By Stephaney Wilson
Elm Staff Writer
Skin color is one of the ways we as humans attach meaning to a group of people. Everyone comes in different shades, and skin color is such a major social determinant in the U.S. The United States has a longtime history of slavery, which has left an imprint of racism on our society. Therefore, tying a general identity and hierarchy based on skin color seems to be the ultimate way to navigate through the complexities that come with just skin color.
In a Times Magazine article, Lori L. Tharps described colorism and said, “In this country, because of deeply entrenched racism, we already know that dark skin is demonized and light skin wins the prize. That occurs precisely because this country was built on principles of racism. It cannot be overstated that if racism didn’t exist, a discussion about varying skin hues would simply be a conversation about aesthetics. But that’s not the case. The privileging of light skin over dark is at the root of an ill known as colorism.”
The larger societal implications make it clear that racism and colorism do exist. Many of us may have felt this experience either implicitly or explicitly through media or at home. It is one of the things that can cross boundaries pretty easily and may have affected your upbringing. I remember a time when I was young and auditioning for shows, and I was constantly passed over for a lighter skinned-mixed race person. This experience in itself made me realize what it was.
As a student at Washington College, I have had my own experiences with colorism. My darker skin and black features have sometimes felt like a crutch, or something that I had to carry with a burden. It was not until I found my own means of building my self-confidence and praising my melanin that I learned to accept how I look.
I still have some of these moments in my personal life and the hobbies that I am involved in on campus. Paris Young, a sophomore and political activist, said, “I could see colorism within my friends, the lighter or the closer you are to white the more you are attractive. So you could see within the couples of our school the particular type of girl that they go after, and especially within the media you see a lot of celebrities with racially ambiguous girlfriends or with a lighter complexion.”
Colorism especially affects women of color at WC. As a predominately white institution, we can see how colorism can be translated because of the environment that we are in. Freshman Tyra Cannon, a psychology major with a concentration in clinical physiology, said, “When I first came to this school, I felt that there were two different levels of black. So basically what would happen was who had more money or who had more resources they were like the upper-class blacks,” Cannon said. “If you see things on social media where you are light skin or dark skin or you are not the right skin. So colorism is basically finding a way to sneak racism in but still have it in a way that it is one culture.”
Colorism is embedded in our culture. WC represents a small piece of American society, but the effects of racism and colorism are still rooted in how we identify and interact with each other on campus.