Poor India Arie. Homegirl tried to switch up her style for a spell, step out of the earthy maxi dresses and play around a little with a new look, and see what happens? All this controversy about her lightening her skin and selling out stirred up from one lil’ ol’ photo shoot for one lil’ ol’ song. India has been strumming her guitar and crooning on behalf of beautiful brown skin since way back when, but a stumble into questionable studio lighting and everyone’s standing on her throat. I bet she’ll think twice before she deviates from her formula ever again. Back to the gauzy prairie skirts and clay-colored backdrops she goes.
The conversation about colorism has been picked apart from just about every angle and India’s washed out complexion is an obvious catalyst for the latest round of it. She vehemently denies bleaching herself down to fairer-skinnededness, and I doubt she’d ever even consider it because her whole shtick is about the journey to self-love. Like others before it, justified or not, this debacle will eventually lose steam and die down until the next unfortunate celebrity martyrs themself by popping up looking too café au lait and we’re back to speculating again.
Despite intelligent dialogue about how it affects our women, our men, our relationships, our psyches, our perceptions of ourselves and our images in the media, it’s still an issue, a more regularly recurring one for some of us than others. Elevated discourse about colorism and the goings-on in everyday Blackdom keep missing each other. That doesn’t mean we should stop trying to effect change, of course. We can promote an appreciation for every shade, we can try to rewire our boys to see the beauty in all complexions, we can teach our girls to be proud of the spectrum of brownness. That’s all good stuff.
We also have an often undertapped power as Black women to call out colorism for the archaic hotmessness that it is—whether it individually affects us or not. Most sisters have had some kind of experience with it, either presented as an in-your-face insult or a backhanded compliment, like the time a blind date praised me for being “just the right complexion” and cooed that my skin looked good against his. As if anybody with a whole mind wants to be big-upped for that. That, and the fact that he spent three-quarters of dinner time boring a hole into my décolletage, firmed up his spot on the reject list.
Naturally, I don’t dishonor the negative experiences light-skinned women have had with other people’s complexion complexes. There are plenty on both sides, and we could volley horror stories back and forth about foolish folks who’ve offloaded their personal prejudices and generalizations based solely on skin tone. But I’m also aware that the bulk of the hurt from colorism falls on darker women, who get it from their own people as much as they get it from society as a whole. There is such a thing as light privilege and, left unacknowledged, it can fuel unnecessary divisiveness among Black women. I’ve seen it happen personally.
One segment of the sisterhood talking about their run-ins with colorism is like shouting into the wind. It’s not a showdown to see who’s been more deeply affected by it. But it’s important for sisters of all shades to understand, empathize with and appreciate the experiences we’ve all had with colorism, and I especially think it’s critical that lighter-skinned women stand up for the beauty of browner sisters. It’s essential to the healing. We have to celebrate and respect the beauty of who we are, and if the rest of the world won’t do that, the least we can do is extend that courtesy to each other.
Janelle Harris is a writer, blogger and editor, and the owner of The Write or Die Chick , a boutique editorial services agency. She’s also a single mother, a proud Washington, DC girl and a longsuffering Kanye West fan. Chat her up on Facebook or Twitter.