Today I'd like to take a stab at approaching skin-color-hierarchy from a global perspective.
Interracial prejudice is real and thriving. I hesitate to even say “interracial”, because it isn't as much an issue of race as it is about color. I plan to write an entire separate article about that topic, because I feel there is so much to be said about it. As for prejudices within said communities, it seems the effects of colonization and slavery have stretched far and wide, bringing generations of skin-color-hierarchy with it. I've experienced this personally and witnessed it in nearly every aspect of my life, and across numerous cultures. It is so rampant, and frankly very, very sad.
My personal experiences tell me that this is not only a “people of color” problem. I've seen it happen with Black, Hispanic, Indian/Pakistani people as well as Japanese and Middle Eastern people. Generally speaking, Arabic people aren't described as people of color, except in Arabic-speaking countries in Africa, like Egypt. We have pretty fair complexions, just a hint of brown. Yet, even in countries that started off as literal deserts, where the sun was beating down on people and it would be a very bad thing to be fair-skinned, there is an undeniable preference for paleness. I experienced this in my dad's native country of Syria.
My three sisters and I all have different coloring. I have fairly pale skin with dark hair, the next one has my coloring with caramel skin, the next one is very pale with green eyes and mousy brown hair, and the last little girl, surprisingly, is blonde with blue eyes. My 16 year old sister and I are mistaken for twins all the time, but the rest of us look so different. I never realized that in fact, our individual coloring fall exactly on a beauty-ranking scale that was made long before we were born. It goes something like this:
When I lived in Japan from '04 to '08, I saw the same thing among the Japanese. They pretty much all have dark hair and eyes, so the feature of choice for discrimination was skin tone. Contrary to popular media's representation of Japanese people, they are not all pale-skinned. Around half of them have tan skin. These people feel compelled to use whitening salves too, just like in Syria. Anime characters are shown with pale skin, princesses and characters in plays painted their face in pure white pigment to signify beauty.
I went to middle school with a number of Indian and Pakistani people. One of my closest friends when I first moved back to Michigan was a smart and sarcastic Indian girl- I liked her almost instantly. She was on the darker side, but she had older sisters that were lighter colored. She recalled the same experiences as I had with being considered less beautiful because of her skin tone that I considered so gorgeous. It made my heart hurt.
Now, I'm working as a substitute teacher, so I get to be around kids from districts all over Michigan. I tend to find jobs in lower-income areas, and the vast majority of the students are black. I had a long discussion just yesterday with some high school students about the color hierarchy after one student wrote on the board “Light Skins Winning.” He proceeded to boast why light-skinned black guys are “prettier”, and called a fellow dark-skinned classmates ugly. He said it with such nonchalance and the dark-skinned students accepted his words as if they were the truth. This really lit a fire in me.
As I teach, I hear these things on the daily. Guys and girls alike proclaiming that they only date light-skinned people. Calling fellow classmates ugly, stupid, and less than because of their tone. As I travel from school to school, district to district, this is one pattern that remains constant. It drives me crazy, because I know that this is such a deeply rooted and complicated mentality.
It's bad enough that there is discrimination of separate groups of people against each other, but this is on a whole other level. Groups of people are turning against each other in their own circles, scooping hate from the outskirts and dumping it in the center like some horrific typhoon. Back during segregation years, if a black person was light-skinned or mixed, they were discriminated against by white people AND black people. They weren't quite “black enough”, and definitely were not white. They didn't fit into either group, they were hated and treated badly. Now, I feel it is that same hate they experienced being projected outwards.
They say that when someone is hateful or critical of you, it is because of the things they hate in themselves. Its a vicious cycle. When we catch ourselves thinking hateful thoughts towards someone, we must stop and reflect on what is it within us that is causing it. Heal your own thoughts and tear down the color-hierarchy in your respective communities- that will bring us one giant step closer to stopping global colorism and discrimination.
I observe & write about society & culture.