There’s a video circulating Twitter right now of parents meeting their baby girl for the first time and making quite cutting remarks on her appearance, specifically the darkness of her skin. The clip, of YouTubers The Prince Family, wasn’t even thirty seconds long but it left me with a whole range of negative emotions, mostly anger and frustration that in 2019 we’re still so obsessed with eurocentric appearances.
I admit that I don’t know much about the Prince Family, or Youtube families in general. But I do know that when the whole world is telling you, subliminally or not, that there is something wrong with your appearance, that the colour of your skin is something to be ashamed of, something you should change if you could, the last people who should be enforcing this mindset are the people who brought you into the world. The people meant to raise you up in love and confidence shouldn’t be the ones telling you, not even an hour after your birth, that they’re disappointed in the way you turned out.
Colourism is toxic.
I am a black woman in the UK existing in mostly white spaces. I know what it’s like to be judged by the colour of my skin before I’ve even had a chance to prove my merit. I know what it’s like to wonder, even agonize over whether a bad encounter or rejection was something to do with me, the other person or the fact that I’m black. And while prejudice stings in white spaces, it hurts all the more in the places where you’re supposed to feel space. I’ve heard them both and “you’re pretty for a dark girl” always cuts deeper than “you’re pretty for a black girl.”
Growing up black in the UK, you’re always told that it won’t be easy. Your parents teach you how to present yourself in the world so that you’ll be accepted. They make sacrifices to ensure you get the opportunities that they never had, that your white peers were given from birth. They tell your brother not to wear their hoods up when they go out so that they aren’t perceived as a threat, they tell your sisters not to be too loud lest they come across as a nuisance or a stereotype. You’re taught to perform to avoid rejection. But what happens when that rejection comes from your own community, your safe space?
“She’s gonna be dark.”
I think what shocked me most about the Prince Family video was the fact that their child, Nova, hadn’t even been in the world for a full hour before having colourist hate spoken over her. No one’s told her about prejudice, about racism, sexism or homophobia. She hasn’t yet discovered anything about herself that the world will tell her to hate or to change, and yet, some of the first words spoken over her were words of self-hate. Everyone in the room is disappointed that she isn’t as light as her mother and sighs and shrugs when asked if they’re okay with her brown eyes as if to say ‘well, what can you do?’. It takes a nurse, a stranger, to tell them that their little girl is beautiful.
I don’t understand it. How do you carry a pregnancy for months, go through a safe delivery and bring new life into the world only to turn around and act like the colour of her skin is something you’ll just have to tolerate? How do you have a child with a dark skin man and complain when your child resembles him?
The matriarch of the Prince family, Biannca, has since said that the reason she was so troubled by her daughter’s brown eyes is that brown-eyed people don’t receive compliments. In another video, she tells of how, as a child, her dark-eyed sisters were never complimented but her green eyes received praise. I find it sad that as she uses this as an excuse for her feelings, she doesn’t recognise the blatant colourism she is perpetuating. She defends her colourist mindset all the while failing to recognise that she too is a victim of colourism herself.
Colourism isn’t just harmful to dark skin individuals, but to all involved. It warps mindsets and perpetuates the idea that value and eurocentric appearance are mutually inclusive. It pits black people against each other and raises up people, like Biannca Prince, who find their self worth in how close to white they appear.
Colourism doesn’t speak pride or confidence in your blackness. Colourism says that the more black you appear, the less you have to be proud of. Colourism says that if you’re born dark you need to drop whatever else makes you ‘too black’. It tells you to stop being ratchet, ghetto, loud. It tells you to buy bleach, moderate your accent, contour your nose. It tells you to marry white or light so that your children don’t have to suffer being as dark as you. It tells you that no matter what, you don’t matter as much as the light skin folk beside you.
I am tired. We are tired.
I have no doubt that little Nova’s family love her. How could they not? But when the world – employers, the media, the entertainment industry – is telling us that dark skin is something to be ashamed of, that black voices should only be heard when they belong to someone with light skin, I refuse to accept it in black spaces. I will seek out voices that affirm rather than tear down. I will work on my own bias and challenge it in others wherever I see it.
I wish the Prince family all the best. I hope that their children grow up proud of their skin, their eyes, their culture and their identity. I hope that one day soon, the black community recognises colourism for what it is; hurtful and unnecessary and that we raise up children who never have to doubt how loved they are.