If you have a Twitter account, search the hashtag #teamlightskin or #teamdarkskin and numerous tweets will come up. Most of them, if not all, are ridiculous and posted by people who have been conditioned by today’s society. What’s interesting to see is that majority if not all of these tweets are posted by black people! Black people are teaming up against one another instead of coming together and realizing their strength as a race. Below you will find a conversation between Charles Chesnutt and Zora Neale Hurston discussing colorism within the black community.
Charles Chesnutt: Colorism is justified and constantly reinforced in society. I don’t see the problem with it. The lighter folk have more opportunities handed to them than the darker folk. The lighter folk are even more respected. Consider the Blue Vein Society from my work, “The Wife of His Youth”, where I describe a group of people who are considered socially acceptable: “By accident, combined perhaps with some natural affinity, the society consisted of individuals who were, generally speaking, more white than black. Some envious outside made the suggestion that no one was eligible for membership who was not white enough to show blue veins…if most of their members were light-colored, it was because such persons, as a rule, had had better opportunities to qualify themselves for membership” (602).
Zora Neale Hurston: Black folk and this colorism debate needs to end. I’m sorry to tell you Charles but colorism is not justified although society constantly reinforces this idea! Are we not all black? We need to stop perpetuating this idea that “light is right” within the black community. The whites used this idea during slavery times to hinder our advancement. Instead of putting one another down, we need to learn how to come together, support one another, and celebrate our blackness. As I explained in “How It Feels to Be Colored Me”: “Slavery is sixty years in the past…Slavery is the price I paid for civilization, and the choice was not with me. It is a bully adventure and worth all that I have paid through my ancestors for it. No one on earth ever had a greater chance for glory. The world to be won and nothing to be lost” (1040).
Charles Chesnutt: Being light increases the probability of allowing passing in society, which isn’t always a bad thing, might I add. It has been studied and proven that those with lighter skin receive better employment opportunities, have higher economic status, receive shorter jail sentences, and even have more success with their love lives. Many light skins, like the Blue Veins, even have social advantages. Consider Mr. Ryder from “The Wife of His Youth” and Mr. Cicero Clayton from my short, satirical work “The Matter of Principle”. Both are members of the Blue Vein Society who have extensive social networks. Their social events are highly anticipated by all in the community. Essentially, what I’m saying is lighter skinned folk assimilate better into society; therefore, their feelings of superiority among their darker counterparts are valid. The darker folk should not necessarily feel inferior but they should aspire to be as their lighter counterparts who are socially accepted.
Zora Neale Hurston: But what is it that makes the light “right”? I do not understand. My darker brothers should not aspire to be like anyone but himself, and learn to celebrate their melanin. Are you insinuating that there are dark skinned people who are not capable of achieving all these things that light skinned people are? Or are you simply acknowledging the prejudice thinking of people who share the same skin complexion? It would truly be a shame if you and some of your brethren think like this Mr. Chesnutt. Let me remind you once more: “I am not tragically colored. There is no great sorrow dammed up in my soul, nor lurking behind my eyes. I do not mind at all. I do not belong to the sobbing school of Negrohood who hold that nature somehow has given them a lowdown dirty deal and whose feelings are all hurt about it” (1041).
Charles Chesnutt: In a perfect world that would be nice, Zora. All I’m trying to say is, even though we are all black, society prefers a certain amount of blackness and that’s clear to see. So to answer your question, yes I am insinuating that dark skinned people are not capable of the same achievements as light skinned people. Back in the day, the lighter society “was a lifeboat, an anchor, a bulwark and a shield-a pillar of cloud by day and of fired by night, to guide their people through social wilderness” (603). Nothing has changed today. I would say that it is almost the duty of the lighter skin to lead the way for all blacks. Essentially, it is like a game of follow the leader. The light skins are the leaders of the black community and all others who should follow in order to live successful lives. It’s quite simple.
Zora Neale Hurston: Gracious God, that is a bold statement Charles! Lets be honest now, society doesn’t want anything to do with blacks period. But of course, there’s no way in hell that there could be a society without blacks in the U.S, so they’ve decided that if they must deal with us, they prefer the light skins. Don’t you know that this prejudice just serves to further separate our community and increase the influence and privilege of the white majority? If society prefers them light skins, how do we explain the experience of that young girl Raven Simone? She could be a member of that Blue Vein Society you were talking about. She had to tan in order to make herself look darker. Your precious lighter skin people are not immune to the acts of discrimination and prejudice; having the “ideal” skin tone is not cracked up as you make it seem.
Charles Chesnutt: Oh my dearest Zora, that was only one incident, involving one girl. And what you’re failing to realize is that after she achieved a certain skin tone, she was told to stop tanning so she wouldn’t become too dark. If the movie and entertainment industry preferred women who looked “black” or darker, then why is it that lighter skinned women are still in movies at a greater ratio than their darker counterparts? The ratio of discrimination and prejudice towards light skins and dark skins are completely un-proportional. Dark skins are singled out more and there’s no denying it. So once again, my argument is valid. Although I’m presenting you these facts, I want you to realize that ultimately, “I have no race prejudice…with malice towards none, with charity for all, we must do the best we can for ourselves and those who are to follow us” (604).
Zora Neale Hurston: You certainly have “race prejudice” Charles. Maybe you just don’t realize that because it is within the same race that you belong to. This idea you hold that light skinned people assimilate better and have all these opportunities are preposterous. Instead of trying to force your ideals on others, you need to help me create unity amongst the black community. Stop perpetuating the idea of one socially acceptable way of speaking or dressing or looking. Stop seeking white approval or acceptance. Celebrate the blackness in you and encourage others to do the same. All black people have the right to achieve greatness and the “American” dream. “It is thrilling to think-to know that for any act of mine, I shall get twice as much praise or twice as much blame. It is quite exciting to hold the center of the national stage, with the spectators not knowing whether to laugh or weep” (1041).
Charles Chesnutt: Well Zora, I must admit that this has been an interesting conversation or rather a debate to have with you. I see your points and understand your side. HOWEVER, I just can’t agree with them. If we lived in a perfect world, all black people would be able to prosper and we wouldn’t hold each other back but the history of such prejudice has deep roots and we don’t live in a perfect world. I agree with your statement that such prejudice was used during times of slavery. But the white people have conditioned all of society to think and behave in a certain way and the black people are just following suit. Until I see otherwise in the media and society, I will continue with my thinking. We can always agree to disagree on this matter.
Zora Neale Hurston: Yes this conversation has surely been interesting to say the least. I was not aware that a distinguished man such as you had thoughts that aligned so closely with the whites. Although I could not change your thinking, I am glad to see that you fully understand my point (or so you say). I may have portrayed myself as this bitter black woman but I want you to know “I do not always feel colored…I feel most colored when I am thrown against a sharp white background” (1040). “Even in the helter-skelter skirmish that is my life, I have seen that the world is to the strong regardless of a little pigmentation more or less. No, I do not weep at the world- I am too busy sharpening my oyster knife” (1041).