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Colourism: Can we ever be free from our mental slavery?

  • We speak about slavery as if it is something that has happened only hundreds of years ago and is currently none of our concern. We speak of it, like we speak of our ancestors, in metaphors, in a language of the ghost as if it can never come back. We talk about slavery as if it is something that only someone can do to us and we can never do to ourselves, but that is not true.

    It is sad that we are so mentally enslaved that we started seeing ourselves as inferior because of the shade of our skin, that even light-skinned African, black people think it is okay to mock their fellow blacks for the shade of their skins or the texture of their hair.

    A few months back, I watched a poetry performance by a woman written for women with kinky hair, with hair so African that it can break combs and this woman was American but as I heard her talk about this from an American perspective, I could relate to most of the things said , even though I lived my entire life in Nigeria, which means it’s not just a white or a black American problem, it is a black problem. A global issue rooted in deep low self-esteem.

    It is shocking that people find it normal to say something like ‘someone is too black‘ and laugh about it. In fact, we have proverbs and tribal sayings that have this issue of colourism deeply rooted in it. For instance, there is a Hausa saying that goes ‘farar mace alkyabban mata’ which roughly translate to ‘ a light-skinned woman is the garment for ladies‘.

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    People usually like to believe that colourism is not in existence and people just have ‘preferences’ and in the same breathe make fun of dark skinned people and ask people why they keep their natural hair when it can look ‘ much better’ with a relaxer. People treat dark skin as if it is something to be ashamed of and that is why bleaching cream companies are such a success.

    You can’t deny that colourism is in existence any more than you can deny that people are obsessed with bleaching their skins, and straightening their hair because sometimes we shame people for being a shade darker or having kinky hair. 

    It is a well-known fact that when you make someone believes they are inferior in any way, then you down need to beat them up for whatever reason you made them feel they are inferior because they will beat up themselves and each other for you. While people are benefitting from our self-doubt and low self-esteem and manufacturing bleaching creams and soaps and relaxers, we are here wasting away, basing our self-worth on the colour of our skin. Who needs a racist slave master to beat them up and make them feel bad about themselves while they have people of their own race doing that to them for free?

    We can talk and preach against using bleaching creams, but it will never stop until the day we stop mocking each other for being too dark and equating blackness with ugliness. We tell ourselves we can’t be pretty until we become lighter, and then we wonder why we have a generation full of people obsessed with becoming lighter. 

    Mental slavery is the worst kind of slavery because, in this part of the story, you are your own villain. You are the one hindering your growth by choosing only light skinned women for adverts and acting and news and creating a world where skin tone is much more valuable than talent. we are the ones destroying our future by saying things like ‘thank God I am not that black’, ‘he is fine I guess, but he is so dark-skinned,’ ‘ why don’t you just relax your hair, I don’t like your hair texture,’ ‘the bride price of a lighter skinned woman should be more, because well she is lighter skinned.’

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    We can celebrate Independence Day and wear our county’s flag colour for years straight and blame the colonial masters for every bad thing that happened to us while simultaneously shaming our brothers and sisters for being dark-skinned. Or we can see ourselves as the beautiful, dark-skinned people we are and say to ourselves, ‘you know what? We have lost a lot already to slavery and colonisation. What can we now do as a people to pick ourselves up and make something out of our lives?

    Sometimes, the thing that is holding you back is not physical, but it is all in your head, and until the day we acknowledge that colourism is destroying us as a race in addition to the racism we have to face from other people, we can never move forward. We can never have great self-esteem or stop feeling the need to put our brothers and sisters down for their skin tone in order to feel good about ourselves.

    It is a lot like saying ‘I know we are all inferior, but my light skin makes me less inferior because I look more like the white men and Arabs who enslave us and it is my duty to finish what they started by discriminating on other people that are darker than me.’

    Yes, racism is a problem we will probably have to fight for the rest of our lives, but we need to change our mindset and emancipate ourselves from the mental slavery of colourism. We can write ‘black is beautiful’ poems and wear ‘black girl magic ‘ t-shirts, and we keep our hairs in an afro to connect with our African roots, but we can never end discrimination until we learn to stop comparing ourselves by our skin tone.

    Are we ready to emancipate ourselves from mental slavery or do we still have to wait till colourism destroys us all?

    Read also: You can't always figure it out, and that's fine

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