Skin Color and Self-Esteem

by Marina Sata Khan

The chapter presented research that showed that those with lighter skin tone had been able to “achieve” more, in terms of income, jobs (even within the “Black” race), yet Black women have overall high self-esteem. To be honest, I was not surprised at all with the latter discovery.

Watching USA TV shows, Black men tend to be portrayed as criminals, gangsters, and rappers from the ghettos (other than the President). But on the other hand, I recall that Black women were portrayed simply as successful “strong” women on TV that are confident, well-spoken with an outgoing attitude. Such examples are Oprah Winfrey, Tyra Banks, Naomi Campbell, Whoopi Goldberg and Beyoncé. All these women tend portray an image of the “Strong independent black woman”, a certain identity that seems to promote and encourage high self esteem amongst black women.

Not having ever been to the USA (except for the state of Hawai’i), it was not until recent that I was truly aware of a Black and White divide. As a young child, I had been engrained with the image of ‘Sesame Street’ where to every blonde ponytail girl there was a boy with a black Afro. They lived in the same flats and played with each other on the stairs along with their Hispanic and Asian friends. ‘Arthur’ was also such TV show, although they were all animals – I believed that Arthur, a smart loveable mouse with glasses, was a Black boy, and he had many friends of different races. As a child, I thought that the USA was a perfect multiracial country.

But as I grew older I realized that this was all “just a lie”, around the time I became familiar with rap music and began to watch more than morning children shows. At school I learnt about Black slavery, but along with the Civil Rights Movement, making it seem that there was something in the past, but that did not matter anymore as things were all mended now. However, I continued to become aware of the discrimination that still existed, especially through exposure of US media. I began to think about if Britney Spears or Lindsay Lohan was African American… I hardly doubt their court cases would simply be written as some “naughty party girl” issues under the gossip column. I remember hearing Naomi Campbell’s cases of assault on the afternoon news, and the image around was that she was completely “evil”, everyone conveniently forgetting her efforts that even led her to be referred to as an “honorary granddaughter” by Nelson Mandela.

The chapter went even deeper, into the issue of skin tone even within the Black community. This was the point that was shocking to me rather than the part about self esteem. As long as there is a group that benefits from a certain characteristic in society, i.e. fair skin color, I feel as though people who have lighter skin would be advantaged and the darkest of the darkest pushed to the bottom. This is certainly another form of discrimination, and doesn’t this need to be addressed alongside racism?

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