In the grand mosaic of American culture, picture Black people as the lunch table that had all the cool kids. Yes, we have many checking us out, from our style, to our colloquialisms. Though many are on the outer circles watching us have fun, celebrate, and recreate the beat from “Grindin” by Clipse on the lunch tables, this is a testament to how America is mesmerized by who we are as a people.
Amid the celebration of being Black, lurks an uncomfortable truth. America’s fascination with Black culture goes far beyond admiration. It’s a tangled dance with racism, colorism, and white supremacy. Racism and colorism is as much a part of Black culture as Jordans and hot combs on Easter Sunday.
Many of us have experienced these products of white supremacy firsthand. However, over the past few decades, we’ve been seeing more conversation growing around these topics in the media. The first time that I saw colorism demonstrated on television was on a Different World. On the campus of Hillman College, Kimberly Reese (played by Charnele Brown), an intelligent Hillman student, experienced colorism, which resulted in her experiencing self-doubt and inadequacy. Girlfriends also highlighted the issue of colorism in our community. Toni Childs (played by Jill Marie Jones) grappled with her own issues of colorism and its impact on her dating choices, a consequence of internalized racism.
Fast forward to the era of reality television, where the unscripted mirror of life has exposed even more troubling “isms.” Basketball Wives saw OG, a dark-skinned woman, sharing her experiences citing featurism, colorism, and texturism, while other castmates downplayed her struggles. The Real Housewives of Potomac took on colorism too, with some cast members resisting the conversation and others, like Candace Dillard-Bassett and Karen Huger, embracing it at during the reunion episode.
Recently, Love & Hip-Hop Atlanta brought racism into the spotlight. An ordinary TV spat escalated to Erica Mena calling Spice a “Blue Monkey,” sparking a nationwide debate on whether this was racism. Let’s be clear: calling a Black person a monkey is not just an insult; it’s deeply rooted in racism—during the transatlantic slave trade, slave owners reduced the value of Black people to property and animals, which was reflected in how they were treated. Calling a Black person a monkey perpetuates the harmful stereotype that Black people are less intelligent, less evolved, or inherently inferior to other races. These stereotypes have been used to justify unequal treatment and discrimination.
Mena’s defenders argue that she can’t be racist because she’s of African ancestry and was defending her child. However, it is irresponsible to overlook psychologically harmful racial slurs due to one’s proximity to Blackness. Mena has built her career on the backs of Black people and our culture ever since we saw her in Chris Brown’s 2005 music video, “Yo [Excuse Me, Miss].” However, proximity to Blackness does not make an individual less racist—it must be unlearned.
This situation has had social media in a virtual headlock for weeks. As a result, VH1 and Mona Scott Young, heeded the people’s call. After suspending Mena from the Love & Hip Hop franchise, they brought in Dr. Sarah Webb, an expert on colorism, to navigate a crucial live conversation on racism and colorism. The castmates discussed their previous experiences with racism, colorism, featurism, and texturism.
Sierra Gates recalled a significant core memory that she had about being a child and experiencing discrimination from her school bus driver. Yandy Smith openly shared the challenges she faces as a Black business owner, expressing the notion that, at times, it feels more manageable to delegate business meetings to her white colleagues to avoid the discrimination that often accompanies entrepreneurship.
Yung Joc (Jasiel Robinson) opened up about his experiences and the social media backlash he endured after straightening his hair as a brown-skinned rapper. Notably, he highlighted that while this style was embraced by many lighter-skinned male R&B artists at the time, they did not face the same level of criticism. In the live segment, the cast revisited the incident when Mena referred to Spice as a “Blue Monkey,” and it was evident that Spice had a visible and visceral response to the playback.
Dr. Webb equipped the cast with the language to understand their experiences, shedding light on microaggressions and the presence of racism and colorism in our culture.
As we continue to face these issues head-on, we pave the way for a more inclusive, equitable future. America may be mesmerized by Black culture, but it’s time we dismantle the harmful elements that have clung to it for far too long. After all, we’re not just the cool kids at the lunch table; we’re the architects of change.