OPINION | The colourism conversation is long over-due but...

Let's not be mean about it

03 July 2019 - 07:00
Pearl Thusi and Bonnie Mbuli got into an argument on Twitter.
Pearl Thusi and Bonnie Mbuli got into an argument on Twitter.
Image: Via Pearl Thusi's Instagram and Bonnie Mbuli's Instagram

We’ve placed the colourism debate on the back burner for a while now… and shame the reasons are mostly valid.

I mean, we have poverty, economic freedom, femicide, racism and many other things that seemed to demand our immediate attention as black people more than addressing what benefits light complexion blacks get as compared to dark complexion blacks.

However, it has become increasingly necessary to have this conversation; the time has come to talk about colourism and its impact on the black community.

This conversation is not comfortable mostly because it feels like it’s a waste of time and is hugely anti-black development. Black people have fought each other (both physically and mentally) for so long and by now we know that “black on black” fighting only serves to take us back.

We are also aware that the enemy is happy for us to squabble amongst ourselves while they steal our resources and profit off of our identity crises. Which makes it really hard to pay attention to how much more yellow bones (forgive me if this word offends you) get ahead compared to their dark skinned counterparts.

Last week when popular celebrities and influencers Pearl Thusi and Bonnie Mbuli exchanged heated words over colourism, they ignited a debate on social media that highlighted how urgent this matter had become.

Pearl, who is entitled to her truth whether we agree or not, shared that as a light skinned black woman she’s lost a lot of acting gigs on account of not being dark enough. She vented her frustrations over the assumptions that her skin complexion gets her “everything” she wants as opposed to working hard. She wanted to let the world know that the “said” privilege of yellow bones wasn’t the reason she got to where she is.

And, that’s where the problem began… because according to the women on the other end of the brown skin shade spectrum, Pearl’s claims had no leg to stand on. Because apparently, yellow bones have apparently always had it easy.

Bonnie Mbuli raised many valid points in her rebuttal to Pearl’s views and added that for every limitation Pearl thinks she has, dark skinned black women have it ten times worse. It isn’t a lie.

Thanks to colonialism and the “superiority” afforded to white people, lighter people by default are accepted more and associated with “all things white”.

I could give a lot of examples but the best place would be to start with the dictionary definitions of the words black (and in turn dark) and white (in turn light). The lighter or close to white you are, the more you are given the benefit of the doubt.

Since you are ‘so to say’ the next great thing after white, you may have white like qualities like intelligence, capability and beauty. All the qualities black people have to prove to possess time and time again.

Privilege (a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group) is a real thing that people need to stop pretending like they don’t have. Because it does exist and for yellow bones, it starts way before they are even privy to it.

A cute baby is usually the light-skinned infant with soft “un-African” locks (just check out all the popular memes). From there, the cute yellow toddlers always get the front row when the crèche takes year-end class pictures. Most of the yellow children become the teacher’s pet and the chosen reps at inter-school beauty pageants. In high school, the yellow ones are usually the ones leading the popular girl’s entourage and the ones the boys are fighting for… and so on and so forth.

However, this is not to say “the blacker the berry the sweeter the juice” squad don’t have privilege… because they actually do. It’s not as big or as powerful as white/yellow bone privilege but it is there and hugely selective. Hence we don’t usually talk of it.

The first thing we need to know is acknowledge that it’s there like how Sho Madjozi did when she was dragged by some people for her recent BET win. Some tweeps wanted to unfairly equal her win to her skin but she understood why and the fact that she didn’t deny having that privilege was the first step in the right direction.

“Sometimes women won’t be given a chance unless they’re light skinned, half-naked, have a big body (but with a small waist,) wear a weave, etc. not just in the entertainment industry but in corporate and other spaces as well,” Sho said.

When DJ Zinhle pitched in and expressed her fears for Kairo, I felt that. That young girl can’t grow up in a world where her work is disregarded and equated to light-skin privilege. In the same breath, she needs to know that thanks to the way the world works (which is no fault of hers) she definitely has an advantage.

If we are going to have this conversation, let’s not be mean about it. Let everybody first accept their privilege and the limitations of their privilege.

Then we can talk about how to deal with it and how not to make a black versus black situation because we all stand to lose if we choose that route.