Sunday, January 16, 2011


Thanks to Webb From the Garden Bench for bringing the issue of shadeism to my attention. In my post My 2011 blog project, I mentioned a six year old girl who felt she wasn't pretty because she didn't curl her hair or wear lip gloss.  In the above documentary a four year old girl already believes white skin is beautiful and is unsatisfied with her own brown skin.  The video was originally posted on Vimeo:

It is an introduction to the issue of shadeism, the discrimination that exists between the lighter-skinned and darker-skinned members of the same community. This documentary short looks specifically at how it affects young women within the African, Caribbean, and South Asian diasporas. Through the eyes and words of 5 young women and 1 little girl - all females of colour - the film takes us into the thoughts and experiences of each. Overall, 'Shadeism' explores where shadeism comes from, how it directly affects us as womyn of colour, and ultimately, begins to explore how we can move forward through dialogue and discussion.
The concept of shadeism isn't new to me. I remember reading about colonialism in the Caribbean and how afterwards lighter-skinned people were rewarded with better employment while those with darker skin had to work in the sugar cane fields. It is even mentioned in my most recent read When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present by Gail Collins:
It was hard to avoid noticing that Spelman girls were not only extremely well-behaved; they were also, in general, extremely light-skinned. “The best of all possible worlds is that you are light as you can be, you have green eyes, or light brown, and you have long straight hair,” said Gwen Robinson, who was dark-skinned and who found that the male students from neighboring colleges were cruelly dismissive. (Pg. 136)

I even remember my own paternal grandmother preferring her blond fair-skinned grandchildren over her brown-haired olive skinned grandkids. At the time, I thought it was because the fairer children looked more like her side of the family, but now I believe her preference was due to skin color.  She preferred those who looked German over those who looked French. I also remember her telling me to stay out of the sun; don't tan your beautiful white skin.  

In another disturbing video, A Girl Like Me, a mother and her two daughters eleven and six all use skin lightening creams. As pointed out in the above documentary skin bleaching creams are harmful not only to a person's identity, but their skin. Please see the health threats of unapproved bleaching creams which describes the health and skin problems that may result from using these creams.  And most importantly tells us:
The best approach to be able to avoid the unwanted effects of bleaching creams is actually not to use them when it is not essential. Skin whitening ought to be used solely for skin issues.
How do we move forward?
In Shadeism part 2, Nayani Thiyagarajah suggests the first step is coming together and asking questions along with:

- Sharing stories
- Challenging what has been taught
- Changing our way of thinking

And most importantly:
There is strength in each of us our skin tones included and after centuries of trying to change ourselves, trying to blend in and trying to be accepted the time has come to collectively challenge the idea that beauty comes in only one form.
Also, please see Vivianne's post Shadeism - Unraveling the Color Barrier and read about her experience with shadeism.  She asks, "Why do we do this to ourselves and our children? Isn't there enough to battle against already?" and "Let's stop this now and cut the crap out."


  1. You know I agree 100%. Great post. Wish we could make it our 2011 project to do away with all the isms that cause young women to doubt their own worth.

  2. Webb, how right you are. Imagine what could be accomplished if there was no such thing as isms. For fun I looked up Merriam-Webster’s definition of ism:
    1: a distinctive doctrine, cause, or theory

    2: an oppressive and especially discriminatory attitude or belief <we all have got to come to grips with our isms —

    Also, the link to Vivianne’s post is now working, so I am adding it to my post.

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  4. Darlene,
    I hadn't heard of the label, "shadeism" until Webb brought it to my attention.

    I was always jealous of my much darker cousin who tanned easily. I was the pink skinned girl who had to sit in the shade because I burned. It was the 70's and tanned skin was in.

    Interesting though about your relatives. I am reading Lisa See's book "Snow Flower and the Secret Fan" about life in China in the 19th century. Even the woman in the book want their baby's skin to have the clear pale skin of the white jade stone rather than the ruddy complexions of the working man.

  5. I have been aware of this issue my whole life as it is very common in the black community. I did not know it had a name. I find it very interesting that it is common in other cultures as well. Especially as you mentioned some preferring those who look more german than french.

    Thanks for linking up for Flashback Friday.