Dear GSU: "In My Black Skin"

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Dear GSU,

    What does the hue of your skin mean to you? On Wednesday, September 27, 2017, the Zeta Phi Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. hosted a discussion based panel on colorism titled, “In My Black Skin”. Alice Walker defines colorism as “prejudicial or preferential treatment of same-race people based solely on their color.”

The panel started with an introduction of  Dr. Lisa Shannon, a professor of African American studies at Georgia State University, who is a GSU alumna herself. Dr. Shannon began her presentation with a libation: a African ritual that honors your creator as well as the ancestors who paved the way for your generation. Afterwards, Dr. Shannon gave a thought provoking presentation on the origins of colorism. Some highlights included a discussion on ancient Egypt and the difference between prejudice and an -ism.

The members of Zeta Phi then opened a discussion to the audience and a panel of National Panhellenic Council members. The audience and panel were then asked, “is light skin privilege real?” After opening the floor with this question, many in attendance gave personal experiences of colorism in their lives, such as being denied jobs because their dark skin is “ too intimidating” or not being seen as “black enough” because their skin was too light.  

The discussion included examples of the presence of colorism in multi-media entertainment, where a series of song lyrics were presented, showing favor towards lighter skinned women. A question on the matter of if it is okay to only date lighter skinned women if you are dark skinned was briefly debated as well. One audience member even stated that they felt that black people's skin tones are considered trendy, where sometimes the standard of beauty is light skin and sometimes it is dark skin.

The next topic was about stereotypes. Many of the panelists and audience members expressed disappointment in the fact that someone’s entire behavior is often reduced to a single phrase such as “acting light skin” or “acting dark skin”. This is said meaning that they have a bad attitude because they have darker skin, or that they are very self- absorbed because they have lighter skin. The panelists and the audience went on to explain the problem with forcing people into these stereotypes, particularly when someone is “racially ambiguous” and does not fit the mold.

A video was then shown of a two black children. They were cartoon image of 4 girls of different skin tones, varying from very fair to very dark. When asked their opinion, the children stated that they felt the fair-skinned girl was the prettier and a better child. One of the children in the video went on to explain that she did not like the dark-skinned girl, because her skin looked like her own, and she felt it was “too brown.” The audience and the panelists then discussed how they felt about how colorism impacts children. One audience member even gave a personal story about when her sister confided in her about her insecurity of her dark skin, and she shared the advice she gave her, which was that dark skin is beautiful too.

The discussion ended on a positive note with a question of how to prevent these ideals from being passed on to future generations. Some of the solutions included teaching your children about colorism and its effects, holding the school system to a higher standard, and monitoring the media that perpetuates the system of colorism.

The evening was wrapped up with a spoken word from Kayla Johnson, one of Zeta Phi’s own. She spoke of her personal encounters of colorism from her past and hopes for a future daughter that she can empower beyond her own life experiences.

Make sure to join the Zeta Phi chapter as they continue on with their events for the week and to keep up with them, make sure that you follow the Diva's on Instagram @zetaphi1969_dst.

Thumbnail photo by Zeta Phi Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta. Definition from In Search of our Mothers’ Gardens by Alice Walker.