Colourism is a term coined by Alice Walker that describes discriminatory behaviour towards people with a darker skin tone. Light-skinned people are instead treated more favourably.
It's a phenomenon present in many cultures and it wasn't necessarily influenced by colonialism and White supremacy, although in some cases it was reinforced by it.
Growing up I didn't know colourism existed. I was surrounded by people as dark as me and even if a couple of my friends were lighter than me, it didn't matter anything. I understood what colourism was, as well as the causes and effects after watching the “Dark Girls” documentary.
When I started researching the topic and read about practices like the paper bag test, I couldn't understand how Black people (and non-Black people of colour) could do something like that to us.
Colorism not only exists in the US, the Caribbeans and South America but also in Africa.
It's only when I really think about it that I can remember some subtle comments my mother and friends made about dark and light-skinned people.
“Look at him. He's cute and he's light-skinned too”
“How come has your skin become so dark?”
“Your cousin is so beautiful. Light skin beauty”
When I was in Senegal, where most people are beautifully dark, I heard my uncle arguing with his sister because she left her 4-month-old daughter in the sun too long. “When she was born she was so light, and now you ruined her.” he said. That comment was “colorist” but also very ignorant. The sun doesn't darken us, our genes do.
My cousin is an incredibly cute and beautiful baby but not even being a baby spared her from those dangerous and ignorant comments. I kept telling everybody that she was just fine and beautiful and I really hope that she will grow up knowing that.
My other cousin who's almost 2 years old is quite light but she tanned during the two months we spent in Mali and Senegal. When we came back to Italy, our neighbour said laughing that we should wash her with a detergent to make her light again.
What worried me the most is that even my 7-year-old brother used skin complexion as the most important criterion to compare his two cousins and decide which one was more beautiful. Of course our light-skinned cousin won. I now wonder when the conditioning begins.
I too find myself attracted to light-skinned men, especially if next to or in a group of darker skinned men. When I became aware of this I started asking myself “do you like them because they're fair-skinned or because they're just good looking?”
Will we ever learn to be colour(ist) blind and see beauty for what it is without letting the quantity of melanin we have in our skin define it for us?