Colorism is real. It's always been part of racism in this country (and others) where people, both white and black, demonstrate a preference for those who are lighter complexioned. So, initially, my response to a report that lighter skinned women receive lighter court sentences than darker skinned women was "Water is wet." Who's surprised there? People are always easier on people they "perceive" to be more attractive and hundreds of years of preferences and privilege have caused people to favor those with lighter skin. But was really interesting was towards the end of the article when Duke University professor William Darity suggests that dark skinned blacks may be able to use existing Civil Rights statutes to sue for discrimination.
Think about that. People suing others over organizations and businesses who still use the "Paper Bag Test" in their memberships and hiring practices. That could be interesting.
From The Root:
Racism gets all the headlines, but colorism is just as real and impacting, Hannon explains. How "white" someone is perceived matters. "Colorism is clearly not taken as seriously or is not publicly discussed as much as racism, and yet these effects are pretty strong and the evidence is pretty strong," he says. "It's a very real problem, and people need to pay attention to it more."
(T)here has been recent movement by the government to take colorism more seriously, Hannon says. He pointed to a 2008 initiative by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that explicitly considers colorism. Hannon also notes that because the Civil Rights Act refers to "color" and not simply race, the door is open for litigation around colorism, which could also push the policy dial.
Darity believes that the benefits of light skin have to be addressed to cause change. "There are clear social and pecuniary benefits to being lighter-skinned in America," Darity says. "Unless we eliminate those benefits, this will go on, because the advantages are real."
Dark-skinned people are usually given a lot of pity and not-much-else when it comes to acknowledging that colorism is an issue both within and outside of the black community. There's a lot of navel-gazing and "that's so sad" and talk of how we all need to love and respect each other. But, as we know with racism, simply saying let's hold hands and try to understand doesn't cure hundreds of years of state-sanctioned discrimination. Some folks have to be forced to have a change of mind.
Many black organizations, Greek letter fraternities and sororities, business associations, exclusive clubs, night clubs, restaurants and businesses that catered to African Americans, even certain black churches, have historically discriminated against dark skinned black people. The Christian Methodist Church used to be the "Colored Methodist Church," and cater to mostly lighter complexioned members. Paper Bag Tests were used to keep "upper class" black organizations and social clubs lighter. Night clubs, bars and restaurants wouldn't hire darker skinned women to be dancers or waitresses because they preferred lighter-skinned women.
While things have changed a lot (quite a few Greek Organizations that were more "color-exclusive" in my mother's day, don't seem to have these issues now), in some aspects of African American society there is evidence of an informal colorized caste system.
Would you sue? If you're dark and you always had a suspicion, or perhaps even knew, that you were passed over for a promotion, denied a job, denied access to a club or organization, attacked, or harassed based on your skin tone, would you press charges? Would you call out the informal colorism as very formal and very hostile discrimination? If you knew it kept you from winning a scholarship or getting a modeling contract or booking a gig or meant a harsher punishment and you knew it wasn't just because you were black, but because you were dark too? If you saw that your lighter peers were promoted in the workplace, but you were passed over despite being qualified, would you question it? Would you take the complaint to your human resources department? Would you take it to a Civil Rights group?
Would you take it to court?
This is what is interesting. I don't know any litigation related to colorism involving a black person suing another black person, accusing them of discrimination or harassment based on skin color, but I know for a fact that this does happen sometimes at formal and informal levels. It's not the standard and it's not across the board and it's not everywhere, but it does happen and it has happened to people I've known.
One commenter on my Facebook page said they though this article reminded them of "Willie Lynch" tactics, a hoax letter meant to illustrate how society pits light skinned and dark skinned blacks against each other. And while I do think it is harmful to treat each other as the enemy when we all share an experience of being black in America, it's not logical to argue that we all have shared the burden of discrimination in the exact same way. Is it a coincidence or by design that in some large black families it's the lighter relatives who are more likely to be educated and financially stable compared to the darker ones? It's something that we all see informally, and know is real, but we don't study it. We don't analyze how this happens and what we can actually do about it.
But, on the other hand, if dark skinned people started calling out colorism, not just on blogs or on Twitter timelines, but in courtrooms and newspaper articles and forums and sociological studies and the floor of Congress, what would that mean? What would that look like? And what would happen?
How do you fight the hate that resides inside those who have historically been hated as a whole, without further fracturing and already fractured people? Or is this fight necessary to finally end centuries of discrimination and pain?
UPDATE: One of my readers on Facebook sent me some links of successful cases that have already occurred involving dark skinned blacks suing based on colorism as well as the EEOC targeting colorism. Here's one of the cases involving an Applebee's.