I’ll start with mother.

Before children recognize themselves in mirrors, they recognize themselves through their mother’s eyes.

My heart breaks when I hear stories of mothers consciously or subconsciously conditioning their children to adopt the attitudes of colorism, to adore light skin and despise darker skin, adore light eyes and think little of dark eyes, adore straight hair and hate kinky hair.

Previews of Dark Girls the movie, the responses to it, and life observations reveal that too many mothers are complicit in their children’s pain. The relationship between mothers and colorism is clear. Several women describe their most potent experiences with colorism as experiences when their mothers failed to validate their beauty. As adults hopefully we learn to validate ourselves. Young children, however, must be shown how.

My mother is light skinned. She won’t admit this, always claiming that she never saw herself as such and always identified with darker skinned people. She does acknowledge, though, that she is lighter than my brother and me.

My mother tells me how she has always loved going out in public with us and telling people “these are my kids.” We joke about how people rarely assume this fact due to the skin color difference, and she always makes a point to directly state it.

My mother is different from the women who are only proud to show off their children if their children are fair skinned or have a certain hair texture.

My mother intentionally combated the outside influences and negative messages about dark skin. She was not only aware of colorism, she had the courage to attack it head on. Just knowing that she in some way understood the struggle of a dark skinned child helped me endure the struggle. Knowing that no matter what happened with everyone else I could always go home and feel accepted and loved, probably saved me from the extremes of pain that other girls have gone through.

So don’t trip if your dark skinned friend, cousin, sister, or coworker agonizes over skin color and the biases people hold toward certain skin tones. Don’t be perplexed about why she doesn’t “just get over it, and just love herself.”

Instead, ask her about her relationship with her mother. Ask her how many times she heard her mother tell light skinned cousins how pretty they were, without acknowledging the very daughter that waited in her shadow. Ask her how many times her mother told her to stay out of the sun. Ask her how many times her mother discouraged her from wearing bright colors. Don’t judge her, she’s had enough of that. Just hear her story.

If you are a mother, do an honest self-evaluation. Do you make comments around your children that might instill colorism in them? How often do you tell your children they are beautiful? How often do you compliment their dark skin tones? Do you act like colorism doesn’t exist? Do you try to explain away instances of colorism instead of acknowledging them? Have you dealt with your own color complex so that your children can have healthy self-esteem and appreciation for others regardless of skin color?

When it comes to colorism healing, parents make a huge difference in the lives of young people. By choosing different parenting choices, we can erode the generational cycle of colorism in our communities.

4 Comments

  • I totally agree. My mother plays a huge role in why I struggled with the effects of colorism for so long. I not only received the insults that are associated with being dark skin outside of my home but inside my home as well. I had no one affirming my beauty as a darker skinned child and teenager. My mother is of a butter scotch complexion so she would be considered light skin and my father is a Haitian black man who has a very rich dark chocolate skin complexion. My father left my house at a very young age and so I never really experienced a father figure that professing that I was pretty. I think it is very important that a father tells his daughter that she is pretty at a young age because he is her first male and female experience and fathers affirm.

    My mother was a very frustrated single mother who didn’t always have the best way of communicating to her children. I remember there were several times that she would refer to me as ugly when she would get upset with me as a young child and teenager.

    I remember when I seventeen years old she was looking at a picture of my lighter skinned cousins. They too came were a product of a lighter skinned mother and dark skin father. My mom looked at the picture as if she jealous and said “I just don’t understand why my kids didn’t come out light skin.” When that came out of her mouth my feelings were crushed. I couldn’t believe my own mother didn’t think my skin color was beautiful. Did this mean that light skin was better? And I questioned why didn’t I come out light skin. I even wondered why she would say that to me.
    I am now 31 years old and I will never forget the day my mother made me feel so inferior and unattractive because of dark skin. It still hurts to discuss sometimes. But my relationship with God has allowed me to heal in ways I never thought was possible. I think more mothers need to be educated on this topic because they don’t understand how their words effect their children’s thoughts of self esteem, worth and attractiveness.

    Thank you so much writing this article. It is much needed for our society.

    • Felicia, Thanks so much for writing a comment and most importantly for sharing your personal thoughts and experiences. I hope every visitor reads your story as you’ve expressed it here and continues to learn, grow, and heal as a result. I wish you continued healing as well. Please keep in touch.

      Sincerely,
      Sarah

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