Quantcast
Shutterstock

How Colorism Has My Son Believing He Isn’t Black

Black is mocha colored and dark chocolate complexions to my son, but caramel skin tones aren't acceptable to him.

Motherhood

My son is six and is having trouble identifying himself. Not in terms of gender–he knows he's a boy. I don't mean deciding what he wants to wear to school in the mornings–his color coordination skills for a first grader are down pact. But I mean in terms of color. Race.

“What am I?"

I've told him he was Black since he started to come to his own conclusions that not everyone looks the same, but it's been fairly difficult for him to understand that because his thoughts of Black looks like me, his father, and younger brother. Black is mocha colored and dark chocolate complexions to him, but caramel skin tones aren't acceptable to him. Why not? Because his classmates, older kids and family members have made him feel like light is far from right when it comes to being Black.

From the day he was born, I have been faced with commentary from friends and family alike about his “high yella" color. My partner was questioned on the side about his paternity, and I was faced with “reassurance" that my firstborn would grow into his rightful color because of his ears–a brown similar to that of mine. He never did, and it's been years of questionable responses to him standing out as "the light-skinned one," and us having to break down his paternal grandmother's color. Since the age of four, he's been uncomfortable in his skin, simply trying to feel accepted without inquiries as to whether or not he has someone white in his family.

Shutterstock

“How come I don't look like you?"

I am well-aware of the advantages that come with being a fairer skinned Black person–looked at as more favorable and desirable than a darker toned person in the workplace, in the media, and in reality, in general–but I have never thought about the opposition they may face with being labeled less than Black and having their “card" revoked, until it happened to one of mine.

Almost every day after school, I am faced with confirming the fact that my son is who he is when he tells me someone told him he couldn't color his face brown in a drawing. I have to hold conversations on how to address classmates who feel compelled to tell him he thinks he's better than the rest, not because of his smarts on a particular subject, but because of what he looks like. It confuses him, a child who isn't aware of the effects and “privilege" of colorism, but is conscious of how he is viewed in the eyes of others.

“Am I going to get darker like you guys?"

“I'm not sure, but I do know there's nothing we can do to change how you were born."

Like anything else with regards to small children, you have to repeatedly restore their confidence that they are something, even when their friends and the world tell them otherwise. I refuse to tell him that color doesn't matter and that we are ultimately all the same, that would be to deny his existence and to negate how he is going to be perceived in society. I am not blind to the truth. At 12, he is going to be a Black “man." At 17, he will be perceived as a threat to communities because of color. The light skin/dark skin debate isn't applicable then, so why now?

In a recent article in For Harriet, one writer plunged into the topic of colorism, addressing light-skin privilege and placing the responsibility to address the ugly divide on those with my son's complexion.

Although the issue of colorism is often discussed within the Black community, it is seldom addressed in a way that can or will reconcile the problem. Colorism—the remnant of slavery, colonialism, and white supremacy—is a tool that divides people of color and creates infighting where there should be solidarity and unity. In many Black families, it is the reason for contention and misunderstandings. And within the Black Diaspora, it is a reason to self-segregate.The big question that remains is: Who is responsible for reconciling the issues created by centuries of colorism that has perpetuated a set of social, financial, and economic hierarchies? In society at large, that responsibility falls upon the shoulders of Whites. However, when speaking amongst Black people—within our own families and our own communities, including those specifically between Black women—lighter-skinned Black people must shoulder that responsibility.

My son, like many other folks, will have to deal with the harsh truth that his ethnic, “Black sounding" name may possibly disqualify him from a job (his name begins with a K and ends in -von). He doesn't know about privilege, in fact, it's being introduced to him and he doesn't want it! He just wants to be accepted as Black amongst his peers, and it's unfortunate that we've separated our communities at a prevalent time like this because of skin color. When I talk about the plight of Black people in history and our expansive culture to my children, I don't break it down into what lighter skinned people have experienced versus what darker Black folks have underwent. Know why?

Because in the eyes of “them," we are all Black, regardless of shade. And while I'm not taking away from the existence of colorism because it is alive and thriving around the world, I wish that the never-ending debate on skin tone would cease as all we're doing is creating further division amongst ourselves. It isn't the job of one set group to address the divide. Mending the disconnect starts with us collectively.

Featured image by Shutterstock

Mental health awareness is at an all-time high with many of us seeking self-improvement and healing with the support of therapists. Tucked away in cozy offices, or in the comfort of our own homes, millions of women receive the tools needed to navigate our emotions, relate to those around us, or simply exist in a judgment-free space.

Keep reading...Show less
The daily empowerment fix you need.
Make things inbox official.

You may not know her by Elisabeth Ovesen – writer and host of the love, sex and relationships advice podcast Asking for a Friend. But you definitely know her other alter ego, Karrine Steffans, the New York Times best-selling author who lit up the literary and entertainment world when she released what she called a “tell some” memoir, Confessions of a Video Vixen.

Her 2005 barn-burning book gave an inside look at the seemingly glamorous world of being a video vixen in the ‘90s and early 2000s, and exposed the industry’s culture of abuse, intimidation, and misogyny years before the Me Too Movement hit the mainstream. Her follow-up books, The Vixen Diaries (2007) and The Vixen Manual: How To Find, Seduce And Keep The Man You Want (2009) all topped the New York Times best-seller list. After a long social media break, she's back. xoNecole caught up with Ovesen about the impact of her groundbreaking book, what life is like for her now, and why she was never “before her time”– everyone else was just late to the revolution.

xoNecole: Tell me about your new podcast Asking for a Friend with Elisabeth Ovesen and how that came about.

Elisabeth Ovesen: I have a friend who is over [at Blavity] and he just asked me if I wanted to do something with him. And that's just kinda how it happened. It wasn't like some big master plan. Somebody over there was like, “Hey, we need content. We want to do this podcast. Can you do it?” And I was like, “Sure.” And that's that. That was around the holidays and so we started working on it.

xoNecole: Your life and work seem incredibly different from when you first broke out on the scene. Can you talk a bit about the change in your career and how your life is now?

EO: Not that different. I mean my life is very different, of course, but my work isn't really that different. My life is different, of course, because I'm 43. My career started when I was in my 20s, so we're looking at almost 20 years since the beginning of my career. So, naturally life has changed a lot since then.

I don’t think my career has changed a whole lot – not as far as my writing is concerned, and my stream of consciousness with my writing, and my concerns and the subject matter hasn’t changed much. I've always written about interpersonal relationships, sexual shame, male ego fragility, respectability politics – things like that. I always put myself in the center of that to make those points, which I think were greatly missed when I first started writing. I think that society has changed quite a bit. People are more aware. People tell me a lot that I have always been “before my time.” I was writing about things before other people were talking about that; I was concerned about things before my generation seemed to be concerned about things. I wasn't “before my time.” I think it just seems that way to people who are late to the revolution, you know what I mean?

I retired from publishing in 2015, which was always the plan to do 10 years and retire. I was retired from my pen name and just from the business in general in 2015, I could focus on my business, my education and other things, my family. I came back to writing in 2020 over at Medium. The same friend that got me into the podcast, actually as the vice president of content over at Medium and was like, “Hey, we need some content.” I guess I’m his go-to content creator.

xoNecole: Can you expound on why you went back to your birth name versus your stage name?

EO: No, it was nothing to expound upon. I mean, writers have pen names. That’s like asking Diddy, why did he go by Sean? I didn't go back. I've always used that. Nobody was paying attention. I've never not been myself. Karrine Steffans wrote a certain kind of book for a certain kind of audience. She was invented for the urban audience, particularly. She was never meant to live more than 10 years. I have other pen names as well. I write under several names. So, the other ones are just nobody's business right now. Different pen names write different things. And Elisabeth isn’t my real name either. So you'll never know who I really am and you’ll never know what my real name is, because part of being a writer is, for me at least, keeping some sort of anonymity. Anything I do in entertainment is going to amass quite a bit because who I am as a person in my private life isn't the same a lot of times as who I am publicly.

xoNecole: I want to go back to when you published Confessions of a Video Vixen. We are now in this time where people are reevaluating how the media mistreated women in the spotlight in the 2000s, namely women like Britney Spears. So I’d be interested to hear how you feel about that period of your life and how you were treated by the media?

EO: What I said earlier. I think that much of society has evolved quite a bit. When you look back at that time, it was actually shocking how old-fashioned the thinking still was. How women were still treated and how they're still treated now. I mean, it hasn't changed completely. I think that especially for the audience, I think it was shocking for them to see a woman – a woman of color – not be sexually ashamed.

I hate being like other people. I don't want to do what anyone else is doing. I can't conform. I will not conform. I think in 2005 when Confessions was published, that attitude, especially about sex, was very upsetting. Number one, it was upsetting to the men, especially within urban and hip-hop culture, which is built on misogyny and thrives off of it to this day. And the women who protect these men, I think, you know, addressing a demographic that is rooted in trauma that is rooted in sexual shame, trauma, slavery of all kinds, including slavery of the mind – I think it triggered a lot of people to see a Black woman be free in this way.

I think it said a lot about the people who were upset by it. And then there were some in “crossover media,” a lot of white folks were upset too, not gonna lie. But to see it from Black women – Tyra Banks was really upset [when she interviewed me about Confessions in 2005]. Oprah wasn't mad [when she interviewed me]. As long as Oprah wasn’t mad, I was good. I didn't care what anybody else had to say. Oprah was amazing. So, watching Black women defend men, and Black women who had a platform, defend the sexual blackmailing of men: “If you don't do this with me, you won't get this job”; “If you don't do this in my trailer, you're going to have to leave the set”– these are things that I dealt with.

I just happened to be the kind of woman who, because I was a single mother raising my child all by myself and never got any help at all – which I still don't. Like, I'm 24 in college – not a cheap college either – one of the best colleges in the country, and I'm still taking care of him all by myself as a 21-year-old, 20-year-old, young, single mother with no family and no support – I wasn’t about to say no to something that could help me feed my son for a month or two or three.

xoNecole: We are in this post-Me Too climate where women in Hollywood have come forward to talk about the powerful men who have abused them. In the music industry in particular, it seems nearly impossible for any substantive change or movement to take place within music. It's only now after three decades of allegations that R. Kelly has finally been convicted and other men like Russell Simmons continue to roam free despite the multiple allegations against him. Why do you think it's hard for the music industry to face its reckoning?

EO: That's not the music industry, that's urban music. That’s just Black folks who make music and nobody cares about that. That's the thing; nobody cares...Nobody cares. It's not the music industry. It's just an "urban" thing. And when I say "urban," I say that in quotations. Literally, it’s a Black thing, where nobody gives a shit what Black people do to Black people. And Russell didn't go on unchecked, he just had enough money to keep it quiet. But you know, anytime you're dealing with Black women being disrespected, especially by Black men, nobody gives a shit.

And Black people don't police themselves so it doesn't matter. Why should anybody care? And Black women don't care. They'll buy an R. Kelly album right now. They’ll stream that shit right now. They don’t care. So, nobody cares. Nobody cares. And if you're not going to police yourself, then nobody's ever going to care.

xoNecole: Do you have any regrets about anything you wrote or perhaps something you may have omitted?

EO: Absolutely not. No. There's nothing that I wish I would've gone back and said to myself, no. I don’t think at 20-something years old, I'm supposed to understand every little thing. I don't think the 20-something-year-old woman is supposed to understand the world and know exactly what she's doing. I think that one of my biggest regrets, which isn't my regret, but a regret, is that I didn't have better parents. Because a 20-something only knows what she knows based on what she’s seen and what she’s been taught and what she’s told. I had shitty parents and a horrible family. Just terrible. These people had no business having children. None of them. And a lot of our families are like that. And we may pass down those familial curses.

*This interview has been edited and condensed

Let’s make things inbox official! Sign up for the xoNecole newsletter for daily love, wellness, career, and exclusive content delivered straight to your inbox.

Feature image courtesy of Elisabeth Ovesen

To be or not to be, that’s the big question regarding relationships these days – and whether or not to remain monogamous. Especially as we walk into this new awakening of what it means to be in an ethically or consensual nonmonogamous relationship. By no means are the concepts of nonmonogamy new, so when I say 'new awakening,' I simply mean in a “what comes around, goes around” way, people are realizing that the options are limitless. And, based on our personal needs in relationships they can, in fact, be customized to meet those needs.

Keep reading...Show less

Lizzo has never been the one to shy away from being her authentic self whether anyone likes it or not. But at the end of the day, she is human. The “Juice” singer has faced a lot of pushback for her body positivity social media posts but in the same vein has been celebrated for it. Like her social media posts, her music is also often related to women’s empowerment and honoring the inner bad bitch.

Keep reading...Show less

I think we all know what it feels like to have our favorite sex toy fail us in one way or another, particularly the conundrum of having it die mid-use. But even then, there has never been a part of me that considered using random objects around my house. Instinctively, I was aware that stimulating my coochie with a makeshift dildo would not be the answer to my problem. But, instead, further exacerbate an already frustrating situation…making it…uncomfortable, to say the least.

Keep reading...Show less
Exclusive Interviews
Latest Posts