This account with colorism highlights an experience with a colorist in a former workplace. I share this story to depict the various ways colorism can appear depending on the environment. I am not stating that because of this experience every light skin black woman or woman mixed with black is a colorist.
The majority of my encounters have been the complete opposite, nor do I look to go around labeling every woman who fits the description previously mentioned a colorist frivolously. However, this story re-emphasizes key signs and tactics colorist use which could easily be overlooked, especially if you are accustomed to colorism being projected a certain way.
I used to work with a mixed-chick who appeared to be pretty cool; she seemed to grasp the concept of work boundaries in terms of sharing space, wasn't super needy, resourceful, not too talkative, ambitious, and just did her own thing. Great, I figured the odds were slim she'd be in my work space and for a while things were exactly that way.
Until, it just wasn't. At some point we became work acquaintances, we only associated during work related events, never exchanged social media, or became best friends. But, we were definitely more social than before. During, this time we learned more about each other, which is how I began to notice her colorist elitism.
Our conversations disclosed her colorist mentality in ways she may actually feel are completely harmless to date.
She desired to have a child. As we were conversing, she stated what she would want her ideal child to look like. She first began, by describing the look of her ideal man,"long hair, light eyes, slightly tanned skin"; someone similar to her phenotype and completely opposite of who she was dating. She said she wanted her baby to have, light colored eyes, olive colored skin, and curly hair. I recall asking her too, "what you are into fetish breeding? I mean, I've heard of it but, I've never really met someone whose actually into it.
What! Why?" She replied, " mixed people have an easier life. I mean don't get me wrong I'm mixed but, I have two cousins and they're mixed. Like gorgeous, model type, and life is just handed to them." I couldn't rebuttal, because I knew this to be true also. But I thought to myself, if that is what she wanted her child to look like, based on who she was actually dating there's a high chance she could get the opposite, then what? Also, I considered whether she was his ideal woman, often times dark skin men lust over light and mixed women more than light and mixed women lust after them.
Dark Skin Relatability
As an attempt to relate, she would show me pictures of different members of her family with dark skin. One time in particular, she told me about spending time with a cousin who was significantly younger than her. They were sitting outside at a family gathering and the sun was out. Her younger cousin was avoiding the sun and she asked her why;the little girl said she didn't want to get darker. My coworker allegedly told her not to worry about that, her color was pretty, which is why she was out in the sun trying to get tanned so that her skin would look like hers.
I found it interesting that she decided to tell me this story and show me pictures, but I decided to brush it off as I couldn't really pinpoint why she felt the need to assure me that she was an ally? But it was telling when she spoke of another little cousin showing me her picture; the little girl looked similar to the cousin previously mentioned ( dark skin, kinky hair, dark eyes).
My co-worker stated that she didn't think the little girl was cute. Now, this caught my attention because it showed that she was capable of giving a reaffirming compliment even if she doesn't genuinely believe it. Yes, she may have been trying to get a tan to give her skin some hue. However, she didn't want her skin to actually get dark, if she wants her child to have olive colored skin.
Black When Convenient
Depending on who asked, determined her race for that moment. On two occasions, I overheard her state her race as something different from what she described herself to be, to me. Each time I happened to be nearby and she would always look over to me before answering. It was evident that she was accustomed to playing in to the "oh, what are you mixed with" card. I'd just look and stare back and watch as she and I both knew she was about to play with my race, because b!%ch we both know all that you just named ain't black"!
Mind you, she made it seem to me that she was black and one other race; to others she was everything under the sun. I couldn't keep up at this point. She even hit me with the classic, "mixed people don't feel black enough for the black people, nor do they fit in with their non-black side." I had to flat out tell her, "because y'all are neither, just be mixed, that's what you are". She was silent for a moment, maybe no one had ever just told it to her so forward,she had to process it I guess.
During this time the colorist in her didn't emerge at once. She was a very resourceful work acquaintance. In fact, this is how the colorism was disguised, it was subtle, and overshadowed by her generosity in the beginning.
She would share with me tips about building credit, applying to grad school, nice places to dine, recommend make-up products, and places to travel. It was a fair balance to our work dynamic and our encounters were more positive than not. Initially, I did not consider her colorist. But I wasn't fooled, I made note and moved accordingly.
One day we decided to grab lunch at a nearby eatery. Another one of our co-workers joined us. As we are all riding in the car, they both began to exchange stories about their travels back east. My colorist co-worker is describing her trip, during her story she says that she was visiting a city with a guy she was dating and they pulled up to a popular food spot; her guy asked her what she wanted to eat, she didn't know and was going to hop out the car and go inside to see the menu, but before she could exit the car he stops her and says, " where do you think you're going? Inside," she told him.
She then says, he told her, "your light skin ass is staying in the car, you really don't know where we are at right now"! The car becomes awkwardly silent for a moment as she realizes what she said seconds too late. I look to my co-worker in the back seat, a light skin black woman. She has a look of confusion, so I know it's not just me.
At this point I was certain, that she is definitely a colorist. There was not a need to become spiteful or vindictive; it was obvious society had propped her up for so long that her perspective was not problematic in her eyes. Although, we never discussed this I am certain she would consider her views a preference before calling them colorist.
Colorism experiences are not always blatant. It doesn't only show up in a joke or a bad marketing advertisement. Remember, to not overreact or become easily angered. It is important to always maintain your professionalism, yet move accordingly. Allow these moments to determine your interactions moving forward.
For example, I avoided having certain conversations with her because it was evident she could not see beyond certain biases and privileges, we never had an outside of work relationship, however, after those incidents I knew indefinitely there wasn't a chance, and I would never share anything with her that I wasn't already comfortable with being public information.
Keep in mind that every colorist encounter will not be hostile and does not require you to lecture the colorist about colorism. Some moments are best handled through observation and appropriate maneuvering.
A' Cylo ( ˈā/ˈsil/ lō) - “I am a writer with a passion for using my voice to speak on the issues many refuse. My hobbies include writing, dancing, and gardening. I'm a fan of all shades of blue; with a slight addiction to popcorn, chips, and salsa. I teach but more importantly I learn; continuously. Did I mention I'm a writer; and I'm serious about my content"?!