Colorism is Still an Issue Among Youth

She was so pretty. Her hair was long, thick and wavy. Her skin, unlike mine, was light. She was mixed with Black and Indian, and she was beautiful. 

She was my step-sister, and though our love for each other saw no color, hair texture or any other difference, silently I felt the difference.

Plus, she was hella skinny. We would actually joke around and play off of her name, instead of the correct pronunciation of Ebony, we flipped it to E-boney. Yeah…the ish kids do.

Our difference was pointed out whenever we told outsiders we were sisters.

“You can’t be. She’s skinny, you’re fat,” they’d say. “She’s light and you’re dark.”

That’s how our peers saw us, and I quickly inherited an insecurity that lasted for a while. But, it never got in the way of the bond she and I built while our parents were together. She was my sister. Full stop. One day, we decided to take our sisterhood even deeper. We pricked our index finger and once a spot of blood appeared, we quickly rubbed them together.

We looked at each other with serious faces and said, “Now we’re blood sisters.”

Her beauty didn’t push me away but it did make me realize that the stigma of light, brown and dark can deeply scar a person’s internal ego. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I verbalized this feeling during a brunch with two girlfriends who are also part of the brown-skinned family. All three of us are beautiful and highly intelligent women, yet we struggled with believing our beauty.

And though colorism has been a huge conversation in the Black community for centuries, enough attention is not paid to how young people, particularly young men, interpret beauty.

I’m also guilty, as this didn’t even come to my attention until I read an interview with actor Djimon Hounsou, who stars as Chief Mbonga in the film, Legend of Tarzan.

During his interview with The Guardian, he mentioned his son, whom he shares with Kimora Lee Simmons, told him, “I want to be light-skinned so I can climb the walls like Spider-Man.”

Yes, Spider-Man is portrayed as White, but to a child, he’s simply just “light.”

The statement caught him off-guard, but it also made Hounsou further examine the lack of superheroes that look like him and his son.

“The minute he said it, I was like damn. My whole self was shattered,” Hounsou recalled. “I was like, wow, what sort of comeback do you have for this? It’s important to recognize yourself. It’s absolutely important. That’s the value in telling stories. There’s a reason why we create fantasy stories, so we can surpass this life condition.”

In an age where Black folks are constantly criticized and other ethnic groups are taught to fear Black people, simply because of our color, it is imperative that we instill in our young girls AND boys, that lighter does not mean better.

We need them to know there’s a superhero in all of us, and that power exudes when we tap into our core of being and navigate life with good intent, intellect and a strong work ethic.

Young men need to also see various, positive reflections of themselves. For many, it’s empowering to see a character such as Luke Cage, Chief Mbonga and the upcoming Black Panther on screen. They need to be told they are beautiful and they can do it, but they need to see it too.

I never wanted to be my step-sister or take on her skin. What I wanted was to be recognized for the purity of who I was.

We need to make sure we give young people the same gift.


LaToya “Toi” Cross is the Senior Editor/ Entertainment and Culture  for  EBONY, and You can catch this laughing creative sharing work, art and capturing life via her iPhone 6 via her handle of @ToizStory on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.