“Light Girls,” the sequel to Bill Duke’s 2011 documentary “Dark Girls” has sparked ongoing conversation in the African-American community. Both films examine “colorism,” or discrimination based on skin color, within communities of color.
Dr. Ronald E. Hall, Ph.D., an internationally recognized commentator on the African-American experience and a Professor at the School of Social Work, Michigan State University, was featured briefly in the “Light Girls” documentary, and he still has a lot to say about the subject.
“Issues of skin color are problematic. What I didn’t know is the extreme,” says Dr. Hall.
The doctor is a well-known expert on the issue and has a Skin Color Clinic Library of resources for researchers, students, faculty, and professionals who wish to enhance their professional knowledge about skin color issues. The journal articles and books found in the library include resources for the preparation of grant projects, theses, and dissertations.
Colorism is defined as the prejudices people face based on the lightness or darkness of their skin tone. While some think it only affects dark skinned blacks, light-skinned blacks experience colorism too. In fact, it is not just an issue in America, its goes on globally. Both dark-skinned and light-skinned men and women often struggle with being accepted within their own community. However, some people seem to think that ‘light skin’ women do not experience issues with their skin tone and that they actually receive benefits from having lighter skin. Light-skinned women experience troubling acts or hateful acts directed toward them just as dark-skinned women do from others within their own race and they often have to deal with name calling (‘high yellow’, ‘lite brite’ “Red Bone”) and hurtful comments such as ‘you’re stuck up’, ‘bourgeois’ , ‘you’re not black’ or ‘black enough.’
In a recent interview, Dr. Hall explains how colorism manifests in the caste systems, discrimination and unequal access to social and economic mobility based on skin color.
“Lighter skin versus dark skin acceptance issues is a deep issue,” says Hall.
Growing up, he recalls how light versus dark played out in his own community.
“The lighter complexion tended to be the more secured financially. The darker complexioned blacks came from single family homes and they were more likely to be less secured financially and less likely to be more academically inclined,” says Dr. Hall.
“We need to take control of how skin color is interpreted. We don’t have to buy into Eurocentric terms or norm. Every opportunity, you get an opportunity to celebrate diversity in the community. W e should celebrate it.”
He thinks the problem will eventually be fixed and that it is a process that we have to go through.
“Beauty is not universally defined. It changes over time, over geography, from country to country. In some African Countries, heavy women are idolized as beautiful, but here it’s the smaller woman,” says Hall. “Unless you take the initiative to control your own standards of beauty, you’re going to internalize alien norms,” he says.
Although some people argue that ‘light girls’ had it better during slavery, Dr. Hall says light skin women probably had it worst because light skin women got it from the master and the master’s wife.
“Light skins go through a lot of pain,” says Dr. Hall. “We just haven’t acknowledged the pain that light skins experience. It’s the same thing that went on during the anti-bellum that’s going on today.”
Even dark skinned women in Africa have internalized alien norms, and they have bought into bleaching their skin. In Jamaica, women have taken it a step further.
“We have internalized these alien norms to the extent that we will jeopardize the welfare of unborn children,” says Hall.
Currently working on his latest book, “The Bleaching Syndrome,” Dr. Hall has been featured in Time magazine, BET, CNN and has appeared frequently on NPR. He is the co-author of the groundbreaking book, ‘The Color Complex: The Politics of Skin Color in a New Millennium and the editor of Racism in the 21st Century: An Empirical Analysis of Skin Color.”