Internal Racism: Light vs. dark skin

Photo by USIA via Wikimedia

Kieron Williams/Staff Writer

It wasn’t supposed to become a cultural crisis.

It started in a light-hearted manner, just like everything else. Black people have joked about the different skin tones in our community for years. We’ve described ourselves as different kinds of chocolate, sometimes as “café con leche,” or even spices like cinnamon. In my opinion, these were simply observations of the diversity in the black community, a funny way to celebrate something cherished.

But when the “Team Light Skin/Team Dark Skin” pictures, hashtags, and vines started showing up, it felt a bit different. There was something more militant and aggressive about it. After a couple of weeks, it didn’t feel like a joke anymore. You were either one or the other. Either you chose to participate or your peers chose for you. You’ve got selfies on Instagram because you’re light-skinned. I can’t see you because you’re dark-skinned. Come on, laugh, you don’t want people to think you’re light-skinned, do you?

I am not trying to say the problem is the jokes themselves, because that’s just a matter of taste. The real problem, and the reason I think everyone reading this should be worried, is the fact that we have become such a culture that we allow racism to slip past our front lines and infect us like a plague, so long as it wears an attractive mask.

When I say racism, I don’t just mean white people against black people. I’m talking about anyone who views him or herself as superior or more capable simply due to skin tone. This includes internal racism, which means dark-skinned black people against light-skinned black people and vice versa.

African-American culture has fought against racism since the beginning, promoting equal rights and equal opportunity for all black people. The white majority of the early 20th Century America was strong in its oppression, embedding racism so deeply in its institution that it became inescapable, rendering black Americans as little more than slaves without chains. In order to survive such a terrifying environment, blacks had to rebel in mind and body. They galvanized their groups and became “African-Americans.” They adjusted their perceptions of what made them most different, and declared “Black is Beautiful.” Activists like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks taught black America how to fight, arming them with knowledge of our history and a sense of liberation. These were necessary steps for a revolution. In order to change America, they had to change themselves.

But the revolution happened. The war is not over, but significant battles have been won. It goes without saying that black people today are living in an environment that African-Americans of the 1950s only dreamed of.

But when many of our parents raised us, they taught us how to be warriors just like them. They armed us with their heightened sense of difference. And in doing so, they over-prepared us for racism that the majority of us no longer face on a daily basis. So when we failed to find enemies to unleash our weapons upon (in defense, of course), we looked elsewhere and found the next best thing: ourselves.

We need to be aware of traps like this so that we don’t fall into them again. We have more education, more ability and more opportunity than any generation before us. Our environment no longer needs us to be warriors, which allows us to usher in a new era of opportunity, but it also strips us of a hard-earned identity. Looking into the future, I don’t know what our new identity will look like, but one thing’s for certain: we won’t be picking teams.

About the Author

Kieron Williams
: I'm a Communications Arts major, and once I graduate I hope to use my degree and writing skills to become a screenwriter and novelist. I'm in my junior year at FIU, hoping to graduate by 2016, and I'm also Vice President of the FIU Film Initiative. I write for the News section, Life, and Opinion.

1 Comment on "Internal Racism: Light vs. dark skin"

  1. The real rift can’t be allowed to happen.
    some families share every shade,
    what are they to do ?
    The president would have been in the field or the back of the bus.
    Only the manipulators can benefit from our disunity.
    Remember that even in Black Africa some variance occurs because of environment, but,
    we are still one people.

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