According to Dictionary.com, “colorism is a form of racial discrimination based on the shade of an individual’s skin tone, typically favoring lighter skin.” In layman’s terms, the whole “team dark-skinned vs team light-skinned” mess. If you’re a person of color, you know what I’m talking about. One of my favorite shows Black-ish tackled colorism in a recent episode and here are my thoughts.
Entertainment and Colorism
In my Intro to Communications class last semester, I wrote an essay on another Black-ish episode that tackled police brutality. So, when I found out that Black-ish tackled another problem in the POC community, I was excited to write about it. Let’s talk about colorism in Hollywood for a second. Hollywood is notorious for favoring women with a lighter skin tone in roles, especially in roles where the character is clearly supposed to have a dark skin tone. For example, the Nina Simone biopic “Nina” stirred up major controversy because of their casting choices. Nina Simone was a dark-skinned woman. The people behind the biopic thought it was a good idea to cast light-skinned actress Zoe Saldana. The worst part was the heavy makeup they put on Saldana to resemble Simone which essentially looked like dirt. Not only that, but they put a prosthetic nose on her as well. Many people wondered why they didn’t just cast a dark-skinned woman with features that resembled Nina Simone? One word, colorism.
Black-ish and Colorism
Now, Let’s get into this episode of Black-ish. It starts off with Diane, the youngest and darkest daughter of the Johnsons. The problem is in her class picture, she isn’t properly lit. Her mother and father Andre and Rainbow are furious and calls the school. Meanwhile, Diane says she doesn’t care about it and it’s not a big deal. In comes her older and lighter brother Junior. He points out the family has issues with complexion, especially their father.
Now, let’s pause this synopsis for a second. When I found out that Black-ish was going to talk about colorism I thought they were going to go the traditional route and talk about lighter skinned people very favorably. The majority of the Johnsons are light-skinned, including their mother, so I thought Junior was going to point out that his father favored light-skinned people, especially in the family. Man, was I wrong, and I’m glad.
A Different Perspective
“Look, I just meant that sometimes the light-skinned people in this family get treated badly,” said Junior. In comes their grandmother Ruby who proclaims, “Lightskins don’t have problems.” Andre and his mother Ruby start making fun of light-skinned people, excessively, right in front of the light-skinned family members. Rainbow says if the jokes aren’t such a problem then how about the light-skinned people make some jokes about dark-skinned people. Junior doesn’t even get out two words when his father says, “I dare you.”
After some more bickering between the family, Ruby and Rainbow reach a breaking point. Ruby comes back to the living room with a photo album and a story about how when she was younger, she was treated differently and worse than her light-skinned cousins. She tells Rainbow, “Today, I realized I have been hurting you the same way they hurt me. I’m so sorry Rainbow.” Andre then apologizes to his son whom he has mistreated because of his complexion in the past.
The episode somehow turned into a battle of the skin tones. I’m glad the show addressed colorism because it is a huge problem in the community. Who has more problems? Whose problems are greater than the other? Newsflash: no matter what shade we are, we are all people of color. We are already oppressed enough. Why are we starting to oppress each other?