It’s not a black and white issue

Bryan Wroten

BUS discusses stigmas of light, dark skin

Black United Students hosted an open forum last night to discuss the stereotypes and social stigmas associated with light-skinned and dark-skinned blacks. The panel included faculty members and students.

Credit: Steve Schirra

Black is beautiful.

Unless he’s not dark enough, that is. Then he’s too white.

Or her hair isn’t fine enough. Then she’s too African.

Skin shade, hair type, body features – these are some of the self-image issues black men and women deal with. They’re joked about, pointed out, the cause of insecurities and seldom talked about seriously. Until last night.

Black United Students held an open discussion about the subject of light and dark skin and the stereotypes associated with them. A panel of faculty and students helped lead the discussion.

The audience heard a list of terms and stereotypes attached to skin shade. Darky and blue-black for dark skin. Red bone and yellow for light skin. Some audience members laughed at the names.

“This is what your people are saying about you,” BUS vice president Nyana DeJarnette said.

The laughter stopped.

Donnie Payten, freshman business management major, said one stereotype is the darker a man is, the blacker he is.

As for lighter-skinned, he said, “It’s not that you’re not black, but that you’re closer to being white.”

Payten, who is light-skinned, said he was never made to feel less black than others. He said he and his friends joke about it and never took it seriously.

“It’s not a problem, just something that’s in the black community,” he said. “It’s not racism, it’s just how we’re categorized.”

It is seen as a problem by others, however. The discussion focused on acceptable images of blacks and how they start. Media and family were the most frequently mentioned.

Geraldine Hayes Nelson, associate dean of undergraduate students and member of Upward Bound, said she grew up with her family calling her beautiful.

“Light and dark didn’t matter in our family,” she said.

However, she said not everyone has that kind of upbringing. She said a lot of blacks try to assimilate into white society and ignore their African roots.

“Many are still very much in denial to associate themselves with Africa,” she said.

One of the main problems with the stereotypes is people don’t know their origins, said Mwatabu Okantah, assistant professor of Pan-African Studies. Without the knowledge of the historical context, he said there won’t be a solution.

“Some black people are so caught up in this – they are so in it -A-A- they don’t pay attention to the historical part that makes it a problem in the first place,” he said.

He said many light-skinned blacks originated from white governors in Africa forcing themselves upon captured women. If a woman became pregnant, he said the woman gave birth in the village, but had the baby taken from her. The child was then raised to become a guard.

This continued in America during slavery, he said. Slave owners would have sex with their slaves, resulting in lighter-skinned children who would be for different tasks than the darker-skinned blacks who worked in the fields.

“This was the beginning of distrust between light-skinned and dark-skinned black people,” he said. “It still plays itself out because white society finds it easier to deal with lighter-skinned black people.”

Okantah, who was unable to attend the discussion, commended BUS for holding the discussion because he said it would make people realize the problem.

Panel member and former BUS president Damareo Cooper said blacks need to stop living in other people’s reality.

“We’re living in somebody else’s mind,” he said. “Different levels of pigment and melanin – it’s all somebody else’s idea. Until we stop doing this, we’re not going to transcend this situation.”

Contact religion and minority affairs reporter Bryan Wroten at [email protected].