Race has been the forefront of conversations for a long time. However, recently with the efforts of #BlackLivesMatter and several of the racist incidents that have been picked up by mainstream media, it seems like there has been limited to no progress in racial politics. Skin color has been a topic of debate amongst African Americans since slavery.
Colorism has also been recently covered in the popular documentaries Dark Girls (2011) and Light Girls (2015). The skin of Africans has been on display and marveled at for centuries. It has also been ridiculed and demonized for about the same amount of time. Often this issue has been associated with internalized oppression.
Colorism has been defined as a practice of discrimination by which those with lighter skin are treated more favorably than those with darker skin. This has been played out in several different ways throughout the history of African Americans.
Some people may refer to the comments once made by Malcolm X about the House Negro and the Field Negro. Other may refer to the brown paper bag test. There was also the classic doll test that has been reproduced over the years, with the same results of dolls with lighter or White skin being the preference of Black children as young as two years old. These elements have highlighted the divide amongst people classified as Black.
The trauma of Black skin
It is important to understand the issue of colorism affects both males and females. Since the society norms of beauty center around females, it often does not touch on how Black males are affected by colorism.
This highlights the intergenerational trauma that is ingrained in the culture of African Americans. We have developed inferiority complex in several areas of life to serve as coping mechanism. Oftentimes, this is subconsciously done. This understanding of colorism as an element of our historical trauma is an important piece to eliminate the issue.
What is being done?
Shonee Philips is the founder of Beautifully United (BU). Philips is a native of Michigan. She moved to Minnesota in 1993 to work a summer job, which she enjoyed so much she decided to stay here and go to college and later graduate school to get a degree in marriage and family therapy. This created a passion in her for working with youth and families. This passion grew into an understanding of the importance of healing.
Philips states, “We must combat the issue of colorism within our community. It’s just the result of our own internalized oppression over the years.” One of the efforts that Shonee is pushing forward is her organization Beautifully United.
What is Beautifully United (BU)?
Beautifully United is an organization that seeks to unite communities of color across the nation through education and celebration. Phillips believes that celebrating and educating communities of color will bring awareness to break down barriers of internalized oppression, colorism, and generational cycles of self-destructive mindsets.
“This organization is about encouraging others to exercise their voice,” Shonee Philips explains, “encouraging others to unite and celebrate who we are. We are beautiful people and we come in many shades of brown.”
Beautifully United pledge
- I pledge to love myself and my shade of brown.
- I pledge to celebrate, educate, support, and uplift my community.
- I pledge to embrace my fellow brothers and sisters and recognize that there are many shades of brown.
- I pledge to stand and be Beautifully United!
In order to improve our condition, we must be able to deal with our own issues with one another. Shades of brown skin should not be a factor that divides us simply because at the end of the day we are still classified the same when it comes to race, which is Black or African American. We must be able to have constructive dialogue to end this issue, and Beautifully United is an important opportunity to take the next step.