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#BlackMentalHealth Conversations: Colorism

Chandra White-Cummings

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We are beginning a new series, #BlackMentalHealth Conversations, to open up dialogue on tough issues that impact the mental and emotional health of the black community. Current prevailing wisdom says the key to dismantling stigma around mental health is to talk about issues. But we know that as black folk, we're not going to talk to everyone about everything. So think of this as an ongoing online town hall where we speak to one another on what has previously been considered unspeakable. 

First up: Colorism

It’s time to talk about colorism again.

An uncomfortable subject, an awkward conversation, but times are strange and the stakes are high. People are hurting, struggling, faking, masking, dying.

Often the best conversations start with good questions so to break the ice for this new series--#BlackMentalHealth Conversations—here are some questions to consider. This is a dialogue for the long haul. The plan is to tap the expertise of black psychologists, therapists, and counselors, communicators, advocates, and regular people, too. All of us together trying to get honest about the things that are troubling us, with the goal of moving toward sustained healing and wellness. Now, those questions in random order…

What is colorism? Is it just about preference? Is it about Black women being hypersensitive about appearance?

Do we really think Gabby Sidibe, Viola Davis, Serena Williams, and Lupita Nyong’o are beautiful or do we just feel pressured to say we do?

Are men subject to colorism and its effects?

Is there a solution to colorism or do we just have to accept it and deal with it?

Is colorism about black people’s self-hatred or white people’s racism?

Why did Black women breathe a collective sigh of relief to see that Michelle Obama was a ‘truly’ brown girl?

Why do people perceive a different personal and sexual vibe from Morris Chestnut, Idris Elba, and Lance Gross, versus Michael Ealy, Shemar Moore, and Jesse Williams?

Why does colorism persist even as we extol #BlackGirlMagic and proclaim #blacklivesmatter?

Is it wrong for Black mothers to feel rejected if their sons date, marry, or seem to ‘prefer’ women with lighter skin than theirs?

Are the paper bag and comb tests obsolete?

Are we more inclined to say someone’s hair is ‘nappy’ if they have darker skin?

Do we consider calling someone ‘chocolate’ a compliment?

Where did the terms high yellow and redbone come from?

Is there a way to tell if people have been particularly negatively impacted by colorism? Do they tend to have an identifiable set of beliefs and behaviors?

Why don’t we put more pressure on media when it comes to colorism as we do with racism?

Is colorism actually psychologically damaging, or is it just hurt feelings?

Do we believe colorism is equally as deadly as racism?

Most people know about the famous doll test where black children were shown white and black dolls and asked to assign characteristics and choose one over the other. Has there ever been a similar test done with lighter skinned and darker skinned dolls?

What should family members do when a child is shown favoritism based on skin shade/color?

If a person does prefer one type of skin color over another, should he/she have to justify the preference?

How can language around color and skin tone be changed to reflect more positive values?

How are emotional and mental health issues associated with colorism typically treated by therapists?

As we prepare to dive into this topic, think deeply about those questions and also take a look at any of this media for interesting takes on the subject:

Studio 11 Films, Divine Entertainment International and LOT 10 Productions presents the feature film "Skinned" Directed by Lisaraye McCoy and Co-Directed by Avery O Williams. Starring Jasmine Burke, Brad James, Van Vicker, Cycerli Ash and featuring Lisaraye McCoy. COMING 2015.
S01 EP5 | "Pretty for a Dark Skin Girl" Natasha's (Vanessa Donovan) heartstrings are pulled when she meets with a regular client Aisha (Emily Olum) and hears she has been bleaching her skin. Natasha opens up about her painful past, much to Tim's (Mike Waller) delight, and decides to come off of her medication.
The friendly exchange of words between these two groups that somehow transport the girls to beauty shop where they dish it out using sing and dance. Don't worry, they were transport right back in the dorm after the rumble lol I DO NOT OWN THIS CLIP FOOTAGE
Chandra C.