Earlier this month, actor Lance Gross sparked a major backlash of criticism after posting a photo of his newborn son on Instagram, along with the caption: “LL Kool G my little man’s color is comin’ in nicely! I’m hyped!”
The 37-year-old’s comments immediately prompted mixed responses from followers, some were completely in awe over the newborn’s photo, while others accused Gross of “self-hate” due to the reference of his son’s skin complexion.
The actor later went on to address the criticism in a lengthy Instagram post. “Two things I am proud of is the ability to smile through any situation and the rich melanin and layers my body,” he wrote in the post. “For my daughter or son to share that blessing makes me overjoyed. Miss me with the self-hate cause those opinions and assumptions are invalid.”
“I love me more than anyone else ever could I won’t argue with fools but I’m down to inform the misinformed to a certain extent before I stop giving a sh*t,” he added.
So what exactly is “Colorism?”
Well for starters, the term “colorism” doesn’t exist — at least not in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. The creation of the term colorism is often credited to author and activist Alice Walker, who first used the word in an essay from her 1983 book, ”In Search of our Mothers’ Gardens.” According to Walker, colorism is the “prejudicial or preferential treatment of same-race people based solely on their color.”
Since the days of slavery, “light-skin” and “dark-skin” has been a recurring topic of discussion as it relates to segregation in the black community. The subject has been so controversial that it was examined in the 1940s by African-American psychologists Kenneth and Mamie Phipps Clark. The married pair’s series of tests, which were referred to as The Clark Doll Experiment, examined the effects of segregation and how black children dealt with race at a young age.
According to a 1985 Washington University interview, Kenneth Clark said the experiment included a selection of white and black dolls along with a list of questions based on which dolls the children viewed as “nice,” “pretty,” versus “ugly” and “bad.”
“After we asked these preference questions in which a majority of these children disturbingly rejected the black or brown doll, and described positive characteristics to the white doll—not all, but the majority did,” Clark recalled before revealing the “most disturbing” question that really made him upset.
“We then asked as the final question, ‘Now show me the doll that’s most like you.’ And it was disturbing because many of the children were emotionally upset at having to identify with the doll that they had rejected,” he said. “Some of them would walk out the room or refuse to answer that question. And this we interpreted as indicating that color, in a racist society, was a very disturbing and traumatic component of an individual’s sense of his own self-esteem and worth.”
The case study later served as a catalyst for the historic 1954 civil rights case, Brown v. Board of Education which led to African-Americans being integrated public schools.
Despite the establishment of integration in the schools of America, colorism still exists in today’s society. In terms of a possible solution to dismantle the unconscious bias towards dark skin and light skin, many have blamed the media as a contributing factor — due to the lack of representation and negative stereotypes of African-Americans.
“Many shows consciously and unconsciously perpetuate stereotypes by casting people based on what a few empowered seem to deem as believable,” “Black-ish” actress Yara Shahidi said during the 2016 Spirit of Art and Activism series. “So, if a black man is always cast as the drug dealer, but rarely as the righteous, successful businessman, the conclusion is that it is not believable for a man of color to be inherently good or successful or on the side of righteousness.”
“Good, bad, or indifferent, TV helps to define our collective reality. And if a child grows up never seeing themselves represented as successful or as the hero, then they are the anomaly if they succeed and the expectation if they fail,” she added.
Tell us, what’s the one solution to dismantling colorism in the black community?