A new study says if you’re black and successful, people will probably remember you with the complexion of, say, Leona Lewis. But people are just crazy, right? Wrong. The implications of this finding, discovered by researchers at San Francisco State, is worth a RHONJ-style table flip and here’s why.
Racism and colorism, the practice of basing social status on skin tone, are palpable constructions in American society, African-American culture specifically, and the world at large. In the United States, these ideas are rooted in slavery — isn’t everything? — where whites denigrated blacks to the point of declaring them 3/5th of a human being in their quest to justify treating others like Lupita Nyong’o in 12 Years A Slave. If you’ve convinced yourself that another person is less than human, it’s fine to demoralize, rape, torture and enslave that person for hundreds of years because they aren’t like you (because you, of course, are human). In kind, the closer a person of color's complexion is to white, the better — more human — they must be. The problem is, when slavery (and Jim Crow segregation) ended, these rationalizations did not.
Around the world, we see proof of these rationalizations everyday: policies targeting people of color, situations illustrating that finding a job as a black person is harder, the bullying of dark skin women from a young age. Just watch a clip from the 2013 documentary, Dark Girls, where woman after woman shares her childhood wish for lighter skin — one even asked her mother to put bleach in her bath water — and thereby social acceptance from her peers.
Remember Kenneth B. Clark's infamous "Doll Test" in 1940s that assessed segregation's effect on black children? The most memorable note was how black kid after black kid who thought the brown dolls, which looked like then, were unattractive and chose to cling to the white doll instead. A New York teenager named Kiri Davis recreated that social study in 2007 with the same results. That is a sort of self-hate created by a variety of recurring factors that result in Americans equating success and intelligence with lighter skin. It’s fucked up.
Dr Ben-Zeev continued that a skin tone memory bias highlights how memory protects a ‘darker is more negative' belief.
He believes that the participants unconsciously distorted the black individuals' skin tone to appear lighter to fit with these perceptions.
From India to Africa, companies like Proctor and Gamble peddle skin lightening creams and the idea that the closer one’s skin tone is to a stereotypical english rose — think Cate Blanchett — the closer to happiness, success and love. Even the dating world can't hide from this social construction, as one study found that men stereotypically look for women with lighter skin tones. And you know what's really bullshit? I just saw a new ad for a skin bleaching cream called “Whitenicious” today in my Facebook newsfeed. I couldn’t make that name up. In the advertisement Nigerian and Cameroonian musician Dencia appears to be a white-washed cross between LaToya Jackson, Nicki Minaj and Pamela Anderson as she poses, hawking a product that promises to be a "7 day fast acting dark spot remover."
Please kill me now.
Just one week until Dencia’s fans can be lighter and happier like her, right? Maybe they'll find better jobs, more money and love too? Sigh. Now I just want to look at Lupita Nyong'o slaying the Golden Globes red carpet to make the world better.
Image via Getty