The fight against colorism in the black community

DETROIT – You might not have heard of the term colorism, but it's a problem in the black community. African-Americans are discriminating against each other, pitting those with lighter skin against ones whose skin is darker.

Unlike other forms of injustice, colorism is something that's rarely publicly addressed, even though it happens almost daily.

"I would call it a subset of racism," said Dr. Ronald Hall, a social work professor at Michigan State University. "As a result of having been colonized particularly by Spaniards, the British, etcetera, a lot of people of color internalize and idealize values for lighter skin because that is considered the norm."

Local 4's Evrod Cassimy sat down with seven black students from Detroit's Renaissance High School to talk about how colorism has affected them.

Each student ranged in skin tone from light to dark, and each had a lot to say about the topic.

"Unfortunately, I think it's more accepted to be light skinned in America," said junior Kyle McMurtry.

Cassimy asked senior Princess Onwenu what she thought about being dark-skinned.

"I have an attitude all the time. I'm probably not as pretty as most other girls," Onwenu said. "They see light-skinned girls as being prettier and dark-skinned girls are ugly, and I don't think that's true."

But those with a lighter black complexion have dealt with colorism from their own community as well.

"Sometimes, it can become a teasing factor of, 'Oh, you're not black enough,'" said junior Taylor Ivey. "It's almost become a running joke amongst my peers. If you don't respond to a text message or a phone call immediately then, 'Oh, you're light skinned.' We say, 'Oh, you're light skinned,' because that's kind of to suggest that you think that you're better than other people or too good."

Senior Daijah Hills described dark-skin boys are being "rugged" and "hard core." Light-skinned boys on the other hand were "pretty boys."

"So when you get a light-skinned boy who can fight, you know really well it's like, 'Oh yeah, you know, you can fight for a light-skinned boy," Hills said.

Colorism has become such an issue among blacks that there's a market for it. Over-the-counter skin bleaching and skin lightening products are available at drug stores.

Twitter hashtags like #TeamLightSkin or #TeamDarkSkin show many people proudly proclaiming their skin tone, while others bash those on the opposite side.

This issue has Onwenu concerned about her future.

"I don't think I have an equal chance or opportunity," she said. "I feel like people see light skin as closer to white, and if it is a job and I'm dealing with someone who is probably prejudice they'll go with the light-skinned girl because they favor her more."

And research seems to support this.

"I've found those individuals who identified themselves as light-skinned in my survey sample made projected higher incomes, greater years of education and also aspired to more prestigious jobs versus their darker skinned counterparts," Hall said.

Hall's colorism studies landed him in the documentary "Light Girls," which aired on the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN).

"It's increasing because the racial line, racial demarcation is disintegrating," Hall said. "Race is going to less definable in the future. There's an explosion in interracial marriage and mixed race births so you won't be able to look at a person and determine who's white and who's black."

And just like racism and prejudice, there's work to be done before colorism in the black community can be stopped.

"Something I call talk therapy," Hall said. "Consider all the things you regard as ideal and you want for yourself. Just get up in the morning when you're brushing your teeth, look in the mirror and tell yourself you are all of these qualities."

Hall has traveled the world and hasn't found one place that colorism doesn't exist. And while his solution of talk therapy sounds so simple he tells Local 4 that it does work.

"Because of colorism, we are divided into groups. We need to come together in order for a change to be made," he said.