Effects of Colorism and Why it Needs to Stop

Effects of Colorism

Written by Maryam Idris Bappa

Maryam Idris Bappa is a Bsc and Msc graduate of Architecture from ABU Zaria who is currently based in Kaduna State. This bold writer believes in clarity of thought hence she loves to ask questions on why things are the way they are and writes to give justified answers to them.This is why her writings mostly stay focused on thought provoking pieces written simply. Maryam's pieces focuses mostly on writing new and existing ideas in ways that will bring in interest and a new perspective to her readers. When Maryam is not writing articles, poems or sketching, she loves to engage in hand crafts or simply relax in the serene pleasure of her own company.

August 19, 2020

What is the meaning of the term “black beauty?” is it a compliment meant to flatter people who are dark-skinned and look good, or is it meant to downgrade darker women? Thinking about the possible meaning and origin of the word, it occurs to me how light-skinned people are not given this “Presumed privilege”. That is to say, if you are light-skinned, you are simply accepted as beautiful. But if otherwise, then your beauty needs to be stressed!

It is just like telling someone “You look good today” when in fact saying “You look good” alone is sufficient. The person may at first feel happy and complimented but wonder if they looked less good on other days. Likewise, if you tell someone that they are a black beauty, it may mean the person is beautiful despite being black. So quit telling people they are black beauties and simply address them as the beauties that they are.

It is almost as if dark-skinned people are not expected to be beautiful and if they are, it calls for a special celebration. I believe this discrimination is one of the few consequences of colorism in our society today.

Colorism arises from a difference in skin tone color and skin tone color is dependent on melanin; which is responsible for determining skin and hair color. Melanin is present in the skin in varying degrees, depending on how much a population has been exposed to the sun historically. Other factors such as geography and genetics also play other roles in differentiating skin tone colors among people of the same race.

Colorism; an offshoot of racism, is discrimination based on skin tone between people of the same race where lighter-skinned people are treated better than dark-skinned ones. It originated during the time Europeans enslaved Africans. During that period, the darker-skinned slaves were put to work in the fields. The lighter-skinned slaves exhibiting more European-like features took on easier tasks within their masters’ households. This was done to cause separation within the enslaved community.

According to The World Health Organization, 77% of Nigerian women use the products regularly, the highest rate in Africa. If you observe, Nigerians are constantly in the habit of mocking Ghanaians and Kenyans for being too black as they are darker than us in complexion.

Farar Mace Alkyabbar Mata.

A Popular Hausa Saying

This means; “A fair lady is a cloak to other women”. In a deeper context, it can mean that fair women are better and more attractive than darker women. But what are the consequences and effects of these bold claims thrown in favor and on the face of light and dark-skinned women in Nigeria? Below are among many of the negative effects of colorism especially for Nigerian women.

Effects of Colorism

1. Increased Preferential Treatment

Sadly, the roots of colorism have taken deep in the fertile soil of our domestic lives. In our homes, neighborhoods, and schools, children of lighter skin tone are treated better than their darker skin toned peers. At home, lighter-skinned children are preferred when it comes to accompanying the mother to outings. Sometimes they are even given less stressful chores because they are deemed more fragile and precious. In large gatherings like weddings or ceremonies, light skin children are more adored and carried than darker ones who are told immediately to go to their parents.

Likewise, in school, lighter-skinned children are picked for parades, plays, and sometimes even quizzes to represent their respective classes, houses, or schools. This personal preference may lead to loss of child confidence from a young age; promote sibling or peer rivalry and also break the trust between guardian and child.

2. A False Sense of Identity and Superiority

When you constantly show people that they are better or more attractive than their peers, you might as well just have issued them a blank check or lottery ticket to do whatever they want. Their egos rise and some of them automatically feel they have made it in life due to their skin tone. When this happens, they gain an added rise in ego, self-praise, and shamelessness. They start belittling those they feel are inferior to them through physical and emotional bullying and degradation.

Moreover, they feel it is their place to pick the most attractive garments since it will flatter them more. They also feel that any attractive person approaching their group is by birthright theirs. Many go to the extent of thinking they cannot engage themselves in works or chores they consider unfitting for their status despite their financial status.

3. Narrowing of Beauty and Societal Standards

When the measure of attractiveness is continually narrowed down by the day until it comes down to the level of melanin one possesses, the standard of beauty diminishes, and unrealistic societal standards are set. This affects other factors including class, intelligence nobility, and even hygiene.

In a glimpse, a light-skinned person is by default expected to possess more class, intelligence, and nobility than a dark-skinned one. Children of the rich are expected to be fairer than those of the poor to reflect their luxurious lifestyle and proper hygiene. A recently married woman is expected to grow lighter in complexion. The white race has been officially stamped to be more intelligent than black people. In short, People feel they need to be fair to be beautiful, or else they also lose some of their other societal respect and perception.

4. Collapse of Self-Esteem

When a person grows up feeling rejected or treated differently by family, peers, and society due to their skin color, that person may fall into self-hatred and feel ashamed of their appearance. This mostly happens when the person does not understand the true origin of colorism and fight against its effects.

Related: The Feelings of Insecurity and How to Avoid it

Also without having people accept them for who they are, depression kicks as they begin to feel discomfort in their own skin. For a woman, constantly having her fair friend admired and picked over her by her crushes due to narrowed beauty standards makes her feel ugly and unattractive. This may lead to a loss of self-esteem and self-confidence.

5. Encourages Use and Production of Harmful Bleaching Products

If everyone feels beautiful and is comfortable in their skin despite their skin tone, then it will go a long way in reducing cancer and other skin ailments worldwide. Many of the bleaching products are harmful as you use them or later in life when you stop. Although bleaching is a choice, when people refuse to genuinely see and feel beauty in all skin tones, many lose self-confidence and are cajoled to begin bleaching their skins.

A woman who feels her getting married is dependent on her skin color will not hesitate to bleach. After all, other people have tried and succeeded. This may make her justify that she is doing it for a greater cause. As Nigeria continues to boast a worrying amount of bleaching experts —with famed male crossdresser ‘Bobrisky’ one of them— they are cashing in on the desperation of people especially women to acquire lighter skin tone.

6. Promotes Workplace Discrimination

People—especially women seeking job opportunities have suffered the effects of colorism. This is especially true of jobs where part of customer patronage may depend on their attraction to people offering them services. Because of colorism, potential air hostesses, waitresses, hotel room service, models, actresses, bank tellers, product adverts, and many more have been dismissed and disqualified for they are seen to be less attractive for customer’s aesthetic satisfaction. Their other qualifications may come second in their employer’s requirements.

7. Reduces Moral Value

Just like how many students throw away a handout once they are done with a course, many women feel they have gotten their life distinction because of their skin tone. They tend to ignore other personal and moral values regarding themselves, relationships with people, and marriage. For a woman who lacks a good upbringing, this is an opportunity for her to throw her moral manuals out the window. Don’t completely blame her though, society has already given her a life certificate.

Farar mace ko mayya ce.

Popular Hausa Saying

Meaning; ‘A light-skinned woman is preferred, even if she is a Witch’. This is chanted by men who have a desire to wed a fair woman. Some men don’t mind any kind of woman so long she is light-skinned. While darker women are striving to be personally, educationally and morally upright, lighter-skinned women are falling deep into the pit of shame and illiteracy.

8. Increases Divorce Rate

An increase in divorce rate is another effect of colorism. Of course, when you marry a woman solely for your attraction to her skin color while throwing other values out the window, you are bound to be valueless. As such, any small mishap in your relationship or marriage may lead to you being sent back home. From there, you either attain awareness or you move to the next bus stop of alighting fair women.

Read: Improving the Plight of Divorced Women in Northern Nigeria

Women of light skin tone should beware of such kind of men as they only care about themselves. No! more preferably, light-skinned women should have other values that will help them throughout their lives and give them compass.

9. Promotes Prostitution

Even in the prostitution industry, perceived beauty values make light-skinned women have higher market value than light-skinned ones. This is a call for desperate light-skinned women out there to join the industry as an easy way out. Also, those already in the business strive to bleach and increase their market worth.

Related: Authentic Sisterhood: Reality of Friendship Between Northern Nigerian Ladies

So-called friends wanting to initiate others could be heard easily advising their friends as thus: “After all, you are fair and men like fair women, this industry is meant for people like you.” Ask for my advice and I will tell you even if you are fair, look for another job and keep your dignity.

10. Promotes Racism

Colorism serves as a catalyst for racism which has already eaten us to the buds. If we don’t accept and embrace our skin tones, nobody will. They will not feel threatened or intimidated to discriminate against our race if we don’t embrace and protect it fiercely.

Look at your hands and try picturing all your fingers becoming equal. Next, imagine which one would be most useful. If you can’t give yourself an answer, then simply know that everything was created differently to serve a unique purpose. Are all your teeth exactly similar or everyone you know rich? What if everyone became a doctor or all the people you know are lawyers. Crazy right? So why should everyone be of the same color?

Remember, in uniqueness lies the beauty and in beauty lies acceptance. Accept who you are. Imagine everyone else as a finger or teeth that need to be different and accept them the way they are too.

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1 Comment

  1. Abdullahi Ibrahim

    Putting into perspective the attributes that make one attractive at an ethical and moral level leaves room for actual descriptions of weather one is beautiful or nit. The writer here clearly articulates some major concerns that pertain colorism and it’s effects. Well pen’d.


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