Does beauty have a color? I ran upon an article several days ago in which the author quoted an individual who stated he “like[s] his women like [he] like[s] [his] cheese…white or yellow.” Although the statement infuriates me immensely, I had to remind myself that the color complex is not a new phenomenon, especially within communities of color—black communities. Issues concerning color consciousness date as far back as slavery. Blacks with darker complexions or persons who demonstrated more African features (for example, full sized lips or kinky hair) were given an increased workload and often received harsher punishment than their fair-skinned slave counterparts. Slaves that were fairer-skinned and displayed more European physical features, a majority of which were conceived by slave masters raping their slaves, were treated much more nicely and given a lighter workload. In addition, these biracial slaves resided in the slave master’s house instead of the backyard shacks that the darker slaves were mandated to live in.
There is a veil of ‘colorism,’ or delineation between different shades of skin, that has plagued the African American community for centuries. ‘Colorism’ has militated itself beyond the confines of slavery and manifested itself within the socio-cultural norms of the present-day American society. Further, ‘Colorism’ has become a hot topic of discussion, especially as we carry on conversations regarding the media and definitions of black beauty. During the ‘80s and ’90s, black entertainers who dominated the industry often had more favorable European features, such as light-skin and curly hair. Entertainers such as Al B. Sure, Heavy D., Sade, Chico El Debarge and other artists who dominated the black entertainment industry during this time period exemplify these European-like traits. The trend continues to be prominent within modern-day black media as images of black beauty tend to reflect fairer skinned individuals, especially among the female population.
Media advertisements which celebrate beauty among communities of color are often overflowing with images depicting fairer-skinned persons. During the early years of Ebony and Jet magazines, advertisements for skin bleaching cream and hair-straightening kits were prominent in number. The magazines’ covers frequently featured very light-skinned women such as Dorothy Dandridge and Lena Horne. The color complex continues to radiate throughout our society, as exemplified by the commercials for beauty products such as L’oreal and Covergirl. Queen Latifah, Beyoncé, and Rihanna are all wonderful representations of black beauty; however, the young, dark-skinned woman, still may ponder in the back of her mind, “What about the black women who look like me?”
It is time to begin incorporating a more diverse collection of beauty.
Echoing the sentiments of the legendary Temptations, it is time for society to realize that the color of “beauty is only skin deep.” It’s 2009 and we are still judging one’s beauty based on the color or shade of his/her skin. Nashira Washington said it best, it’s time for people to “evolve from complexes—as if measuring a person’s worth is based upon [his or] her likeness to a paper bag.” As we continue to move forward it is necessary that we, as a society, evolve the way we think so we can begin resolve some of stereotypical and superficial complexes that continue to carve out the narrow definitions of what it is to be a black beauty.