In Conversation with Raven Roberts: Colorism in Creative Industries
Discrimination through the lens of a fashion industry veteran.
ANTHONY: Can you explain colorism for anyone who is unfamiliar?
RAVEN: A form of discrimination based on skin tone that routinely privileges light-skinned people of color and penalizes darker-skinned people of color.
Colorism occurs both within and across racial groups, and also includes the stigmatization of hair texture and facial features including lips and nose.
A: What is one example of colorism that you have personally experienced?
R: Where do I begin? I had a light skin woman who was at my house tell me she wouldn’t have any pictures of her niece and nephew if they were darker. She went on to say she wanted to marry a white man so there was no chance she had dark children. I’ve also been called pretty for a dark skin girl more times than I can count.
A: How do you see the cultural landscape shifting in regards to colorism?
R: There’s a lot more representation of different skin tones and hair textures on mainstream TV, ads and editorials. More people are talking about and addressing colorism in online conversations as well as mainstream media like, Black-Ish had an entire episode on colorism. Instagram and Twitter have entire accounts to widen the spectrum of beauty and raising awareness on colorism.
A: In the creative world, specifically, how does colorism show itself?
R: In the creative world, colorism manifest in the casting of fashion shows, music videos, magazines, ads, etc. Companies would rather cast the racially ambiguous woman that can play to different races than to cast one who looks fully one race or another black or latina woman with a darker complexion. Matthew Knowles recently spoke up about how lighter skin women get preferential treatment in the music industry and therefore can take their careers further usually. It is also known that natural hair bloggers with more “socially acceptable” textures get more views than their tighter coiled counterparts. The list goes on and on for every industry and most situations.
A: What led you to choose the people on your panel?
R: The women on my panel each are leaders in their industries, have a strong voice and passion to speak on the disparities brought on by colorism. Each woman uses their voice and career to educate those around her on racial disparities, in and outside of our own race.
A: What key insights did your panel provide?
R: The women on my panel, Sharifa Murdock, Laurise McMillian, Luam, Amaya Allen, each are leaders.
First, we need to call out colorist behavior. Hold our friends, family and colleagues accountable for their colorist views. To begin to erase the lines of colorism we must first open eyes to it.
We must fill ourselves up with love so that the outside world cannot dictate our self worth. Once you know who you are you can love yourself more and speak up about the changes that need to take place. Whether it’s calling out colorist behavior or opening opportunities for other people of color.
A: What is one thing readers can apply to their daily lives to help make a change?
R: The main thing is calling people out on their colorism, in a loving way of course. A friend calls someone pretty for a dark skin girl, or only dates lighter skinned men or women, the woman of color chosen to represent your company is always light skin, etc. Colorism shows up in so many ways in our everyday lives and it’s time we hold people accountable for their biases. Ask why someone has a “preference” for lighter skin or a certain texture of hair as someone to date, to cast or even why they won’t question their professionalism.
To get in touch with Raven and Own Your I Am, you can contact her via her website.