environments and families of origin play a huge role in teaching standards of beauty. Beauty preferences have been learned, and if they can be learned, they can be unlearned. The notion of lighter skin being more appealing shows up in several ways. When I speak to the black women in my life, they are candid about what they loved about Barack Obama’s presidency – Michelle Obama. For many black women, seeing a dark-skinned lady in the White House did a lot for their self-esteem because images like that are not often seen on television. There’s a host of other women who helped to do that – Viola Davis from the 2016 movie Fences for which she won an Oscar and Lupita N’yongo, best known for her role as Patsy in the 2014 movie 12 Years a Slave for which she won an Oscar as well. These women being on the screen certainly validate their beauty and talent, but there is also a work of inner beauty that they possess that needs to be acknowledged and recognized.
A curious question still looms:
Are we accepting dark-skinned people as part of the tapestry of beauty or are we trying to over-correct for the legacy of white supremacy without acknowledging white supremacy?
Their appearances on screen are great to see, but more work is needed to ensure that women of all shades are given an opportunity to share the screens and magazine covers equally.
How does it end and how do we bring healing?
We must remember that we are the keepers of our souls and must guard our hearts against allowing unrealistic and imbalanced standards of beauty to enter our consciousness, which is pushed forward by certain cultures. Conversations create fertile ground for change. Listening to one another’s stories is pivotal to building a community that fosters healing.
- I am a fan of people sitting with a coach or counselor who is familiar with the issue of colorism. No one person is the same, so the way it affects each person is different. It helps with getting aware of your baggage regarding standards of beauty that are unhealthy and unrealistic. I'm still unloading this baggage, but it's much lighter. The more you learn to love yourself, the less you’ll buy into standards of beauty that say you’re less valuable and accept yourself as God made you. You have to change your awareness of yourself so you’re no longer brainwashed.
- The societies that perpetuate these views have a responsibility to self-correct. We need to affirm the beauty of black people of all shades, particularly black women. A push for media outlets to have casts of people representing all shades of black is important. Take a look at the channels you go to, the commercials you see, the movies and TV shows you watch and take a critical look going forward and take steps to challenge.
- If given the opportunity, we need to listen to the stories of people who have experienced colorism and work hard to empathize with them instead of invalidating their experience. I’m not unaware that these conversations are delicate and can get unhealthy very quickly. We must remember that the issue of colorism affects everyone, not just those who experience them directly. It’s vitally important that we have the intentions of healing wounds and not pouring salt on the wounds. Healthy healing conversations begin and end with a posture of listening and understanding without judgment. In those conversations, everyone needs to be given space to share, be heard, and critique without being attacked. Otherwise, it will only do more damage and perpetuate pain and separation in the community.
- Understand history in real terms. Understand the pain and the trauma of black people in America. Don’t stop there. Understand the resilience of black people so you can begin to know that there is a fight, a grit, and something unique about black people that cannot be oversold. This will help to reframe your perspective of people of color in healthy ways.
- Elevate the colorism conversation to one about beauty overall – hair, facial features, weight, etc. What is considered beautiful and how do the concepts of beauty get determined?
Let’s all fight to right the wrongs of the past and move forward with a greater consciousness and a clear intention of bringing healing through healthy and honest conversations and promoting and supporting positive change in our world.
Jonathan Frejuste is an author and the creator of TheBridge330, a mentoring program whose mission is to provide quality mentoring tools and resources to underserved, underresourced, and vulnerable communities in ways that support sustained social change, a restoration of hope, and an avenue to emotional health. You can learn more about his work at www.thebridge330.com. You can purchase a copy of his book “Bridge the Gaps - Lessons on Self-Awareness, Self-Development, and Self-Care - Tools to Building a Life that Matters” on Amazon.
He is a supporter of Platinum Minds, a nonprofit educational and leadership development organization dedicated to assisting boys from environmentally challenged neighborhoods with achieving their full academic potential and becoming leaders in their communities. You can learn about their work and support at www.platinumminds.org.