I was happily scrolling through social media when I noticed Teyana as a trending topic. I am a fan of her music so I click the hashtag. To my dismay, she was not trending because a new song or dope video had dropped. Teyana Taylor and fellow singer Ari Lennox were trending topics due to the viral tweet below:
Colorism, Featurism, and the Black Woman
I never understood or really got colorism. I was never called light-skinned until college when I became very aware of an invisible line of demarcation, separation, and mistrust between black women based on skin shade. I have grown to learn more about colorism and featurism via novels by Zora Neale Hurston, Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, my own study minoring in African American Studies, articles, and YouTube testimonials based on lived experiences.
Merriam-Webster defines Colorism as:
prejudice or discrimination especially within a racial or ethnic group favoring people with lighter skin over those with darker skin. Source
For a quick cultural reference, see Spike Lee’s School Daze. There is a musical dance battle between the light-skinned ‘Wannabes” and dark-skinned ‘Jiggaboos’ that highlights the tension between black women who fall into those perceived categories. The idea is that women who are ‘light-skinned’ are seen as more desirable by men, specifically black men in this case, than darker skinned women.
There seems to a subcateogry of colorism called featurism. As noted by writer Nia Hernandez,
The official definition of featurism is “A form of architectural design based around certain accentuated features”. In other context, society accepting or preferring certain features over others (i.e. European features over African features). Source
In the case of Ari Lennox, she has previously responded to criticism of her nose or wide nostrils. Teyana Taylor has received similar critique of her facial features. If we are to keep it real, a lot of the ‘you so ugly’ jokes center around facial features that are more afrocentric or our misconception of what is afrocentric. (Africa is a huge continent of over a billion people in over 50 countries. African Americans are the decedents of enslaved Africans who mainly came from the African West Coast countries.) We typically associate wide noses, textured hair, and dark skin as African features and all of the negative ideas that have been linked to that. ‘Beautiful’ black women are those whose features align more with perceived eurocentric standards of beauty; slim noses, lighter skin, softer textured hair.
When a Joke is Not Just a Joke:
There is a malignant history of race-based pseudoscience associating black people to animals which metastasized into racist eugenics ideology. The idea that black people are animalistic or subhuman affects their treatment by others in society in many areas, such as, politics, education, healthcare, law enforcement.
I believe the ease at which other black people make these types of jokes is rooted in ignorance. Comparing a black woman to a rottweiler dog is not funny; it is also not benign. Clearly the young man making the comment and the many who cosigned his statement through likes and retweets have not heard of the Human Zoo built by King Leopold of Belgium to showcase the Congolese people to Europeans. This display only highlights the actual reign of terror and genocide inflicted by Belgium on the nation of Congo.
Comparing these two young talented women to a dog associated with being dangerous and aggressive is associating their aesthetic with danger and aggressiveness. These are the same stereotypes surrounding unarmed black men who are shot and killed at 7 times the rate of unarmed non-black males. We cannot become complicit in our own dehumanization. There is a history of this behavior being acceptable and normalized.
In this new decade, we will denormalize it.
Let’s start 2020 out right by calling out disrespect and putting haters in their place – the trash.