Even though the term colourism, otherwise known as shadeism, has gained popularity in recent years, the concept is deeply rooted in the colonial days of slavery. Defined as a form of prejudice or discrimination in which persons are treated differently based on the social meanings attached to skin color, this "light skin versus dark skin issue" has had a damaging effect on the psyche of young black Jamaicans today. However, according to Cedric Herring "colourism operates in two different ways: interracially and intraracially. Interracial colourism occurs when members of one racial group make distinctions based upon skin color between members of another racial group. Intraracial colourism occurs when members of a racial group make distinctions based upon skin color between members of their own race" (3). While I will be analysing both forms of colourism, the focus of this thesis will be on intraracial colourism, specifically within the Jamaican community.
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After the abolition of slavery in Jamaica, the immersion of a middle and lower class was integrated into the hierarchical structure of Jamaica that previously only claimed whites as the elite. As a result, due to the preferential treatment that was awarded to mulattoes-a treatment that allowed them to have an education-, they became the ruling middle class with the then former black slaves turned peasants as the lower class. To make matters worse, the historical and stereotypical depiction of Africans as ugly, stupid and uncivilized and Europeans as pretty, intelligent and superior only served to brainwash black Jamaicans into thinking that they are the inferior race. Thus, the tendency to perceive or behave toward members of a racial category based on the lightness or darkness of their skin tone has resulted in, not only the segregation of a people within a specific ethnic group, but it has also created, amongst the African Diaspora of Jamaica, extreme methods through which the they will do anything to attain as many refined European attributes as possible.
According to William Lynch's letter The Making of a Slave, his 'secret' to controlling slaves is by pitting them against each other, by exploiting differences such as age and skin color that would, after some time, sow dissension amongst them, one that would last for many years to come. While there has been extensive research and academia founded on the topic of racism within the West Indian context during the colonial period, only a few have examined intraracial skin color hierarchies amongst the black race and even less amongst the African Diaspora of Jamaica in the 21st century. It is therefore, the purpose of this study to show how stereotypes and perceptions about light and dark skin signify an inheritance of similar attitudes documented in earlier generations of black Jamaicans, which in turn, sheds light on the ever-present discrimination that continues takes place on a day to day basis in their lives.
It is my hope that this study will address the following:
Demonstrate the link of Jamaica's colonial past to colourism today
Show the media's role toward preference and how it has affected black Jamaicans
Explain the extreme measures taken in order to be brown
Many historians (Henriques 1953; Norris 1962) have acknowledged the fact that slavery has had adverse psychological effects on Africans (Danieli 394), especially those of a darker complexion. As such, the preferential treatment that was awarded to mulatto slaves (James and Harris 234) has been able to transcend years of black empowerment movements in such a way that it is clearly evident in Jamaica's society today through colourism (Herring 3). According to Carolyn Cooper, the remnants of Jamaica's colonial past are ever present in the social interactions of its people today, no matter the context. Her argument is further supported by Deborah Gabriel (28) who has studied race relations among Jamaicans and attests to the fact that colour prejudice is visible in the society's socio-economic environment.
Moreover, Antonio Gramsci's cultural hegemony theory, which is explored in the works of Boggs (39), Gail Dines and Jean M. Humez (62), adds another dimension to the analysis of colourism by stating that the superimposition of one culture over another negatively affects their already established social structure. It is common knowledge therefore that the white ideal- through which all analyses of colourism is based- expresses the view that blacks are the inferior race and whites, the superior (Kardiner et. al 315). Even Fanon's psychoanalytical theory of racism and the dehumanization of African slaves in the colonial epoch support the idea that white supremacy has led black people to develop an inferiority complex. Yet, despite the call for black unity among the African race advocated by numerous social and political groups such as the Pan-African movements and Rastafarianism (Caravantes 2003), there are still messages being transmitted that stipulate that light skin people are better than their darker counterparts.
Carl Boggs lends aid to this belief through his analysis in the role of mainstream media. His study shows how the "elite" in society have been able to perpetuate the ideology that whites are the superior race (39). On the other hand, however, Margaret Andersen and Howard Taylor examine the way in which light skin black people are depicted as elite in their own right when compared to their darker counterparts (53). Consequently, the association between white people and light skin people as more intelligent, more beautiful and more civilized can be found numerous media outlets in Jamaica. To add to that theory is the analysis of Buju Banton's song "Love me browning" by Patricia Mohammed who stated that his song has reinforced and reflected the idea that men value the colour of light skin in women in Jamaica (35).
This preference has led to the exacerbation of black women's self-esteem who now take it upon themselves to bleach their skin in an attempt to seem more desirable. According to Natasha Barnes, not only is skin colour used as a handicap to gain social access, it is also seen as a form of economic mobility and stability among the light skin people of Jamaica (*). Therefore, it isn't necessary that black people work as hard as they do to move up the socio-economic ladder because decent job qualifications are not more valuable than the colour of one's skin (Miller, ).
However, after having researched the subject for this thesis project, I found that there was an abundance of information based on African American experiences along with the numerous studies which have proven that people with darker skin are subjugated to more prejudice than their lighter skinned counterparts. In fact, very little of the information found related to the theme of colourism as "a system of language, internal scripts and external practices that govern the everyday interactions and experiences of young black men and women as it relates to skin tone"  in the contemporary society of Jamaica.
While I do agree with many historian sociologists, such as Fernando Henriques and Katrin Norris, who have highlighted the topic of skin politics in Jamaica, I intend to go further by examining the phenomenon of 'colourism' as it relates to present day interactions and experiences. By examining the historical and contemporary significance of skin color, it will be proven that discrimination based on skin color is a present reality that will assume increasing significance in the future as current understandings of race and racial classifications disintegrate.
Furthermore, for the purpose of this thesis I have taken the liberty of looking at numerous primary and secondary sources, such as those written by Marcus Garvey, Dr. Eric Williams, Francis O.C, Anthony Richmond, and David Lowenthal. They have all have given me great insight into historical context of race relations during the colonial period and how black people reacted to this unjust treatment through the various black power movements, especially those executed by Rastafarians.
On the other hand, however, due to the fact that this thesis is based on race relations within a specific social group in contemporary Jamaica, many of the research executed had to be done via questionnaires and face to face group discussions with Jamaican men and women. As a result, their responses have allowed me to fill in the information that was lacking in the secondary sources. Through the use of questionnaires, I was able to target audience of ten people in an efficient amount of time. Nevertheless, as with all data collection, some of opinions expressed warranted a deeper analysis of the subject at hand. Consequently, I resorted to focus groups of r people and individual interviews so that greater insight would be given as to why people had certain opinions; to know how they thought or felt about this topic, as it is a term that is rarely used in public spheres, and even less so in private ones.
To conclude, this research speaks to the gaps in empirical research and theoretical conceptualizations of colourism by providing an in-depth exploration of skin tone bias and discrimination among African Jamaicans. Additionally, it seeks to develop a foundation for a theoretical framework that captures the key features of colourism in the 21st century. As such, an examination of race relations will show whether or not there is a preference for 'lighter' skin in Jamaica, and if so the extent to which one would go to achieve features that approximate a Caucasian appearance.
The origins of colourism
"The whites claim superiority, as is done all over the world, and, unlike other parts, the coloured, who ancestrally are the illegitimate off-springs of black and white, claim a positive superiority over the blacks. They train themselves to believe that in the slightest shade the coloured man is above the black man and so it runs right up to whiteâ€¦"
-Marcus Garvey ()
"Colourism exists everywhere in the African Diaspora where slavery or colonization brought with it the imposition of western ideology and white supremacy," (Gabriel, 25). Approximately six hundred thousand Africans came to Jamaica from the Bight of Biafra, the Gold Coast, West Central Africa and the Bight of Benin between 1533 and 1807 (http://www.nlj.gov.jm/NLJ/files/u1/slave_trade_bibliography.pdf, 15/03/2013) to work as slaves on the sugar cane plantation. Upon their arrival, European plantation owners established themselves as superior based on a paradigm through which Africans were biologically and legally inferior because of their skin colour and as such they were forced to endure hard labour. This racist social system, known as white supremacy, resulted in Negro subordination through white domination. However, with the start of miscegenation between white slave owners and African slaves- through rape- a new racial group was created which in turn created a new paradigm. "â€¦it was widely held that slaves of colour should not be employed in field labour and that they should be given preference in the training of tradesman, 'the flower of the slave population.'" (Higman, 189).
Mulatto children, although most of them were not freed, they were considered better than the black population because of their close proximity to the whites. As a result, they were offered an education, an opportunity through which they held an even greater advantage over the African slaves. Thus, when the sugar plantations experienced a decline in revenue and plantation owners were sinking into debt, some of them left Jamaica, retuning to live in England off the money they had earned through the hard labor of the Africans. "This movement off the island by the whites left a void in the social hierarchy, which mulattos came to fill" (Gabriel, 27). Consequently, gradations in skin colour through social stratification allowed these mulatto men and women to assume a higher status, socially and economically, according to the lightness of their skin tone.
This hierarchical structure persisted even after the complete emancipation of slavery in 1838 with the introduction of freed slaves as lower class, mulattoes as middle class and whites as the elite.
Yet, even after more than 200 hundred years of freedom, the idea that a person's destiny is predetermined by their skin tone proves that this historical continuum still exists. Colourism is so deeply embedded in the structure and organization of Caribbean societies that people identify themselves and form relationships according to the standards implemented by the white British (Flynn, 2011). While the 21st century has seen many changes with regards to race discrimination, interpersonal and intrapersonal colourism continues its reigns in Jamaican society. This is ever present in the social interactions among young adults and children who experience discrimination because they are too dark or preference because they are light skin. A standard that is further highlighted by a 22 year old male interviewee who recounted a particular situation in high school where a girl told him outright that she would not date him because he was too dark.
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"â€¦because internalized racism is so firmly entrenched in the consciousness of black people, they are often unaware that they have a colour complex" (Gabriel, 22). "Browning", which replaces terms like mulatto, terceroon, quadroon, mustee, musteefino used in the colonial period is "a fabled ideal of female beauty and male power in Jamaica society: the just right mix of white and black" (http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120122/focus/focus5.html, 12/03/2013). However, this term 'browning' also reduces the person being referred to as a mere object, a trophy, a prized possession; they are only seen for the colour of their skin and the socio-economic status attached to "their nearness to European characteristics and distance from the African" (Henriques, *). As a result, many men and women in Jamaica today are obsessed with trying to attain this ideal because they see it as a sign of upward mobility from their destitute stations. Therefore, while it is totally understandable that each person is entitled to their preference, the fact remains that this preference is based on a premise which reinforces the idea that black is undesirable and light skin is ideal.
This train of thought is in keeping with the social stratification theory that has been interwoven in the socio-historical tapestry of Jamaica. For a mother to insist that her daughter, black or coloured, "gone to buckra [master] house, gone live" so that she "gone lift de colour" was seen as a sign of pride during the days of slavery (Henriques,*). Even now, there are parents who prefer their sons and daughters "marry white" (Norris, *) because they see it as a chance for their children to move upward in a society that acknowledges and propels the worth of the 'white bias'. Consequently, these children have grown up with the idea that a dark skin tone limits one's chances to a better life and a lighter complexion is the pathway to success. An ideology that is further cemented by the responses given to a survey conducted on this theme of colourism, more specifically preference for lighter skin in Jamaica, through which the majority of respondents despite age, social class and education believe that if one is fairer in complexion, they are automatically offered more opportunities.
Likewise is the case for young adults transitioning from school life to independent status by entering the workforce. "I am not surprised that certain employers request light-skinned individuals for recruitmentâ€¦Appearances do matter in recruitment, and generally speaking, Jamaicans are unable to see the beauty in a man or woman of African descent" (http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20110914/letters/letters1.html, 12/03/2013). Explicit discrimination in the hiring process of many firms is a cause for concern within the Jamaican job market. Historically, darker men and women were not allowed to work in banks, government offices or at the front desk of private businesses until the 1960s (Gabriel, 33). Yet, even though change has been fought for by many involved in the Pan-African and Rastafarian movement, the existence of companies that openly state that they want light skin applicants does nothing for the advancement of a country whose motto recites "Out of many, One people."
The Acquired Anti-Own Race Syndrome created by Clinton Hutton, a lecturer in political philosophy and culture at the University of the West Indies, Mona refers to the "the philosophy and psychology of assumed European world cultural superiority expressed by African peoples in their relations with each other and in perceiving and operating in the world" (Hutton, ). Consequently, this ideology expresses the views that both socially and economically, Jamaicans have used the predetermined white supremacy standards to interact with each other. With this in mind, it is no wonder why dark skin Jamaicans think it necessary to try to elevate themselves out of their situations. They are measured by unrealistic goals designed to keep them at the bottom of hierarchical structure and they will remain there if the damaged psyche of those who reinforce these ideals don't change. If not, black Jamaicans will never truly be able to gain access to decent jobs based on merit alone as light skin far outweighs education and training skills (Miller, 3164).
"Many sociologists have argued that the mass media promote narrow definitions of who people are and what they can be" (Andersen and Taylor, 53). For centuries the media has influenced and propagated the "ideal body image" for men and women across the globe, which in turn affects their personality, how they interact with one another and their health (Lubkin, 197). Even long before the advent of technological advances the global population has been exposed to paintings of idyllic body images as can be seen in the works of Rubens, Renoir and Raphael who influenced cultural standards for the ultimate body type in their respective eras (Kirsh, 126). As such, one shouldn't be surprised by the outright and even subliminal messages (Jackson, 350) projected to the masses that stipulate what is beautiful and what is not. Televisions, magazines, music and more notably in contemporary societies, the internet, have transmitted these idealistic images that would later epitomize an era. Intrinsically, it is these major multibillion-dollar media conglomerate companies that concentrate their control on what is assimilated on a day to day basis. Their promotion on what is culturally acceptable has had an explosive effect on the way people think about themselves and about others.
According to Italian communist Antonio Gramsci's theory on cultural hegemony- through which he broadens the materialist Marxist theory- the ruling class within a culturally diverse society superimposes its values, whether social, economical, political or religious, upon the lower classes, who in turn buy into the status quo operating against their established social structure (Dines and Humez, 62). This dominance of one class or group over another can be used to explain the way in which media is used as a tool by the 'elites' to "perpetuate their power, wealth and status [by popularizing] their own philosophy, culture and morality" (Boggs, 39). As a result, through analysis of the history of all forms of media leading up to the 21st century, one can easily stipulate that European features and fair skin are more pervasive- no matter the race-, youth is more accepted and beauty is whatever and whomever can approximate to both these ideals. A correlation can then be made between media and the black ugliness/white beauty binary of imperialism and slavery that has spawned a racialized beauty empire (Rodríguez, BoatcÄƒ, Costa, 196). And it is this correlation that highlights the conditions under which black people must perform in order to be successful; the same correlation that stipulates black beauty in the 21st century is a paradox.
Marcus Garvey advocated for Black Nationalism whereby he encouraged African people to be proud of their race and see the beauty in their own kind (Caravantes, 2003). This movement de-centered white beauty's iconicity through anti colonialist aesthetics focused on natural hair and black self-love so as to redefine blackness through positive valuation (Rodríguez, BoatcÄƒ, Costa, 198). In collaboration with Rastafarianism, these Pan-Africanism Movements promoted ideologies like "black is beautiful" and "I'm black and I'm proud", however, when mainstream media daily bombards the population with images that say otherwise, what is this country "Out of many, one people" supposed to believe? The idea that political, social and economical institutions have bought into this perception of superiority/inferiority within the African race only serves to reinforce this long standing belief.
Advertising agencies have projected this standard at all levels in the Jamaican society. According to Carolyn Cooper, colourism can be found even at tertiary level education. It is the faces of lighter skin males and female students that are used to advertise the institutions at an international level, whereas the darker students were found in the local yellow pages. She further explains another situation in which family oriented advertisements display images of a dark skin father and light skin mother with a dark skin son and light skin daughter. "Social ads also show the same thing. They big-up all the light skin girls them. Yuh can't leave yuh house without seein' them brownins' on billboards, in the news, on party flyers, in magazines. They dominate the industry," says a 23 year old 'cocoa coloured' female interviewee who resides in Trinidad pursuing her bachelor's degree at the University of the West Indies. The idea that men are not as affected by skin colour, hair texture and facial features as their female counterparts, demonstrates their social and economical mobility in a patriarchal society despite the colour of their skin. As a result, it is only the representations of dark-skinned African women as those who are not ideal that is subliminally and openly transmitted.
Indubitably, when one references Jamaican media, its music is highly influential, beginning with the famous Bob Marley, who put Jamaica on the map musically, with songs that referenced peace and black unity. However, when Buju Banton came out with his song "Love me browning" in 1992, consisting of the following lyrics: "Me love me car, me love me bike, me love me money and ting but most of all me love me browning," it caused an uproar within the Jamaican society who accused him of denigrating the image of black women by promoting a colonial mindset (Mohammad, 35). Yet, even though he sang "Love Black woman" within that same year as a response to all the negative comments he was receiving, it didn't hide the fact that he was expressing the views of many Jamaican men who had a penchant for lighter-skinned women.
Likewise in contemporary Jamaica, with the popularity of skin bleaching in songs from Vybz Kartel, who has also bleached his skin colour because he wanted to show off his tattoos ()*, Jamaicans are bombarded with the views that having a lighter complexion is the way to go. Music videos use women that are "fairer" in complexion when the song is about love and for dancehall music the predominantly darker skinned women are used to gyrate. Objectified as a sexual creature a darker woman isn't seen as someone a man would want to build a life with because she is considered only within a sexual context. While there have been some transitions in music where dark skin women are used with terms of endearment, the majority of the popular music videos shown still illustrate the European influenced 'cookie cutter' image of women to sell their songs.
The media is all about selling goods and selling fantasies is one of their products. It presents men with the ideal woman and vice versa. As such, lighter complexioned men and women, as depicted in all forms of media, are seen as 'trophies'. According to Natasha Barnes, skin colour still serves as a handicap in access to good service, securing decent jobs, housing and other social amenities (Barnes, 286). Thus, a higher complexioned woman is seen as the symbol of a man's success whereas the man is seen as a way out of poverty and an elevation of social status for women. As such, the following statement given by a 20 year old anonymous female in response to a question about social interactions in Jamaica and the perceptions men and women have of each other, will clearly provide insight into the minds of young African men and women of contemporary Jamaica: "If you have a light skin man in Jamaica, especially if you come from inner city Jamaica, is like you have gold. You're introduced to a new world, you meet new people, have more opportunities because his world is completely different to your own."
"You can't force anyone to think black is beautiful when the evidence around them testifies to the contrary. And which of our leaders are going from a rich mahogany to a high yellow shade? The poor can only afford bleaching creams, but the well-to-do have other means..." (http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120226/news/news4.html, 25/01/2013) With particular attention to the Jamaican government ministers and officials, one sees that darker hued representatives are a minority. While it is not the fault of these officials to possess the education necessary that would allow them the chance to enter into such high esteemed positions the questions remain: Were they offered more opportunities due to their skin complexion? With such a high percentage of those who were given questionnaires saying "Yes" (82%) a lighter skin hue does open more doors for you, doubt still lingers. However, when newspaper ads highlight the fact that there are still proprietors "requesting that trainees be brown or light-skinned as a prerequisite for employment in their firms" (http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20110911/lead/lead1.html , 02/02/2013) it supports the idea that discrimination persists to this day. Certainly, the government has spoken out against any form of skin prejudice and promised to take action, even urging people to "boycott businesses lacking black faces", but "few express confidence that the culprits will ever be named," (http://www.ipsnews.net/2011/09/jamaica-wanted-light-skinned-only-please/, 02/02/2013).
A Darker Shade of Pale
Weighing about 8 pounds (3.6 kilograms) on average and covering some 22 square feet (2 square meters), the human skin is the largest organ of the body, composed of a complex system of cell layers, nerves and glands that not only protects them from but also connects them to the outside world. However, what makes an African person's skin colour different to that of a white person, is the amount of melanin produced in the epidermis. As such, darker-skinned people produce more numerous and deeper-colored melanin particles than their fairer-skinned counterparts, which in turn acts as a benefit since they don't need as much bone-strengthening vitamin D, produced through exposure to UV rays (http://science.nationalgeographic.com/science/health-and-human-body/human-body/skin-article/, 09/03/2013).
Skin bleaching, also known as skin lightening or skin whitening, on the other hand, refers to the practice of using chemical substances in an attempt to reduce the prominence of skin discolorations and even lighten skin tone by lessening the concentration of melanin produced. This whitening process can help lighten a tan, fade scars, and alleviate dark patches on the skin through the use of topical skin lightening creams and lotions that often contain plant extracts that have bleaching effects on the skin or chemical agents such as hydroquinone, azelaic acid, and retinoic acid. While several chemicals have been shown to be effective in skin whitening, some have proved to be toxic or have questionable safety profiles. Their harmful effects add to the controversy surrounding their use and the impacts they have on certain ethnic groups who apply skin lighteners to their entire body so as to achieve a lighter complexion. But this can be very risky as the active ingredient in some bleaching creams contain steroids or mercury, a toxic agent that can lead to mercury poisoning causing serious psychiatric, neurological, and kidney problem (http://www.webmd.com/beauty/face/skin-lightening-products, 09/03/2013)
With a history that can be dated as far back as the Elizabethan age of powder and paint (Williams, 1957), the elaborate white make-up of Japanese Geishas (http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2004/apr/04/japan.nicolemowbray, 08/03/2013) or even the deep rooted desire Indians to have pale skin because it will that is entwined with India's complex social hierarchy or caste system (Gomes and Westerhof 2001), it is evident that skin bleaching has existed for thousands of years. Yet, despite the warnings given by health officials to educate the masses about the dangers of skin bleaching creams, there are millions of people worldwide who don't heed these messages, particularly Jamaicans, who in fact, have reached dangerous proportions, particularly in the country's slums. For them, a lighter complexion is seen as a ticket to upward mobility: socially, professionally and economically. As a result, they paste their entire bodies with white cream, don a track suit and intermittently try to refrain from the sun's darkening powers. The various homemade concoctions such as toothpaste, curry powder, milk powder, household bleach, aloe vera and cornmeal that are used as part of their skin-lightening routine, a routine that some people do up to three times a day, is a way for them to achieve their goal (http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20091115/news/news3.html, 12/03/2013).
Frantz Fanon (1952), the Martinique-born French psychiatrist, used psychoanalytical theory to explore the psyche of the Negro as shaped by the Eurocentric world in which he lives, especially in a colonial context vis-à-vis skin colour. Although he does not actually reference skin bleaching, he does speak of the inferiority complex engendered in the mind of Black people, who try to adapt to and imitate the culture of the colonizer so as to attain some sort of identity, especially after having been forcibly removed from their own African roots. With that in mind, the attempt to assign color privilege based upon proximity to whiteness by circumnavigating the parameters of the white/non-white binary racial hierarchy is the spectrum upon which Pigmentocracy, and therefore colourism, is based (Blay, 5). It is the unconscious and unnatural training of black people from a young age to associate blackness with wrongness that has given rise to this widespread global phenomenon of skin whitening.
The idea that one's destiny is intertwined with the colour of one's skin is ludicrous to some, however, in the lives of these Jamaicans, it is as absolute as night and day. Synonymous with the practice of slaves in the past, men and women are currently trying to ameliorate their socio-economic standing by marrying into families of a higher 'breed', but the only way to even reach this gateway of social mobility, according to them, is to physically alter their looks as well. Popular Jamaican proverbs like "anything too black nuh good," or "when yuh black yuh affi stick back and if yuh brown come around" reinforce the high degree of colour prejudice existing in contemporary Jamaica today.
The White ideal (Kardiner & Ovesey, 1962) which includes pale skin, long, straight hair, and aquiline features, assesses the enduring influences on societal assessments of human value. Skin bleaching then represents one attempt to approximate the White ideal and cons
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