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1 EVERYDAY COLORISM IN THE LI VES OF YOUNG BLACK WOMEN: REVISITING THE CONTINUING SIGNIFICANCE OF AN OLD PHENOMENON IN A NEW GENERATION By JEFFRIANNE WILDER A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLOR IDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA 2008
2 2008 JeffriAnne Wilder
3 To my mother, Gloria Wilder; my grandmother, Mary Lou Wilson; and the strong line of black women in my family who give life to this work
4 ACKNOWLEDGMENTS In the words of English novelist Jane Howar d, Call it a clan, ca ll it a network, call it a tribe, call it a fa mily: Whatev er you call it, whoever you are, you need one. Had it not been for my clans, networks, and my families, completing this dissertation would have never been possible. I would first like to start with my Sociol ogy family. I thank my Committee Chair, Dr. Milagros Pea for always challenging me and providing me with guidance, encouragement, and undying support. She was the first professor in the department to give me a chance, and has always provided me with countless opportunities for my professiona l development. I am forever grateful to Dr. Constance Shehan for her friends hip and advice. I truly appreciate the long talks whenever I needed them. I am also indebted to Dr. Terry Mills. Although I never took a course from him, I consider Dr. Mills to be a central part of my development as a scholar; I thank him for being a wonderful mentor from far afar. Al so, I wish to acknowledge and thank Dr. Charles Gattone for providing not only sound words of en couragement, but invaluable feedback on my work. Lastly, I wish to thank Dr. Stephanie Y. Evans for always asking the tough questions, always being there and for giving me a strong black woman scholar to look up to. Being her first doctoral student is an honor, and I look forward to our future fr iendship and work together as colleagues. I truly appreciate everyone on my doctoral committee for giving me confidence and the encouragement to work on a project that I am so very passionate about. I would also like to thank the other half of my Sociology fam ily. I send special thanks you to Billy Jeffries, who was my first friend here at the University of Florida, and who has been a brother ever since. I thank him for the great laughs, great talks, and great food! I also want to thank Georgia Bianchi, Maura Ryan, Amanda Mo ras, and Dana Berkowitz. These wonderful women have served as my anchors, soundboards, and cheerleaders alike. I am also very
5 appreciative for the great laughs, great talks, a nd great food! I would like to give a special thanks to Namita Manohar, a dear friend who is always available to laugh, talk, or to say a prayer. Lastly, I would like to thank my research partner and best friend in the department, Colleen Cain. She has been such an amazing friend, singing partner, a nd shoulder to cry on. Your support and friendship means more to me than you will ever know. It is also important for me to express speci al gratitude to Kanitr a Perry, Donna Balkcom, Melisa Smith, and Nadine Gillis for all of thei r support and encouragement throughout my time as a graduate student here at the University of Florida. I would also like to thank my network of support in the Office of Graduate Minority Graduate Programs: Dr. Laurence Alexander, Ea rl Wade, Sarah Traylor, Janet Broiles, and Verlisa Brascom. Thank you so much for providi ng me an outlet for professional development, personal growth, and for giving me countless laughs (and free food) on many, many days. It is also important for me to acknowledge and thank Dr. Mirka Koro-Ljungberg and Dr. Regina Bussing for all of their help and support in my professional development. My time spent as a research assistant was quite valuable, and I thank them for the amazing experience and opportunity. I also need to thank my network of sister friends. I thank Alicia Emanuel Wade you for hanging in there and being supportiv e of me since (before) Day On e. The spiritual connection we share is unlike any other. I would also like to thank my very dear friend Selena Brown; although we have been out of touch, our sisterhood still insp ires me. I want to also express my deepest gratitude to Gail Dale, Stepha nie Galloway, Sheila Lamarre, Melanie Ling, Telisha Martin, Rachel Robinson, Kutura Watson, and Desiree Wri ght. These lovely black women have been my source of strength and support and I treasure your sisterhood and love.
6 I am deeply indebted to my family. Had it not been for their love, encouragement, and support, this dissertation would ha ve never been completed. First and foremost, to my wonderful mother, Gloria Woullard Wilder, I say thank you for being my rock and very best friend. I am honored to have received my strength and wisdom from you. To both of my dads, Jeff Wilder and Joe Wilder, thank you for all your quiet suppor t and love. I also wish to thank all of my siblings, but especially my sister, Michel le, and younger brother Joseph for being very supportive and encouraging. I add itionally wish to thank my aunt, Dr. Linda Wilson-Jones and my cousin, Dr. Joyce Ladner for providing me the examples of exemplary women in academia. Lastly, I wish to thank my grandmother, Mary Lou Wilson, the ultimate example of a black woman and a scholar. This research project would be impossible without the young women who participated in the focus groups. I thank each and every one of you for you strength and courage for speaking out about an issue that touches us all. Keep fighting, and c ontinue to challenge society! I send a special thanks to my research assist ant, Joanna Braganza. Your hard work has truly been a blessing! I wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors. I give my final thanks to my almighty God, who has given me peace, grace, deliverance, and many blessings beyond my understanding.
7 TABLE OF CONTENTS page ACKNOWLEDGMENTS...............................................................................................................4LIST OF TABLES................................................................................................................. ........10LIST OF FIGURES.......................................................................................................................11ABSTRACT...................................................................................................................................12 CHAP TER 1 INTRODUCTION..................................................................................................................14A Magnified Moment.............................................................................................................15The History of Colorism in Black America............................................................................ 19A Review of the Literature.....................................................................................................21Colorism Pre-Civil Rights Era......................................................................................... 22Revisiting Colorism during Black Power and the Civil Rights-Era................................ 24Contemporary Studies of Colorism................................................................................. 25Re-examining Colorism in the 21st Century........................................................................... 29Overview of Dissertation........................................................................................................322 METHODOLOGY................................................................................................................. 35Feminist Methodology............................................................................................................35Black Feminist Epistemology................................................................................................. 39Focus Groups..........................................................................................................................41The Research Project..............................................................................................................46Sample....................................................................................................................................48Recruitment.................................................................................................................... .........51Data Analysis: Grounded Theory and Discourse Analysis.................................................... 52Ethics and Reflexivity......................................................................................................... ....543 UNDERSTANDING EVERYDAY COLORISM: THEORETICAL CONSI DERATIONS.............................................................................................................. 65Black Feminist Theory.......................................................................................................... .65Intersectionality...............................................................................................................66Standpoint and Visibility................................................................................................. 68Voice and Empowerment................................................................................................ 69Bridging Micro and Macro-Level Process in Social Reality..................................................70Pierre Bourdieu................................................................................................................ 71Patricia Hill Collins......................................................................................................... 73Philomena Essed.............................................................................................................. 74Understanding Everyday Colorism..................................................................................... 76
8 4 REVISITING COLOR NAMES AND COLOR NOTIONS.................................................. 83Language: Color Names...................................................................................................... 84Internal Scripts: Color Notions........................................................................................... 89Red Girls Get More Attention...................................................................................... 90Black Girls Are Ghetto................................................................................................94I am Not Black, I Am Brown: Medium Skin-Tone As a Safe and Protected Class?...........................................................................................................................99Practices of Everyday Colorism........................................................................................... 105Ritualistic Practices....................................................................................................... 106Compensatory Practices................................................................................................ 109Discriminatory Practices...............................................................................................110Summary...............................................................................................................................1155 POINTS OF ORIGIN, STABILIZING AGENTS, & TRANSFORMATI VE AGENTS....118Defining Points of Origin, Stabilizin g Agents, and Transformative Agents........................ 118The Black Family: The Ultimate Point of Origin................................................................. 120Bloodmothers and Othermothers...................................................................................121Family as the Point of Origin for Oppositional Colorism............................................. 132School...................................................................................................................................135Relationships.........................................................................................................................142A Note on the Media............................................................................................................ .150Summary...............................................................................................................................1536 THE COUNTER-NARRATIVES OF EVERYDAY COLORISM..................................... 155Up North, Its Different.....................................................................................................156Caribbean Influences........................................................................................................... .159Colorism in Haiti........................................................................................................... 160Colorism in Jamaica...................................................................................................... 162Not This Generation..........................................................................................................165Summary...............................................................................................................................1707 DISCUSSION: IF THE PRESENT LOOK S LIKE THE PAST, WHAT DOES T HE FUTURE LOOK LIKE?....................................................................................................... 171Does the Present Look Like the Past?..................................................................................171What Does the Future Look Like?........................................................................................ 178Recommendations for Change: Towards A Collective Oppositional Knowledge............... 181Limitations and Directions for Future Research................................................................... 186 APPENDIX A RECRUITMENT FLYER....................................................................................................190B DEMOGRAPHIC FACESHEET......................................................................................... 191
9 C FOCUS GROUP INTE RVIEW GUIDE.............................................................................. 192LIST OF REFERENCES.............................................................................................................194BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH.......................................................................................................205
10 LIST OF TABLES Table page 2-1 Sample characteristics..................................................................................................... ...624-1 Terms associated with light, dark, and medium skin tones............................................. 117
11 LIST OF FIGURES Figure page 1-1 Flyer for Light-Skin bash...............................................................................................342-1 Participant characteristics by skin tone..............................................................................643-1 The structure of everyday colorism................................................................................... 825-1 Points of origin, stabilizing agents, and transformative agents....................................... 154
12 Abstract of Dissertation Pres ented to the Graduate School of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy EVERYDAY COLORISM IN THE LI VES OF YOUNG BLACK WOMEN: REVISITING AN OLD PHENOME NON IN A NEW GENERATION By JeffriAnne Wilder August 2008 Chair: Milagros Pea Major: Sociology My study examined focus group interviews with 58 black women between the ages of 18 and 25, exploring the influence of colorism in their everyday lives. Colorism, a form of internalized racism appearing in the form of bias and favor for lig ht-skin, European features and good hair, has promoted tension and conflict within black American society for generations. Recent scholarship in this area reveals that despite the advances since the Civil Rights movement, colorism has a sustained presence in the black community, particularly for black women. My study further investigated how young black women talk about colorism, and whether this reflects a shift in color consciousness or if there has been no change compared to previous research and documented accounts of skin -tone bias within African-American culture. Extending Philomena Esseds theoretical fram ework of everyday racism, I argue that similar to the daily e xperiences of racism, everyday colorism is a system of language, internal scripts and external practices that govern the everyday intera ctions and experiences of young black women as it relates to skin tone. Grounded theory and discourse analysis reveal s that the predominan t names, stereotypes and perceptions about light and da rk skin signify an inheritance of similar attitudes documented in earlier generations of black Americans. However, young women in this study articulate
13 distinctly different experiences of being brown-skinned. Based upon the internalized ideas about light, brown, and dark-skin, women in this study engage in ri tualistic, compensatory, and discriminatory practices that di ctate their own behavior and inte raction with other black women. The findings also reveal the role of family, school, relationships, and the media in mediating these scripts and practices. This research speaks to the gaps in empirical research and theoretical conceptualizations of colorism by not only providing an in-depth expl oration of skin tone bias and discrimination among black women, but additionally seeking to develop a foundation for a theoretical framework that captures the key f eatures of colorism in the 21st century. Based on the findings and recommendations suggested by participants, concrete strategies for empowerment and change are offered.
14 CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION Colorism If youve never thought about it before as a problem, now is a good time to analyze how hurtful it can be to young women of color. It creates se rious divisions among us, and can create a negative self-perception for those who arent born with the right skin tone and features. We all need to recognize colo rism for what it isa superficial, divisive, and destructive mindset. And if we can break th at mentality within ourselves and refuse to reinforce it in our societies, then we can break the cycle of passi ng this practice on to future generations and maybe one day soon colo rism itself will be a legacy of the past. --Kim, Sistah2Sistah Peer educator In 1712, British slave owner Willie Lynch deliver ed a speech to a crowd of Virginia slave owners on the banks of the James River1. His addressentitled The Making of a Slave provided white Americans step-by-step gui delines for controlling African-Americans2. Lynch suggested that the key to keeping black pe ople subjugated and oppressed was through the creation of differences, namely by separating them on the basis of their skin tone. According to Lynch, pitting the light-skinned slaves against th e dark-skinned slaves (and vice versa) would generate envy and resentment for generations. Although there has been much debate over the existence of Willie Lynch and the authenticity of this speech, what cannot be disputed is the long-standing history of difference and discrimination among African-Americans on the basis of color. Coined colorism by Alice Walker in 1983, the bias and favor for light-skin, European features and good hair, is perhaps the most permanent feature of slavery, dividing the black community for almost as long as racism has divi ded America. Often re ferred to as the last taboo among African Americans, colorism has never been formally named and acknowledged within the African-American co mmunity (Russell, Wilson, & Ha ll, 1992, p.2). It has instead 1 Among many scholars, the Willie Lynch Letter is considered to be nothing more than a modern-day myth. However, the contents of the speech are quite useful in structuring a discussion on the nature of colorism. 2 For the purpose of this research, the terms Black and African-American will be used interchangeably.
15 found its way into the everyday names and practi ces used among family, friends, and in social situations that perpetua te and reinforce the discourse of disc rimination attached to skin tone. From high yella to blue-black various skin tones are placed on a continuum from light to dark. Lighter skin has typical ly translated into the percep tion of better o pportunity, more resources, and overall privilege as a black person in society. A Magnified Moment Since I was a young child, I have been acutely aw are of skin tone differences in the black community; my skin ton e has been just as much a part of identity as my race, class, and gender. The issue of color in my personal relationships a nd day-to-day life is incredibly significant. I have been called many namesfrom caramel to dirty red3and have been judged and discriminated against because of my skin tone, ha ir texture, and facial features. Much like racism, colorism intrudes upon my daily life in many clever and une xpected ways. Allow me to provide an example. A short time ago, I wa s invited to a cookout hosted by John, a male member of my family, and his girlfriend Sharon4. Like many family gatherings, this cookout was an all-black event; several close friends and family members were expected to be in attendance. The first guests to arrive were a family of fourJames, Gina, and their two young children. James, a dark-skinned man, walked into the house first with his four-year old son. His light-skinned wife, Gina, followed behind him ca rrying their three-monthold daughter. Sharon quickly ran over to greet Gina and to pick up the new baby. Lifting the baby out of her car seat carrier Sh aron exclaimed, Whose baby is this? This is not the same baby I saw in the hospital! Shes so black What happened to this baby? 3 The terms caramel and dirty red are names that ar e commonly used in the Afri can-American community to refer to someone with light brown to medium brown skin tones. It is useful to point out that there is typically no consensus on what range of skin tones fall into certain categories. 4 In order to protect the identity of the people in this story, fictitious names will be used.
16 Sharon was referring to the drastic change in the childs skin tone since she was born. It is commonplace for many black children to be bo rn with a lighter skin tone which darkens shortly after birth. This baby, according to Sharo n, was the same light color as her mother and big brother the last time she saw her, but ha d now changed into a new baby resembling her fathers dark complexion. Good thing you are a pretty chocolate baby, remarked Sharon as she played with the newborn girl. As Sharon continued to draw attention to th e babys dark skin, Gina shook her head in disbelief and remarked, I dont know what happe ned to my baby either. The moment I took her home from the hospital she changed. The cookout lasted for several hours, and so did the commen ts about this dark-skinned baby. At one point Sharon attempted to engage James into a conversation about his daughters skin tone, but he was more interested in a card game. The only people who seemed to be paying attention to Sharons comments were the women. Particularly sensitive a bout the issue of skin color, I felt both sad and angered. I was angry at Sharon for being so ignorant, yet I was angrier at myself for not saying anything. And I felt sa d for this three-month old baby girl who would undoubtedly be made to feel insecure about having her daddys color for the rest of her life. What happened at this cookout will always stay with me, as it signifies the relentless nature of skin color for Black Americans, part icularly women. Representative of countless similar exchanges and interactions occurring over my life time, this story served as a magnified moment of colorism. As Arlie Hochschild (1999) explains, a magnified mo ment is an ordinary event that provides extra ordinary insight and awareness. Mess ner (2000) adds that these type of occurrences offer a window into the social c onstruction of reality (p.766). Although this
17 incident was a singular moment in time, it speaks volumes about the value of being a lightskinned girl. As Margo Okazawa-Rey and coll eagues (1987) remind us, In the presence of a newborn, one can still hear passed down folklore which predicts the babys future skin color and hair texture. Though oblivious to these concerns, the young black infant must learn to function in a society in which the shade of ones skin f unctions as a status determining characteristic (p.92). Because this baby unfortunately turned from light to dark, her value and potential (in the minds of both Sharon and the childs mothe r) had in many ways decreased. Although the baby was deemed pretty, she was as Sharon observed, a pretty chocolate baby. She was insinuating that this young baby should be thankful for being attractiv e in spite of her dark skin tone. Even now in 2008the age of a color-bli nd society, and a time when Black Americans are enjoying the successes of the Civil Rights move mentthis infant girl will inevitably face the pressures of not only her race and gender, but additionally her skin tone. This magnified moment demonstrates the reality of colorism in the 21st century, affecting black women in more significant ways than black men. While the problem of skin tone discrimination is no longer known considered to impact black Americans on a large-scale, my experience at a family barbeque so painfully points out that colorism s till remains a part of ev eryday life for many black people, particularly women. In light of the sustained permanence of skin tone in the day-to-day lives of many black women, this dissertation aims to examine how young black women talk about and understand colorism in their everyday lives5. Despite being judged and evaluated by others because of their 5 For the purpose of this dissertation research, I am focusi ng explicitly on the experiences of black women and their everyday experiences with colorism. Therefore, to allow black women to speak for themselves, I am purposely excluding a broader discussion of identity development, issues of mixe d race, womanism, and the socio-historical context of the state of Louisiana. In future analysis, I plan to address how these bodies of literature further our knowledge of colorism, race construction and racism in the U.S., and how these build upon understanding black womens experiences with colorism.
18 race and gender, black women often inflict the same pain and judgment of colorism on each other (Collins, 2000). An intersectional analysis of race, class, gender, and skin tone, this projects aims to explore the lived experiences of a phenomenon that continues to impact young women coming of age in a new century and in th e post-Civil Rights era. Although the present body of scholarship has yielded i nvaluable information on the ma nifestations and effects of colorism, few studies directly focus on women, and even fewer address the everyday experience of young black women. Considering this, the foll owing research questio n guides this study: What are young (college-aged) black women saying about the presence of colorism in their everyday lives? How (if at all) does skin tone play a role in their day-to-day experiences? Specifically, this study aims the following: (1) to explore the influence of colorism in the in the lives of college-aged black women, and examine its relationship to racism in the U.S.; (2) to examine how day-to-day situations, relationships, and interaction shapes contemporary knowledge of colorism; (3) to identify relevant similarities and/or differences in current experiences of colorism compared to previous literature and documented accounts; (4) to develop a beginning foundation of a theoretical framework encapsulating the key features of colorism in the 21st century; (5) to produce culturally relevant knowle dge on the varied experiences of colorism that will inform reco mmendations for social change. Using focus group data of 58 black women betw een the ages of 18 and 25, I extend Philomena Esseds theoretical framework of everyday racism arguing that similar to the characteristics of racism, everyday colorism is a system of language, belief s, and practices that govern the everyday interactions and experien ces of black women as it relates to skin tone. This research contributes to the field of so ciology broadly, and more specifical ly to race scholarship and gender scholarship. This study seeks to advance the current body of literature on colorism by not
19 only providing an in-depth exploration of skin tone bias and discrimination among black women, but by developing a theoretical framework that cap tures the key features of colorism in the 21st century. This work can also contribute to ge nder scholarship and further our understanding of the black female experience within a U.S. context. The History of Colorism in Black America As race scho lar Joe Feagin (2004) explains, racist thought did not come accidentally to the United States. It was, and still is, actively developed and propagated (p.70). Since the onset of colonial expansion into the United States, the history of this nation has rested upon a clear binary divideblack and white (Bailey, 2001; Daniel, 2002; Denton and Massey, 1989; Itzigsohn and Dore-Cabral, 2000; Omi and Wina nt, 1986). The institution of colonialism brought more than slavery into th is country; a racist ideology follo wed which cultivated a system of language, classification, and domination pr ivileging whiteness over blackness. Using the biological differences of skin color as a just ification for the oppressi on and enslavement of Africans, European colonizers developed a social hierarchy that aligne d whites at the top and blacks at the bottom. The inferiority associated with blackness translated into socially constructed ideas about skin t one and phenotype that continue to shape identity, status and opportunity. In addition to defining a color line which se parated blacks and white s, racist ideology subsequently caused internalized divisions among African-Americans. The frequent mixing of the races (commonly through the se xual exploitation of black fema le slaves by White male slave owners) resulted in biracial offspr ings. In order to pr event any ambiguity in regards to racial classification, and to preclude blacks with white ancestry from gaining the same legal status as full-blooded whites, lawmakers mandated the rule of the hypo-descent or the one-drop rule: even the smallest amount (or drop) of African ancestry legally defined a person as black (see
20 Omi & Winant, 1986). Although the enforcement of th e one-drop rule equalized all blacks in the eyes of the law, in everyday practice signifi cant differences devel oped between blacks of varying skin tones, hair text ures, and facial features. As Keith and Herring (1991) relate, Whites pl aced greater economic value on slaves of mixed parentage and used skin tone or degree of visible white ancestry as a basis for the differential treatment of bondsmen (p.762). It has been regularly documented that during slavery lighter-skinned slaves were afforded more resources and assigned duties that placed them indoors and in direct contact with white slav e masters (see for e.g. Russell, Wilson, & Hall, 1992). Darker-skinned slaves, in comparison, were relegated to labor-intensive tasks outdoors in the open field and sun. Further, whites devel oped a terminology for distinguishing various level of African ancestry. The terms mulatto quadroon and octoroon were adapted to designate a Black person with three-eighths, one-fourth, or one-eighth of African ancestry respectively.6 Because of their partial white heritage, light-skinned blacks were considered smarter and superior to dark-skinned blacks. As a consequence, many light-skinned blacks began to internalize the same principles of racism with in the black community, actually believing that they were better than their darker counterpar ts, and acting accordingly (Graham, 1999). Lightskinned blacks and mulattos formed their own social class, apart from da rker-skinned blacks, and saw more opportunity and advantage in the whit e dominated society. Th is included broadened opportunities in educatio n, manumission from slavery, and the acquisition of land and property (Gatewood, 1990; Russell, Wilson, & Hall, 1992; Grah am, 1999). With the ev entual abolition of 6 Beginning in 1850 and up until 1920, the United States Census classified Black Americans into four categories: Black, mulatto, quadroon, and octoroon An African-American with or more African ancestry was classified as Black; a mulatto was someone who had between 3/8 and 5/8 of African ancestry; a quadroon was someone with or less African ancestry; and an octoroon denoted an African-American with 1/8 or less African ancestry. According to Nobles in Kertzer & Arel ( 2002), these classifications were used to justify the principles of scientific racism, and to prove true genetic differences between Blacks and Whites, in addition to exploring the perceived genetic shortcomings of those with mixed blood.
21 slavery, the members of this newly formed group continued to set themselves apart from darker blacks by socializing, marrying and procreating with one another. Wealthy light-skinned blacks emerged after Reconstruction to form what came to be known as the Black Elite, and were responsible for reinforcing classi st and racist attitudes in the African-American community. As Zuberi ( 2004) indicates, the African-American eliteviewed the African-American masses with the same contempt expressed by the European American population (p.154). By the turn of the 20th century, many black institutions including colleges and churches continued to reinforce this distinction by distancing themselves from darker-skinned blacks and im plementing separatist standards such as the brown paper bag, pencil, ruler, and door tests (See Kerr, 2006). These informal but well-known tests kept those who had shorter, coarse hair, and skin tones that were darker than a paper bag or door out of these institutions (Gatewood, 1990; Russe ll, Wilson, & Hall, 1992; Graham, 1999). In addition, exclusionary social clubs and societiesnamely Blue Vein, Brown Fellowship, The Links and Jack & Jillwere formed to perpetuate this separation based on skin tone. Admission to such organizations required light skin, good hair, and Eu ropean features (Gatewood, 1990; Russell, Wilson, & Hall, 1992; Graham, 1999). Thr oughout the years, these stereotypical beliefs made their way from one generation to the next and African-Americans today continue to place a premium on lighter skin tone, seeing the different shades of brown as va rying degrees of status, acceptance, and achievement. A Review of the Literature W riters, poets, social scientists, filmmakers and everyday black people alike have been obsessed with colorism for more than a century; the issue of skin color in the black community has graced the pages of countless literary, academ ic, and popular culture works dating back to the mid-1800s. William Wells Brown, author of the first black American novel, was the first to
22 document the complexity of skin tone in the 1853 classic Clotel (Kerr, 2006; Walker 1983). Since then, color consciousness has seep ed through the pages of black epics such as The Blacker the Berry (1929), The Bluest Eye (1970), and The Color Purple (1983), and more recent literary works including The Color Complex (1992) and Dont Play in the Sun (2004); classic race studies such as Black Bourgeoisie and Black Metropolis; films such as Spike Lees School Daze (1988), Oprah Winfreys The Wedding (1998) and CC Stinsons Light, Bright, Damn Near White (2007). This exhaustive body of work indicates the persistence of skin tone bias and discrimination over time in black American culture. As scholar Mark Hill (2002) points out, the 1940s marked the beginning of empirical research on colorism. I argue that social science research (particularly so ciology) devoted to this area of African-American culture has occurred alongside three distinct histor ical periods in Black America: 1) the pre-Civil Rights era; 2) the height of Black Po wer and the Civil Rights Era; and 3) the post-Civil Rights Era. Re levant studies are discussed be low within the context of each period. Colorism Pre-Civil Rights Era The history of skin tone st ratification among African-Americans indicates that in the era of Jim Crow segregation (the period spanni ng from the 1860s to the 1950s), colorismlike racismwas blatant, overt, and palpable in the lives of black Americans. Having a lighter skin color and European features provided access to better opportunity; Wade (1996) explains that at this time, skin color became a criterion for the attainment of prestige in the African-American community (p. 359). As such, skin tone and soci al class became an important focus of black social scientists examining aspects of black life. Although Anna Juli a Cooper (1892) and W.E.B DuBois (1903) were among the first scholars to arti culate the presence of a skin color hierarchy within black communities, the earl y work of Drake & Cayton (1945), E. Franklin Frazier (1957),
23 Gunnar Myrdal (1944) and Charles Parrish (1946) ar e important to highlight as they have been identified as classic sociological studies in colorism scholarship (Herring, 2002; Keith and Herring, 1991; Seltzer and Smith, 1991). Although Gunnar Myrdal was neither black, American, or a sociologist, his findings outlined in An American Dilemma nevertheless presents a realistic perspective of the inte rconnected nature of class and skin tone among African-Americans. In their in-depth study of black life in Bronzeville, black sociologi sts St. Clair Drake and Horace Cayton (1945) uncover that color distinctions present in the black community translate into differences in employment, occupation, and mate selection. Further, th rough the voices of the residents of Bronzeville, the authors provide open and honest commentary on the beliefs and attitudes associated with light, brown, and dark-skin. Drake a nd Cayton also devote in their research a discussion of how skin tone impacts black women more in term s of marriage selection and employment. Through a questionnaire to 400 black youth, Charles Parrish (1946) investigates the various names and labels blacks use to descri be varying skin tones, and the stereotypes associated with them. The results of his analysiscompiled in the piece, Color Names and Color Notions find damaging notions of extremely li ght and extremely dark skin, while attitudes associated with people of medium shades was among the most favorable. Finally, E. Franklin Fraziers (1957) Black Bourgeoisie provides a comprehensive sociological analysis of the behavior, attitudes, and valu es of middle-class blacks in the United States (p.23). He notes the parallels between status, e ducation, power, and skin tone among the black elite, suggesting that a significant number of the black middle-cl ass is lighter-skinned. Fighting a battle of inferiority, Frazier views the black bourgeoisie as living their lives behind the masks of oppression, insecurity, self-hatred, and guilt. Although they have an ability to use their light skin
24 as leverage and power within the African-American community, bl ack elites have a false sense of security in viewing how this power translates in mainstream society. While these four works are not the only ones to address th e presence of skin tone bias at this time, they do, however lay the foundation for future research in this area. Revisiting Colorism during Blac k Pow er and the Civil Rights-Era Perhaps a principal driving force behind empi rical research on colorism has centered on the question of significance; many schol ars aim to find out if skin tone continues to play a role in shaping life chances and life experience. This issue of permanence was of particular significance following the Black Power and Civil Rights eras Both movements gained popularity in the 1960s, encouraging racial consciousness and black pride. They were particularly powerful because they represented a rejection of hege monic and ideological views of race and color deeming anything light or close to European as superior. As a re sult, the Black is Beautiful ideology, which embraced darker skin and natu ral hair, became the mantra of many youth. Consequently for a brief time skin tone bias a nd stratification appeared to diminish right along with Jim Crow (Udry, Bauman, & Chase, 1971) After interviewing over 200 young urban black males about the significance of skin color, Goer ing (1972) notes that the Black is Beautiful ideology caused a shift in attitude s about light and dark skin: participants i ndicated a desire to wear their hair natural, would consider marrying a dark-skinned partner with a broad nose and lips, and preferred brown-skin as the best color. Interestingly, Goering predicts that this change in attitudes will continue to pervade black American society, stating that there is a new joy in blackness which did not exist tw enty years ago (p.241). Jone s (1973) and Ransford (1970) make parallel connections in th eir research. Both authors conf irm that future generations of blacks will no longer be confused about skin tone and racial identity; th e Black is Beautiful doctrine appeared successful in alleviating the issue of colorism in black communities.
25 Although great strides were made during th is time, Hill (2002) and others (Bond and Cash 1992; Coard, Irby and Raskin 2001) suggest that the political and ideological shifts of the 1970s were neither all-encompassing nor long-lasti ng. Despite the perception that colorism is a distant memory, contemporary research on colori sm indicates otherwise, with many scholars documenting the ways in which colorism continues to impact many aspects of black American society. (e.g. Brown, 2000; Hall, 1998, 2005; Hughes & Hertel, 1990; Hunter 1998, 2002, 2005; Jones, 2000; Keith & Herring, 1991, 2004; Kerr, 2006; Patton, 2006; Seltzer and Smith, 1991; Wade 1996; Zook, 1990). The existing body of literature indicates that in light of the progressions realized by blacks in more recent U.S. history, colori sm still remains an issue of debate and significance. Contemporary Studies of Colorism The period leading up to the Civi l Rights movement was marked by de jure segregation, and large-scale economic and educ ational opportunity seemed to be reserved exclusively for the Black Elite. As such, early empirical research on colorism explored the role of skin color in relation to class divisions and racial attitudes within the bl ack community. Considering the overall advancements and achievements accomplish ed during the Civil-Rights era, contemporary scholars continue to debate the significance of skin color upon class and st atus attainment for Black Americans. Some recent studies still find an inescapable link between skin tone and social class. The groundbreaking research of Hughes & Hertel ( 1990) indicates that blacks with lighter skin achieve higher educational attain ment, occupational prestig e, personal income, and family income than those with darker skin ( p.1109). Similarly, the analyses of Keith & Herring (1991) and Seltzer & Smith (1991) find that lighter skin is more advantageous for black Americans; a fairer complexion indicates higher le vels of income, occupational, and educational achievement. On average, lighter-skinned blacks make 65 percent more and earn two more years
26 of education than darker-skinned blacks (K eith & Herring, 1991). De spite these findings, Gullickson (2005) deems the analyses of Hughes & Hertel, Keith & Herring and Seltzer & Smith limited as they all fail to consider cohort differe nces. In his re-analysis of data compiled from the National Survey of Black Americans, Gullickson challenges that in th e post-Civil Rights era, there has in fact been a decline in li ght skin privilege as it relate s to education and occupation. Gullickson further uncovers that skin tone is no t a relevant factor for younger cohorts born after 1963. What has not changed in the African -American community, however, is spousal attainment. As Gullickson (2005) explains, light skin remains a factor in providing access to high quality spouses (p.173). In addition to exploring the sustained link between skin color and life chances, the current literature on colorism re flects an increase in research fo cusing on gender, with a specific concentration on black women. Harvey (1995) Hill (2002), Thompson and Keith (2001) and Wade (1996) all report that in the post-civil Rights era, ge nder does make a difference when considering predictors of physical attractivenes s, self-esteem, and self -efficacy. Unpacking the term gendered colorism, Mark Hill (2000) explicates that skin color has more bearing in the lives of African-American women than of African -American men (p.5). This is not surprising given the societal value placed on female beauty. As Hunter (2004) states, the social construction of beauty is informed by other soci etal status characteristics including race (p. 23). Empirical research on the nature of gendere d colorism unveils that darker-skinned black women are at a particular disadvant age in the areas of beauty, mate selection, and self-esteem. Indeed, it is black women who have advan ced our understandings on the experiences of black women and colorism. In 1983 Alice Walker penned the term colorism in her book, In Search of Our Mothers Gardens Discussing the divisions among black women she writes:
27 What black black women would be interested in, I think is a consciously heightened awareness on the part of light black women that they are capable, often quite consciously, of inflicting pain upon them; and that unless the question of Colorismin my definition, prejudicial or preferential tr eatment of same-race people based solely on their coloris addressed in our communities and definitely in our black sisterhoods we cannot, as a people, progress. For colorism, like colonia lism, sexism, and racism, impedes us (pp. 290291). At the time of this writingthe 1980sblack fe minism and black feminist theory gained ground within academia (Breines 2006). The expansi on of this oppositional framework that embraces the knowledge, consciousness and empowerment unique to black women also highlights the mutually intersecting oppressions that shap e black womens lives and experiences. A proliferation of black feminist writings from the likes of bell hooks (1981;1989), Audre Lorde (1984), Patricia Hill Collins (1986;1990; 2000), and Deborah K. King (1988) underscore that black women are subject to the perils of multiple jeopardy and domination as it relates to their social location. It is no surprise, then that the bulk of writings on colorism since the 1980s has been generated by black women, and relies on black feminist theory as a conceptual lens. Consequently, a considerable amount of contem porary empirical work examines colorism through a critical intersectional framework in a variety of academic disciplines. For instance, Neal & Wilson (1989) and Okazawa-Rey and colleague s (1987) provide a hist orical overview of colorism and offer suggestions for black women and therapy. The personal narratives of Marita Golden (2004) Valerie Harris (1994) and Krys tal Brent Zook (1990) offer compelling accounts about light and dark-skin bias, in addition to outlining steps towa rd self-healing and black female solidarity. Additionally, family scholars includ ing Nancy Boyd-Franklin (2003), Beverly Greene (1994) and Harriet McAdoo (1997) poi nt to the centrality of black women and skin tone within African-American families. Within the field of sociology, there has been less empirical focus on black women and colorism. However, the work of noted sociologist and colorism scholar Margaret Hunter (1998; 2002; 2005) has contribute d a considerable amount of knowledge on the
28 contemporary nature of colorism through her work with African-American and MexicanAmerican women. While there has a wide range of colorism research focusing on gender, there are some scholars who concentrate on age, exploring how attitudes surrounding skin color impact younger cohorts of African-Americans. As previously me ntioned the earlier research of Goering (1972), Holtzman (1973) and Jones (1973) addressed how young blacks perspectives of skin color were shaped by their age and changing patterns of raci sm and segregation. Likewise, a portion of contemporary research on colorism also focu ses on whether the generational ideas of younger African-Americans represent a change from previ ous generations. The results report a diversity of conclusions. In their study of black colleg e women, Bond and Cash (1992) conclude that a majority of the women they surveyed felt satisfied with their skin color, regardless of skin tone. Yet they also report that even though no rampant pursuit of lightness was apparent, darker skin was seldom an aspiration (Bond and Cash, 1992, p. 883). Ronald Hall (1998) also explores skin co lor bias among African-American college students, but yields different outcomes. Inte rviews conducted with 200 black college freshmen indicate that both light and dark -skinned respondents associate sk in color with physical beauty, suggesting that the ideals of todays young black Americans have not been dramatically impacted by the dominant 1960s Black is Beau tiful ideology (Hall, 1998, p.239). Coard, Breland, and Raskin (2001) discove r a divergent perspective in th eir questionnaire to 113 college students: Primarily, the results indicate that the African -Americans in the sample preferred skin color of a medium tone and did not show a pr eference for light skin. This finding was true, regardless of the individual pa rticipants skin color (p.2267). Although their study was aimed at African-Ame rican adolescents ages 11-19, Robinson and Ward (1995) uncover that those participants who noted their sk in tone as neither light nor
29 dark expressed higher levels of satisfaction compared to individuals who fell on extreme opposites of the color spectrum. The researchers also find that young men rate skin color as an important factor in dating compared to th e young women in the study. This of course, underscores the seemingly lop-sided nature of colori sm, as it is more salient in the lives of black women. Considering the mixed messages these st udies imply about the relevance of skin tone among young blacks, further research focu sing on younger cohorts of black Americans especially young black womenis needed. Re-examining Colorism in the 21st Century Why continue to study colorism in the twen ty-first century? Some could argue that colorism has been a mainstay in black American communities for generations, and there is nothing new to be gained or understood by furthe r study and exploration. Others may contend that colorism is not as nearly as significant as racism, and the focus in the new millennium should center on the eradication of an issue that affects all Americans. Although racism remains an important matter of so cial, political and scholarly focus, I argue that studying colorism simply yields a deeper understanding of th is complex issue. It only ta kes a cursory glance at current events to validate the need for further empiri cal research on colorism In October of 2007 twenty-seven year-old Ulysses Barnes, a Detroi t party promoter, was reproached by the black community and anti-racism advocates for throwi ng a Light-skin Bash, an event guaranteeing all light-skinned women free entry (see Figure 1-1). Word of the pa rty spread rapidly (thanks to the advent of the internet) and black women acro ss the country demanded the party be cancelled. When asked about his reasoning for throwing a gath ering with such an offensive theme, Barnes quickly retorted that it was a br illiant promotion at the time, a nd there were also future plans for similar events for chocolate and caram el black women respectively (Retrieved November 28, 2007 from http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/21367799). More recently an article in
30 the February 2008 edition of Ebony Magazine featured the ubiqu itous contrasting viewpoints of colorism, highlighting the personal stories of a light-skinned woman and a dark-skinned woman in an article entitled, Do Light-Skinned Black Pe ople Have an Advantage? These two items (among others), signify that a re-examination of the everyday experiences of colorism within the scholarly arena is not only warranted, but long overdue. There remain several gaps in the literature. Although ther e has been a considerable amount of empirical research dedi cated to colorism, the topic re mains theoretically undeveloped (Hill, 2002). While many scholars understand colorism as byproduct of racism, colonialist ideology, or as a function of intersectionality, it is imperative to develop a more comprehensive theoretical framework that captures the nature of colorism in the post-Civil rights era. It is my hope that this research can serv e as a starting point on how to conceptualize colorism in the 21st century. Outside of the theoretical implications, this dissertation attempts to fill a gap in the empirical body of scholarship in several ways. First, missing from the literature are more indepth analyses of colorism that focus strictly on black women. This is of particular importance in the field of sociology consideri ng the scant amount of re search in this area. While the present body of literature does focus on gender, it only consid ers gender as a variable to test significance or interaction as it relates to other variables. For example, Hughes & Hertel (1990) and Ross (1997) control for gender to examine the interac tions between skin colo r and gender and skin color and age within gender cate gories. Other studies examine skin tone and gender within a comparative context, evaluating the differences and/or similarities of black women and black men as it relates to such issues as mate select ion, self-esteem, or physical attractiveness (see for example Hill, 2002 or Thomspon & Keith, 2001). Despite the strengths of what we learn in this
31 research, still excluded from the center of an alysis are the voices of women; approaching colorism from a more subjective lens can yield a deeper understanding of the lived experiences of colorism. Feminist research calls for the re-direction of womens experience as a separate entity; the nature of colorism for black wo men therefore must be evaluated uniquely and separately. Although Hunter (2005 ) does present the voices of black women in her pioneering work Race, Gender, & the Politics of Skin Tone this is the first body of work to provide an analysis of the contemporary experiences of colori sm for black women. Clearly more research is needed to fully understand this complex and poignant matter. Second, empirical research should assess if th ere has been a progres sion, decline, or no change in the color at titudes and beliefs of young black Americans compared to previous generations. There is an extens ive amount of scholarship devoted to racial attitudes in the postCivil Rights era (see for exampl e, Bonilla-Silva, 2006 or Fe agin, 2003), and although scholars explore the existence of institutionalized forms of colorism in contemporary society, there is still much to be learned from the everyday perceptio ns of colorism. Further, research on color attitudes could perhaps illuminate scholarly conve rsations about the new racism. Directing this issue toward todays co llege students would undoubtedly add to the current body of knowledge. Finally, this research project aims to provide strategies for social transformation and change. bell hooks (1990) notion of critical intervention suggests that academia and the classroom can be a vessel for transformation; our roles as teachers can be utilized not only as a means for learning, but also as a location for activism. Similarly, Risman (2004) suggests that feminist scholars move theory beyond the walls of academia and the ivory tower and into the realm of the public in order to effect tran sformation and social change. She writes:
32 Feminist scholarship always wrestles with the questions of how one can use the knowledge we create in the intere st of social transformation. As feminist scholars, we must talk beyond or own border. This kind of theoretical work becomes meaningful if we can eventually take it public. Femi nist sociology must become public sociology (p.446). I believe that perhaps this is one of th e most profound limitations to the current knowledge on colorism. Although some work aims to produce social transformation and change, most of the empirical research falls short on providing concrete solutions that will indeed effect change. In many research projec ts, many scholars fail to answer the crucial so what question. It is my hope that the knowle dge produced from this research will inform recommendations for action and social change, and broaden our understandi ngs of colorism on a scholarly and public level. Overview of Dissertation Chapter Two is devoted to the m ethodological la yout of this project, which is grounded in feminist theory and black feminist epistemol ogy. Also discussed in this chapter are focus groups, grounded theory and discourse analysis and a description of the study sample and recruitment. Chapter 3 focuses on the theoreti cal considerations influencing the model of everyday colorism. An overview is given on black fe minist theory, in addition to the theories of Patricia Hill Collins, Pierre Bourdieu, and Ph ilomena Essed, thinkers who form micro and macro-linkages in their work. The chapter ends with a disc ussion of everyday colorism. Chapters 4, 5, and 6 represent the results of analysis. Chapter 4 is an investigation of the contemporary names and attitudes surrounding skin color. In addition, th is chapter examines how the language and inte rnalized ideas of skin color tran slate into everyday behavior and practice. Chapter 5 deals with family, school, relationships, and the media, and their role in mediating colorism. Chapter 6 addresses the th ree counter-narratives emerging throughout the focus groups. Participants interviewed noted the perceived absence of colorism in the Northern
33 half of the United States, a higher prevalence of colorism in the Caribbean, and the declining importance of skin tone in the current generati on. Chapter 7, the concl uding chapter, evaluates the current status of colorism, and whether the present looks like the past. Considering this, a discussion about the future of colorism appears in this section, in addition to proposed solutions and recommendations for change. Lastly, I pr ovide suggestions for future research.
34 Figure 1-1 Flyer for Light-Skin bash
35 CHAPTER 2 METHODOLOGY I decided whose side I was on and resolved with in myself that as a black social scientist I must take a stand and there could be no value-free sanctuary for me.---Joyce Ladner The goals of this dissertation research are three-fold: to investigate colorism as a phenomenon occurring within everyday settings and interaction; to place black womens voices and experiences at the center of analysis; and to produce culturally rele vant knowledge that will inform recommendations for personal empowerment and social change. Considering these aims of empowerment, consciousness-raising, and th e co-construction of knowledge, employing focus groupsguided by the core principles of feminist methodology and black feminist epistemology is most appropriate for this project. This chapter details the theoretical perspectives influencing my me thodological approach to the study of colorism in the everyday lives of young black women. I begin by detai ling feminist methodology and black feminist epistemology. Next, I outline the value of u tilizing focus groups as the ideal method for researching black women and studying colorism. Th is is followed by a discussion of the sample and the recruitment process. Then, I turn to gr ounded theory and discourse analysis as methods of analysis. Finally, I conclude with ethical considerations an d a discussion of reflexivity. Feminist Methodology Sim ply stated, feminist me thodology guides research within the context of feminist theory, and is grounded firmly in the experi ences of women (Ramazanoglu & Holland, 2002). Distinct from feminist research feminist methodology is dedicated to the theory about research practice, epistemology, and knowledge production (Devault, 1999). Much more than women interviewing women or a employing a specific re search technique, Devaul t (1999) argues that feminist methodology has three essential compon ents. They include: (1) the importance of methodology as a tool of excavation, bringing womens voices and experiences to the focal
36 point of practice and method; (2 ) the empowerment of research participants through minimal harm and control; and (3) the infusion of activ ism, change, and transformation into research methods. As these key elements are consistent wi th my research goals, designing a project that embraces feminist methodology is apt to accomplish these study objectives. Unlike traditional scientific research methods that are grounded in ideals of positivism, feminist research methods are concerned with advancing the knowledge of womens experience and gender relations while highlighting the signif icance of feminism. As Wolf (1996) suggests, positivism represents value-free science that is ob jective and exploitative. Furthermore, Collins (2000) notes that traditional research requires a disregard of emotion, ethics, and values. Feminist critiques of positivism have ch allenged these male-biased methodological and epistemological stances, arguing that women ha ve been excluded from traditional means of theorizing and knowledge production. Thus, feminist research developed to uncover facts and truths that were marginalized and excluded. Wo lf (1996) describes the advancement of feminist research methods further: [Feminist scholars] sought to break down th e hierarchical and potentially exploitative relationship between researcher and resear ch by cultivating friendship, sharing, and closeness that, it was felt, would lead to a richer picture of women s lives. Many feminists heeded the call of passionate scholarship(DuBois, 1983), join ing their methods with their political sympathies (p.4-5). To that end, feminist researchers find trad itional methods, methodologies, and epistemologies inadequate and inappropriate for investigati ng the experiences and pe rspectives of women. Considering the three elements of feminist re search, there are several key features that distinguish feminist research from traditional re search methods. First, feminist research is grounded within feminist theory (Reinharz, 1992) Despite the multiple perspectives and standpoints that constitute a multitude of theories, a guiding principle of this theoretical framework recognizes the nature of unjust gendered relations a nd practices. As Naples (2003)
37 points out, feminist theories emphasize the need to challenge sexism, racism, colonialism, class, and other forms of inequalities in the research process (p.13). Unlike traditional forms of research methods and methodologies that do not c onsider the elements of feminism, feminist research places womens voice and experiences at the center of analysis. Marjorie Devault (1999) refers to this idea as excavation A critical element of feminist methodology, excavation brings women to the focal point of practice and method. Ultimately, feminist theory provides a guiding framework that enables femi nist researchers to study wome ns lives for the purposes of understanding and ending oppression (Kelly, Burton, & Regan, 1994). Second, feminist research acknow ledges difference and divers ity. Just as there is no universal feminism, there is no universal fe minist method, methodology, or epistemology. Many feminist scholars maintain that there is a multitude of approaches to feminist research (Devault, 1999; Ramazanoglu & Holland, 2002; Reinharz, 1992; Smith, 1987). As Reinharz (1992) insists, diversity has become a new criterion for feminist res earch excellence (p.253). An attention to diversity within the research proce ss reveals the various ways in which difference shapes a seemingly universal e xperience. As such, feminist research methods can draw on differing methods, epistemologies, and experience s to further knowledge on various issues and phenomena. Similarly, a recognition of difference a nd diversity also underscores that there is no distinct feminist method, methodology, or epistemology (Ramazanoglu & Holland, 2002; Reinharz, 1992). As Reinharz (1992) points out, feminist research practices must be recognized as a plurality. Rather than there being a womans way of knowing, or a feminist way of doing research, there are womens ways of knowing (p .4). Alternative frameworks, such as black feminist epistemology have developed in response to this criticism.
38 A third feature of feminist research lies in empowerment. Unlike traditional methods that privilege the knowledge of the rese archer over participants, feminist research aims to empower the research subjects. Devau lt (1999) writes that an important aim of feminist methodology is the infusion of activism, change, and transforma tion within research methods. Using feminist methods as a means of consciousness-raising is an integral component in fostering such change. In considering my research on co lorism, one of my main objectives is to incorporate a feminist methodology in order to produce culturally relevant knowledge that will inform recommendations for both personal empowerment a nd social change. One of the best ways to accomplish this is by allowing the women who deal with colorism everyday to have their say in the research. Previous research has not explored colorism from this vantage point, and has yet been able to affect concrete stra tegies for empowerment and change. The final component of feminist research concerns the idea of reflexivity. Although a subjective stance is not common to all feminist re searchers, many argue that personal experience and reflection is at the core of feminist methods, methodology a nd epistemology. As Reinharz (1992) explains, To the extent that this is not the case in mainstream research, utilizing the researchers personal experience is a disti nguishing feature of feminist research. Personal experience typically is irrelevant in mainstream resear ch, or is thought to c ontaminate a projects objectivity. In feminist research by contrast, it is relevant and repairs the projects pseudoobjectivity (p.258). Writing on the importance of positionality, Deutsch (2004) adds: The researchers awareness of her or his own subjective experience in relation to that of her or his participants is key to acknowledging the limits of objectivity. It recognizes the bidirectional nature of researc h. I am subject, object, and rese archer. To assert otherwise is to be disingenuous about the process of re search, especially qualitative research (p. 889) Recognizing that reflexivity is a co re element of feminist research, it is critical for researchers to position themselves within their research, by reflecting, exam ining, and exploring the ways in
39 which they are impacted by the research process (Cook & Fonow, 1991). Feminist researchers, must in fact, start with themse lves at the onset of research (Reinharz, 1992). This start is particularly crucial for feminist researchers who are studying populati ons that they are a part of. For example, Annecka Marshall (1994) employed a self-reflective approach when writing about her experiences as a black woma n conducting research on a populat ion that has so often been trivialized by mainstream paradigms of social science research. As a black woman researcher, Marshall points out that she c ouldnt help but play a dual ro le as a researcher and as a participant (p.109). Similarly, ot her scholars, including bell hooks (1989), Patricia Hill Collins (2000), and Joyce Ladner (1971) write about the ways in whic h their passion and personal connection (a direct consequence of their social location) has influenced their theorizing and research methodology. As women of color embe dded within research projects on women of color, it is neither possible nor recommende d to place large amounts of distance between researcher and subjects. I will turn to my ow n issues with reflexivity as a black woman and researcher later in this chapter. Black Feminist Epistemology Many fe minist scholars maintain that ther e is no one generic fe minist methodology, but rather a multitude of approaches (Devault, 1999; Ramazanoglu & Holland, 2002; Reinharz, 1992; Smith, 1987). This study is heavily influenced by black feminist thought a critical social theory emerging from the historical invisibili ty and marginalization of black women. Although black feminist thought is not typically rec ognized and acknowledged as feminist methodology (Devault, 1999), this theoretical framework has nonetheless provided valuable methodological insight to other black women re searchers and can provide a sound approach for this research project. As Collins (2000) highlights, i ncreasing numbers of African-American women scholars have chosen to study Bl ack womens experiences, and to do so by relying on elements
40 of Black feminist epistemology in framing thei r work (p.267). Central to this feminist methodology are the features of s ubjectivity, lived experience, dialogue, and ethics. I would like to briefly turn to the methodological contributions of sociologists Joyce Ladner and Patricia Hill Collins to further illustrate the key points of black feminist epistemology. Joyce Ladners seminal work, Tomorrows Tomorrow impacted sociology and feminist scholarship in innumerable ways. Conducting the first sociological study on black women (conducted by a black woman) that refused to pathologize black adolescence and womanhood, Ladners 1971 ethnographic account of low-income bl ack girls in urban St. Louis was unique in that the author incorporated an alternative methodological approach to her research. Impenitently aware of her so cial location as a black woman, Ladner openly writes about the methodological conflict between what life experience taught he r and what academic training required. She writes: As I became more involved with the subjects of this research, I knew that I would not be able to play the role of the dispassionate scie ntistI began to perceive my role as a Black person, with empathy and attachment, and to a great extent, their day-to-day lives and future destinies became intricately interw oven with my ownOn the one hand, I wanted to conduct a study that would allow me to fu lfill certain academic requirementsOn the other hand, I was highly influenced by my Blacknessby the fact that I, on many levels, was one of them and had to deal with th eir problems on a personal level (Ladner, 1971, p.3-4). Ultimately, Ladner resolved to conduct research outside the realm of sociological and positivist training, deciding to use her own study as a way to decolonize social res earch on the conceptual and methodological levels (Ladner, 1971, p.7). She sets the groundwork for valuable and credible research that is sociological, yet liberated from the traditional, value-free constraints of social science. Similar to Ladner, Patricia Hill Collins ( 2000) found [her] training as a social scientist inadequate to the task of studyinga Black womens standpoint (p.252). In the ground-
41 breaking text Black Feminist Thought Collins carefully outlines an alternative methodological framework that she refers to as black feminist epistemology. This methodological approach enrich[es] our understanding of how subordinate groups create knowledge that fosters their empowerment and social justice (Collins, 200 0, p.269). Collins (2000) declares that every black woman, whether she is in academia or the community, is an agent of knowledge; meaning and intellect can be derived by any black woma n. Lived experience, she asserts, is a worthy criterion for knowledge claims (p.257). Additio nally, Collins highlights the importance of dialogue, the ethic of caring (emotions and empat hy), and the ethic of personal accountability as crucial methodological ingredients in femi nist research invol ving black women. The landmark empirical example offered by Joyc e Lander, and the theoretical framework set forth by Patricia Hill Collins provide concrete methodological steps in conducting feminist research grounded within the tene ts of black feminist thought. Focus Groups The focus group m ethod employs group intervie ws to generate knowledge on a specific topic of interest. They are used to learn how people talk about a phenomenon through group interaction. As Morgan (1997) writes, the ha llmark of focus groups is their explicit use of group interaction to produce data (p.2). Ther e are many advantages of focus groups. Through this method of data collection, the researcher inter acts directly with respondents, allowing participants to feed off of each other, building upon and reacting to the responses of others. In addition, focus groups are a quick and easy way to get at data. They can be assembled on a relatively short notice, making them flexible and e fficient. Because of the open-response format, focus groups can produce vast and varied amounts of information. Stewart and Shamadasani (1990) offer the following:
42 The open-response format of a focus group pr ovides an opportunity to obtain large and rich amounts of data in the respondents own words. The researcher can obtain deeper levels of meaning, make important connections and identify subtle nuances in expression and meaning(p.16).As opposed to individual inte rviews, focus groups allow for a sense of consensus (or diversity) and a better understanding of group meanings. Focus groups are a particularly effectiv e approach when conducting research involving black women. The first advantage lies in the ut ility of the method to elicit individual and collective survival and resistan ce strategies from women of co lor. Madriz (2003) writes: Group interviews are particularly suited for uncovering womens daily experience through collective stories and resi stance narratives that are filled with cultural symbols, words, signs, and ideological representations that reflect the different dimensions of power and domination that frame womens quotidian experiences (p.369). Black women have historically gathered together in family groups, churches, and other places to share stories and to help each other cope with the multiple oppressions of race, class, and gender. These everyday areas sites for conversation and soci alizing; yet they also serve as a domain to give space and voice to the collective memory of black womanhood. As St. Jean & Feagin (1998) relate, collective memory shapes identity, interaction, and experience. Focus groups then are an ideal method in getting at both the individual and collec tive experiences of black women. Consider the research of Shosha na Pollack (2003). Interested in examining the experiences of black women who have been incarcerated, Pollack implemented focus groups as a way to understand the collective and individu al stories of women in prison. Writing on the value of this method, Pollack states: Bringing black women together in a group format seemed to alter the power dynamics somewhat and to enable the participants to speak about the social causes of individual struggles that have roots in racist ideologies and practices The focus group-data greatly enhanced the analytic merit of this study and produced important information about Black womens experiences of systemic oppre ssion, resistance, and lawbreaking (p.471). Pollacks experience with focus groups reinforce Pa tricia Hill Collins (2000) assertion that for black women new knowledge claims are rarely work ed out in isolation fr om other individuals
43 and are usually developed through dialogues wi th other members of a community (p. 260). Even within the context of a re search project, the mutual dial ogue generated in a focus group setting has the potential of producing premium quality data compared to an individual interview. Focus groups are also an ideal method for accomplishing the goals of feminist methodology and black feminist epistemology. As a feminist methodologist, my goal is to create an informal, yet empowering research environment that will promote participant-control and accurate portrayals of everyday colorism. Accord ing to Bloor and his colleagues (2001), another trademark of focus groups is that they can be a source of empowerment for participants: having found a voice, groups may develop an awareness of their common predicament and attempt a collective remedy (94). Montel l (1999) further adds that the group dynamic of focus groups achieve connections and solidarit y among women that contribute to feminist consciousness and social action (p. 54). Compared to other met hods in which power is typically held by the researcher, focus groups enable the balance of power to be shared betwee n participants and the researcher (Wilkinson 1998). Because focus groups can provide an outlet for expression that is neither intimidating nor uncomfortable, participants have everything to gain from realizing their shared experiences of pain surrounding issues like colorism. There are, of course, limita tions to the focus group method. Compared to the individual interview, focus groups do not get into much detail and depth as oneon-one interaction. The amount of time spent conducting a focus group with several participants is roughly the same amount of time spent in an individual interview. Due to the small number of participants in the focus groups, there is the concer n that the group is not represen tative enough and will produce generalizations of the larger populat ion that is being studied. Additionally, the personality of the participants could bias your results. As Morgan (1997) writes, the group could follow a
44 tendency towards conformity, in which some partic ipants withhold things th at they might say in private, or the group could follo w a tendency towards polarization, in which some participants express more extreme views in a group than in private(p.15). The topic of interest could be controversial, causing disdain and co nflict among the people in the group. It is important to note here that despite these disadvantages, focus groups proved to be a more reliable method expressly for this study co mpared to the individual interview. This research project consisted of tw o phases of data collection. Phase I, occurring from October 2005 to August 2006, consisted of four focus groups and was intended to inform the next phase of data collection, originally designed to include individual interviews. At the onset of Phase II (September 2007), I conducted four individual inte rviews that did not provide the same rich amounts of data as the focus group interviews. I have reflected deeply on the reasoning behind this. First, the issue of colorism is a very deli cate topic for black women, and in many respects the participants in the individual interviews were somewhat reluctant to share with me their inner-most sensitivities about sk in color. As a black women conducting research on other black women, sociologist Juanita Johns on-Bailey (1999) noted how the issue of color impacted her ability to create a comfortable interview enviro nment. Although her research project was related to the educational experiences of black wome n, Bailey nonetheless found colorism to be a significant methodological ba rrier. She explains, The participants and I spoke awkwardly about color. Even though I shared a lighter skin color with several of the participants, it wa s these participants w ho did not broach the subject of color and because the nature of the research was to solicit their schooling narratives, the topic was not introducedThe participants who did raise the issue of colorism do so in an effort to determine its importance in my life. Although I tried to set forth that I saw colorism as a destructive fact or in the history and pr esent-day conditions of the black race, colorism brought a tenuousness a nd a level of uneasines s to the interview settingColor remained a sometimes conspi cuous and at other times inconspicuous barrier to conversational dial oguesits presence as a potential obstacle in the person-to-
45 person communication process between a Black researcher and Black participant was an undeniable factor (p.668). In many ways, my experience conducting indi vidual intervie ws mirrored those of JohnsonBailey. As ironic as it may seem, it was much more difficult for me to esta blish rapport with one participant compared to estab lishing rapport with a group of wome n. This of course, could easily be attributed to my role as a researcher coupled with my lighter skin tone and facial features. The amount of participant power and control dimini shed greatly in a one-on-one interview setting compared to a group interview setting. Al though the women I interviewed individually shared their experiences of colorism with me, it wa s to some degree polite and at times superficial. Whereas the focus group inte rviews lasted between 90 minutes and two hours, individual interviews ranged between 30 and 45 minutes. Compared to the individual interviews, each focus group produced what I would consider an after-show1 effect, where participants expresse d an interest in continuing the group conversation on colorism and other issues imp acting black women upon the conclusion of the focus group. These after-show conversations la sted anywhere between 20 and 30 minutes beyond the focus group, and topics such as inter-raci al dating and hair were discussed. This outcome speaks to the strength of the group dynamic on the topic of colorism and the value of bringing black women together for group dialogue. In essence, my experience with focus groups had the opposite effect of the literature documenting the limita tions of the method. Throughout the course of this project I found that many women were willi ng to share their experiences regarding colorism in a group setting and eager to hear the stories of others. The ability of focus groups to capture the viewpoint of a larger amount of responden ts, in addition to respondents 1 Famed talk show host Oprah Winfrey produces a show called Oprah After the Show, an unscripted version of The Oprah Winfrey Show The program allows Winfrey more time with guests after the cameras stop rolling (www.oprah.com). In many ways, the experience during the focus groups produced the same effect: a desire for participants to keep the conversation going after the tape recorder stopped.
46 being able to feed off of each other, resulted in my decision to conduct more focus groups during the second phase of data collection. The Research Project The literature indicates that focus groups ar e m ost successful with anywhere between 510 participants, with the average research proj ect including approximately 3-5 groups per project (Morgan 1997). For this project, I conducted tw o phases of data collection, each consisting of four focus groups. In order to include a repr esentative sample and to address the issue of validity, I made every effort to ensure that each focus group included participants with similar skin tones. After conducting the pilot focus gr oup in April 2005, it became apparent that women who possessed similar skin tones felt more comfortable sharing their experiences as opposed to women who had varying skin tones. For inst ance, if a dark-skinned black woman made a derogatory comment about a light-skinned woman, the woman with th e lighter skin tone was less apt to feel comfortable and vocal during the fo cus group session. The same reasoning applies in the reverse case; therefore, careful effort wa s made to ensure as much homogeneity of participants as possible. However, accomplishi ng this goal became more difficult as I relied more on participants who expressed interest in participating in the research compared to the solicitation of certain women in order to fulfill a color quota for each focus group. As earlier indicated, each focus group lasted between 90 minutes and two hours in length. Prior to each focus group session, each participant was fully aware of the nature of the study. Informed of their right to privacy and confidentia lity, all participants si gned an informed consent form and completed an anonymous demographic face-sheet supplying personal information such as skin tone and ethnicity (see Appendix C). A pilot focus group was conducted in April 2005 The purpose of the pilot study was to test out the interview guide to experiment with the size of the group. The pilot included eight
47 participants who ranged in skin to nes from very light to very dark, and ranged in age from 19 to 43. From the pilot study, I discovered that th e interview questions were not necessarily producing answers relevant to the guiding resear ch questions. Additionally, the focus group of eight was a little too large. The topic of colorism is a poignant and charged issue, and every respondent did not have an opportunity to shar e their voice and expe rience within the time limitation. After tweaking the interview guide an d limiting the number of maximum participants to seven (with five being the minimum), the first phase of focus groups began in October of 2005. Four focus groups of women between the ages of 18 and 25 were concluded by August 2006. It is important to poi nt out that during the fi rst phase of data collec tion, I collaborated with a white female research partner. Although we shared equal task s in the research process, I served as the primary moderator and facilita tor for each focus group. Concerned about her identity as a white woman, my co-researcher se rved as a note-taker a nd participated in the discussion by following up with impromptu probes during each focus group. Ultimately, we found her presence during each focus group session to be negligible and did not lessen participants willingness to be open and forthc oming about their experiences of colorism. The second half of the data was collected in September 2007. There were significant methodological changes made in between the first and second phase of data collection that are worth noting. First, my co-researcher elected to pursue other research interests and did not continue on the project after April 2006. S econd, I was awarded dissertation funds which enabled me to provide subsequent participants a $30 incentive. In addition, I enlisted the assistance of an undergraduate student to aid in the recruitment process for the second phase of data collection. An Indian-American woman very in terested in the issue of colorism, this student organized each focus group and served as a not e-taker during each focus group session. Her
48 identity as a brown-skinned Asian-American did not hinder her abilit y to recruit AfricanAmerican participants, nor did her presence during the focus groups impact participants enthusiasm about sharing their e xperiences. Lastly, after conduc ting data analys is on the first round of data, I amended the interview guide to focus in on certain themes and issues that emerged after the initial analys is (See Appendix B). This includes an extended section on the demographic sheet that asks partic ipants to free-list names associated with various skin tones. Four focus groups were conducted in Septembe r of 2007. By the end of the fourth group, the data generated began to mirror the stories an d experiences offered in previous focus groups. As Glaser & Strauss (1967; 1999) su ggest, this signified the point of theoretical saturation. This situation occurs when no new categories or data em erge in the research process; the researcher sees similar instances over and over again (Glaser & Strauss, 1999, p.61) Upon reaching this point I recognized that data collection was complete. Sample The sam ple for this research project includes 58 women, the total number of participants from nine focus groups (See Table 2-1). As my target population was young black women between the ages of 18 and 25, the study population was selected from a convenience sample of black female students who attend the University of Florida. At the time of data collection, all of the women were between the ages of 18 and 25, and all of the women were enrolled at the university; all but two of the wo men were undergraduate students. Because the University of Florida is a large state institution attracting the majo rity of students from in-state residents, the sample for this study also included a majority of women (81%) who are natives of the state. The remaining participants cited South Carolina, Vi rginia, North Carolina, Maryland, and New York as their states of origin.
49 Although the study sample was rather homogenous in regards to age and hometown, the group was more diverse in relation to ethnicity. Contemporary l iterature documents the growing diversity of the Black American population. As Logan and Deane (2003) contribute, the number of Africans and Afro-Caribbeans liv ing in the United States has grow n considerably over the past twenty years: Afro-Caribbeans in the Un ited States [currently] number over 1.5 millionAfricans number over half a million (p.1). The majority of these other AfricanAmericans (Shaw-Taylor and Tuch, 2007) reside along the East Coast. Given that, it is no surprise that the study included a diverse numbe r of Black American women. When asked to denote their ethnicity2, twenty-five (43%) women stated that they were African-American. Forty-five percent of the women in the study in dicated other ethnicities: 11 Haitian, 12 Jamaican, 1 Bahamian, 1 Antiguan, 1 Nigerian, and 1 Panamanian. The other five women (8.6%) identified themselves as biracial: one woman i ndicated herself as being half Black and half Cuban; two women identified as being half Blac k and half Puerto Rican; one indicated having one White parent and one black parent; the fifth woman indicated that she was half Black and half Hawaiian. Despite their bi racial heritage, all of the wo men who were of mixed ancestry identified primarily as black, a nd this qualifies th eir eligibility for part icipation in this study. Considering the context of this research, th e skin color of the st udy sample is a more complicated characteristic to report. Adopting th e same five-point scale (very light, light brown, medium, dark, and very dark) used in the 1980 Nati onal Survey of Black Am ericans, participants were also asked what category they would place their skin tone (See Table 2-2). Three women (5%) in the sample identified themselves as very light Fourteen women %categorized themselves as light brown. Forty-three percent (25 women) of the sample characterized 2 There were two women in the study who did not i ndicate their ethnicity on the demographic face-sheet.
50 themselves as medium Another fourteen women%--in dicated their skin tone as dark Only two participants (4%) classi fied their skin tone as very dark. Based upon these self-reported classifications, the majority of the participants skin tones fell in the medium category. Very few women fell at the extreme ends of the spectrum, while the remaining half of participants fell equally in the light brown or dark categories. While this unequal distribution of skin tones can definitely be viewed as a limitation to this sample it can perhaps also point to the difficulty in describing ones skin tone. At the onset of each focus group when respondents were filling out the demographic sheet, some women stopped and asked me how I would categorize each skin tone. A few members even asked me what skin tone they should report. As a researcher I also took note of each participants skin tone, and at times there were in fact disconnects between how I rated someone compared to their own rating. Although there is much variability in skin tone perception, at times an inconsistency betwee n a participants self re ported skin tone and viewpoints expressed during the fo cus group often revealed the stig ma attached to being either too light or too dark. For instance, Leah and Vivicatwo women who identified as medium disclosed in their narratives nega tive experiences associated with their skin tone, in addition to a desire to be called brown and not dark. Their sensitivities coul d perhaps have translated into how they viewed their skin tone. Likewise, Mi ssyanother respondent who classified herself as mediumcould easily be categorized by another black person as very light or light brown. Her bright yellow hue was considered much darker by her extremely fair grandmother, and Missy spent most of her childhood and adolescence thin king that she fell in the middle of the color spectrum. Having a higher self-perception of color (in the case of Leah a nd Vivica), and having a lower self-perception of color (in the case of Mi ssy) can lead to a tendency toward medium. These young womens experiences are detail ed further in the following chapters.
51 Recruitment A flyer was developed detailing m y research study (See Appendix A). Recruitment strategies for this study involve th e circulation of this flyer in or ganizations and institutions that have a high population of my designated selection criteria. This in cluded a host of University of Florida black student organizati ons such as BGSO (Black Gr aduate Student Organization), Caribsa (the Caribbean student organization) and NCNW (National Council of Negro Women). I also relied on a number of frie nds and/or associates who teach classes with a large number of black females who were willing to circulate the flyer in their respective classes. In order to gain a representative sample, this study included a combination of purposive and snowball sampling measures for the recruitment of participants. Purposive sampling involves the development of certain criteria established by the researcher to serve the purpose of the research and the questions of the investigati on (Huck, 2004, p.109). Snowball sampli ng starts with a group of key individuals who could offer refe rrals on future participants. Due to the sensitive nature of this topic, I understand that it takes more than just the posting or e-mailing of a flyer to garner partic ipants. For this reas on, I attended a number of these student organizational meetings to persona lly introduce myself and my research. Talking about my research and circulati ng my flyer added to the number of interested participants. The personal approach is particularly successful in recruiting women of color. As Madriz (2002) relates in her own research experience, imper sonal recruiting strategi esdo not work with lower-socio-economic status women of color my sources of recruitment were personal networks such as friends, stude nts, community leaders, and fri ends of friends (p.377-378). I too, have decided to rely on personal networks and to employ a more informal, personalized approach to generate research participants. Gaining a representative sample according to skin tone became much more difficult, as I had to se lect focus group members from a general pool of
52 interested applicants. As colorism is a delicate issue, I could not easily go up to participants and ask them if they would be willing to discuss their experiences with colorism based upon their skin tone. It would also be une thical for me as a researcher to assume that black women with very light or very dark skin tones would have th e most interesting viewpoint s to share. To that end, snowball samplingwhere participants recruite d other potential partic ipantsproved to be the most reliable method in soliciting respondents. Data Analysis: Grounded Theory and Discourse Analysis Each focus group session was audio-taped in its entirety. Audio-tapes of each focus group were later transcribed verbatim Interview notes taken during the focus group (by m yself and a note-taker) were also compile d. The process of analysis draws on two specific methods, Charmazs (2006) approach to grounded theory a nd Gees (2005) discourse analysis. As Kathy Charmaz (2006) explains, grounded theory serves as a way to learn about the worlds we study and a method for developing theories to understa nd them (p.10). Unlike other methods of data analysis, the method of grounded theory enables th eory to be driven from the research data, rather than relying on previous theory to inform the research data. Grounded theory features the simultaneous and constant comparison of data and analysis, enabling the researchers empirical data to inform further data collection and anal ysis (Charmaz 1995). Originally outlined by Glaser & Strauss (1967), and later adva nced by Charmaz (2006), grounded theory analysis includes a multi-stage process which I adhered to for this project. The initial stage of analysis includes the open -coding of all data for relevant themes and patterns, followed by a second stage of more focused coding. At this time, larger pieces of data are used to develop sub-categories describing the data. Finally, I engaged in axial coding, which enabled me to create larger frames of categories connecting sub-categorie s together and providing relati onships from one sub-category to the next. Kathy Charmaz (2006) also advocates for the use of clustering and free-writing two
53 techniques of memo-writing that helps the researcher to begin th e analysis of data and codes early on. As she recommends, memos give you a space and place for making constant comparisons between datause memos to help you think about the data and to discover your ideas about them (p.72-73). As part of the gr ounded theory process, I implemented these two forms of memoing in order to enha nce the quality of my analysis. For further secondary analysis, I employed Paul Gees (2005) appr oach to discourse analysis. Because I am interested in how the discourse of colorism is reflected in everyday practices and talk, this method serves as a comp lementary technique to grounded theory. As Gee (2005) explains, language is a tool for analysis and interpretation and thus discourse analysis involves searching for patterns and links with in and across utterances in order to form hypotheses about how meaning is being constructed and organized (118, emphasis added). Furthermore Gees analysis enables researchers to recognize socially co nstructed identities and activities. Central to Gees a pproach are the seven building tasks of language (significance, activities, identities, relationship, connection, politics, and sign systems and knowledge) which are reflective aspects of reality. In order to begin a discourse analysis, large pieces of data are identified and examined according to some (or all) of the building tasks. Relevant questions are then asked dependent upon the building task, and themes and patterns s hould then emerge from the data. For the purpose of this research, I employed the identity building task, and asked questions from the data that according to Gee (2005) construes the aspects of the situati on network as real ized at that time and place and how the aspects of the situation network simultaneously give meaning to that language (p. 110). More specifica lly these questions were: How do black women construct their identity within the context of their skin tone ? How do they present and perceive themselves?
54 How are these various identities stabilized or transformed in a particular situation? What discourses are relevant and how they have been ma de relevant in particular situation? In the grounded theory method of analysis, each focus group is analyzed individually and then together. Discourse analysis, however involved the analysis of individual narratives Taken together, both methods provided in-depth and detailed analysis. Ethics and Reflexivity Unlike the v ast majority of Black American s, I have both a personal and professional relationship with the i ssue of colorism. Since 1996, when I began conducting inte rviews for my undergraduate senior thesis entitled, Black Women and Western Standards of Beauty: Is Black Beautiful in America?, I have been deeply entrenched in re search that has been very personal and even more political. There have been significan t benefits to my identity as a black woman in this research. My personal experiences have added to the value of this research project. Due to the sensitive and protected nature of this topi c, it would be very diffi cult (though not impossible) for a non-black woman to gain access, build rapp ort, and to recruit pa rticipants. I do not consider myself an expert, but rather a curious insider, and this has allowed me to reach many women who want to share their experiences with colorism. Despite the advantages of my social locati on, I have encountered significant moral and ethical challenges. For all social researchers, et hics are of chief concern from the conception of a research idea to the publicati on of the final product. For example, Hammersley & Atkinson (1995) cite five such concernsinformed consent, privacy, harm, exploitation, and the consequences for future researchthat are ch aracteristic of ethnograp hic research (p.264). Similarly, Diane Wolf (1996) cautions that femini st researchers should pay close attention to issues of power within their work. Although I do not plan on conducting fieldwork in my research on colorism, ethics are an important matter to me. As a black woman, sociologist, and
55 feminist researcher, there are unique issues that I am facing in this research. This section begins a discussion of these dilemmas. Before I delve into the ethical dilemmas concerning the research process allow me to first address my personal dile mmas surrounding the research topic Colorism, although it has persevered within the black community for cen turies, has yet to be formally named and acknowledged by the majority of black people. A sensitive topic that stirs such emotions as anger, fear and pain, many within the broade r African-American community would rather not comment, focus, or draw attenti on to an issue that shames and embarrasses blacks in the face of larger (white) American society. On the writing of his controversial book inside the life of the black elite, Our Kind of People Lawrence Otis Graham (2000) states: For many people, this book is a political or so cial hot potato in the sense that even though most blacks talk about issues of elitism, racial passing, cla ss structure, and skin color, they dont want to see it broa dcast in a book. For a few black members of the media, the topic struck too close to their own past experiences of being excluded by snobbish members of the black elite. Some of them qui etly told me that they were glad that I wrote the bookbut that they could not publicly support the bookbecause their black audiences would find the s ubject too painful (ix-x). Likewise, Kathy Russell, a light-skinned black woman and co-author of the ground-breaking text The Color Complex writes that she was scorned and berated by her black peers for even considering publishing a book with such sensitiv e subject matter. She often heard comments like, Just one more thing for White people to use against us(Russell, Wilson, & Hall, 1992, p.4). Whenever I talk openly about my research on colorism, I hear the same criticisms that were aimed at Graham and Russell. Although th ere are people who are excited that I am exploring an issue that is so private and personal, ther e are some members of the black community who are less than excited about my re search. I often hear concerns that I will be
56 placing unnecessary focus on colorism when the real focus in the 21st century should be on eradicating racism. Rather than divide the black community on issues of colorism, some suggest that I use my position as a black sociologist to bolster and unify the black community in our struggles against racism. I am sometimes made to feel guilty about airing the dirty laundry of African-Americans so publicly and in the face of whites. On two separate occasions, I have had two black female students confront me about my decision to discuss colorism in my classes. One woman told me that as a fellow black woma n, I was complicating and furthering negatives images of black womanhood, and she was of the opi nion that my research did not embrace the ideals of black feminist thought. This student raises a very interes ting ethical concern. How can I as a black woman conduct research on bla ck women that portrays Black womanhood in a negative light? Traditional social science has ofte ntimes pathologized black women by constructing negative, yet power controlling images (Collins 2000). Black feminists have always worked to deconstruct distorted images of blackness, particularly black femininity. Yet, my work on colorism specifically identifies the ways in which black women discriminate each other based upon skin tone. I have resolved this issue of allegiance by formulating a research project that aims to bring a much needed (and loud) voice to colori sm by empowering black women, and finding strategies that will, in fact, effect personal a nd social change. This objective is in line with the goals of black feminist thoug ht, which aims to critically engage how colorism is a by-product of racism, and how institutionalized racism produces color hierarchies among U.S. women (Collins, 2000, p.90). Demanding a speech and discussion of colorism permits black women to speak up and talk back about an often subtle, yet powerful form of oppression. This question of allegiance e xpands beyond my membership in the black community. As a black woman and a sociologist, there is a conflict of interest between my academic identity and
57 my personal identity. Patai (1991) refers to this dilemma as a conf rontation of dual allegiances. She points out that feminist researchers are c oncerned with fulfilling their academic obligations, yet are equally committed to the transformative politics of feminism (p.3). Other women of color have also documented their experiences with the same dilemma. In thinking about my own research I am faced with some of the same questions: Whose research is this, and for whom do I intend the knowledge that I produce? Do I have a responsibility to the bl ack community? Do I allow my intuitions as a Black woman situate my work, or my knowledge as a sociologist guide my research? In order to answer these questions, Mi riam Glucksmann (1994) recommends that feminist researchers go into their research projects openly aware that there will always exist inequities and divisions of know ledge, and that despite the goa ls of producing feminist research, it is unlikely that researchers will ev er achieve a balance of knowledge and power. As Glucksmann (1994) explains, no amount of sensitiv ity or reciprocity can alter the fact that while the task of the researcher is to produce knowledge, those being researched have a quite different interest in and relati on to their situation (p.150). Without a doubt, my objective in this research is to get black women talking about the impact of colorism in the black community. Moreover, I am hopeful about developing concrete st rategies for social ch ange; I am constantly reminded that my research must address the s o what, who cares question. However, I must recognize that outside of the cont roversial topic of colorism, I do have much more at stake than the subject matter. One such cons ideration, of course, is fulfilli ng the requirements in order to complete my doctoral degree. To address this dilemma of personal and acad emic conflict, it is important for me to maintain a reflective practice th roughout the research process. Being keenly aware of my thoughts, assumptions, interpretations, and interacti ons can be a start. In negotiating the moral,
58 ethical, and political dilemmas of feminist re search, Nancy Naples (2003) advocates for a multidimensional and embodied approach to research. As she suggests, An embodied perspective (one that is tied to particular social locat ions and particular positions in the community) emphasizes how rese archers social positionsinfluence what questions we ask, whom we approach in the field, how we make se nse of our fieldwork experience, and how we analyze and report our findings (p.197). This framework provides one possible solution to perhaps one of the mo st difficult challenges that I am facing in my research. Outside of the sensitive nature of colo rism, my personal and academic conflicts of interest, and divisions of knowledge, another ethi cal dilemma I face is in the realm of power. One of the biggest contradictions of feminist research is that it proclaims to empower research subjects through minimal harm and control, yet in thinking about true ownership and decision making throughout this process, I do of course have more power than the women whom I research. In her text, Feminist Dilemmas in Fieldwork Naomi Wolf (1994) argues that the biggest issue facing femini st researchers is power. She char acterizes dimensions of power along three levels: power stemming from social location and position; power translated during the research process; and power exerted in the writing and representation stages of the research process (p.2). On the first domain of power, I do acknowledge that my position as a light-skinned black woman possibly carries more power than ev en my academic credentials. I am aware that my skin color has afforded me the opportunity to build rapport across skin tones: I am neither extremely light nor dark so I can be viewed as a safe brown person to talk to. However, I do recognize that there are some women who are reluct ant to even talk with me. In reflecting on her experiences interviewing women of color on the issue of colo rism, Margaret Hunter (2005) discusses how her skin tone influenced her work. She writes:
59 I am a light-skinned, biracial, African-Ameri can woman who could easily pass for white. This presented both challenges and benefits in the process. I spoke candidly before each interview about my own color and my interest in the color politi cs in the Mexican American and African American communities. I assured the women I spoke with that they could speak candidly about their feelings without fear of hur ting my feelings or making me uncomfortable. Ive heard it all before, I to ld them. Nonetheless, I am sure that if I had a darker complexion, I would have had a different type of access to some womens feelings (p.12-13) Although she did not explicitly addre ss the notion of power in this excerpt, is clear that Hunters ability to pass for white played a role in how she negotiated herself within th e research process. The second dimension of power refers to pow er exerted during the research process. I am employing a research method that enables participants to hold a significant source of power. Focus groups are a way for women to develop a co llective voice, in addition to strategies for resistance and survival. According to Bloor a nd his colleagues (2001), focus groups can also be a source of empowerment for participants: having found a voice, groups may develop an awareness of their common predicament and attempt a collective remedy (94). I have structured the focus groups as informal conversati ons, with a loosely struct ured interview guide. At the beginning of each focus group, I am candid about my own experiences with colorism, and inform each participant that their knowledge is valuable to the research process; I tell every woman that she is just as much an expert on colorism as I and my goal is to learn from her. Because focus groups can provide an outlet for expression that is neither intimidating nor uncomfortable, participants have everything to gain from realizing their shared experiences of pain surrounding this issue. Finally, the last dimension in which researcher s can exert power is in the final stages of the research process. Ultimately, the research er has final ownership over what data and whose knowledge is presented and how the data is interpreted. As Gullicksman (1994) points out, each researcher is left on trust to draw the diffi cult line between interpreting the data in terms of
60 its relevance to her research questions as oppos ed to twisting it in a way that amounts to a misrepresentation of what was said (p.163). It remains important to protect the subjects as much as possible, and in the area of language, participants are quite vulnerable. Likewise, Devault (1999) maintains that naming and language within the research pr ocess is critical, and feminist researchers should aim to choose words carefully and creatively in order to prevent the mislabeling of experience (p.80 ). In an effort not to betr ay the trust of my research participants and to ensure that their voices are heard in their form, providing member-checking feedback forums, in which I pres ent to participants a summary of my analysis, is a way to guarantee that what I present is accurate and expressive of each womans voice. To be sure, there are many personal and profe ssional issues to consider in my research. However, as my work is situated within a black feminist methodological and epistemological framework, an attention to ethics is built within this paradigm. Patricia Hill Collins (2000) developed an extensive strategy to black femini st epistemology, and she highlights the ethic of caring and the ethic of personal accountability as crucial methodologi cal ingredients in feminist research involving black women. An ethic of caring involves an emphasis on individuality, emotions, and empathy. As such, these elements foster the emergence of truth through caring. Similarly, through the ethic of personal accounta bility, people are expected to be held accountable for their knowledge claims (Collins, 2000, p.265). When taken together, these key elements are able to empower all black wome n who are viewed as agents of knowledge. I understand that colorism is not an easy topic to address. Further, I acknowledge that in researching this subject as a black woman and a sociologist th at I walk a fine line between community responsibility and prof essional duty; I am aware that my research must begin with my own self-reflection. Like many other feminist researchers, I know that there is no easy
61 solution to these dilemmas, and it remains diffi cult to produce emancipato ry research that is neither disempowering nor oppressive in some way. Yet, equipped with the appropriate methodological tools, I am confident that colorism can evolve from the dirty laundry of the black community to a public is sue for broader society.
62 Table 2-1 Sample characteristics Name Ethnicity Age Skin Tone Berniece Haitian 20 Medium Keesha African-American 20 Dark Mary African-American 24 Medium Yolanda Haitian 19 Dark Tessa African-American 20 Very Dark Maxine Haitian 20 Light Brown Alicia African-American & Puerto Rican 22 Light Brown Toni African-American 23 Dark Melissa African-American 19 Light Brown Denise African-American 21 Medium Desiree African-American 20 Medium Vivica Haitian 21 Medium Chanel Haitian 21 Dark Trina Bahamian 20 Very Light Missy African-American 25 Medium* Lela Jamaican 20 Medium Nia Antiguan 21 Dark Maria Black & Cuban 20 Light Brown Leah African-American 21 Medium Karina Haitian 21 Medium Tatiana Nigerian 19 Very Dark Callea Jamaican 21 Dark Clarasol African-American 18 Medium Jasmine Jamaican 19 Light Brown Shanta Dominican Republic 20 Light Brown Teresa Jamaican 20 Dark Regina Haitian 21 Dark Brenda Jamaican 19 Medium Shirelle African-American 18 Light Brown
63 Table 2-1 Continued Name Ethnicity Age Skin Tone Shanae African-American 18 Dark Amy Haitian 18 Medium Monica Jamaican 19 Medium Asia Jamaican 19 Medium Kira Panamanian 19 Medium Keleechi Black & Puerto Rican 18 Very Light Sandra Jamaican 21 Medium Michelle Jamaican 21 Medium Natasha Jamaican 18 Medium Ashley Hawaiian & African-American 20 Light Brown Fiona Jamaican 21 Medium Rachel Jamaican 18 Light Brown Rosetta African-American 20 Light Brown Dr. Q African-American 20 Very Light Charlie Haitian 18 Medium Star No Answer 21 Light Brown Lee African-American 19 Dark U-neek African-American 21 Medium Fuze African-American 20 Medium Meeko African-American 20 Dark Bo African-American 20 Medium Beyonce Haitian 21 Medium Becky Jamaican 21 Light Brown Pauline African-American & White 21 Light Brown Jessica African-American 19 Medium Luann No Answer 21 Medium Patricia African-American 18 Light Brown Kelly African-American 21 Medium Stacy Haitian 24 Dark
64 5% 24% 43% 24% 4% Very Light Light Brown Medium Dark Very Dark Figure 2-1 Participant char acteristics by skin tone
65 CHAPTER 3 UNDERSTANDING EVERYDAY COLORISM: THEORETICAL CONSIDERATIONS Black wom en have long recognized the special circumstances of our lives in the United States: the commonalties that we share with a ll women, as well as the bonds that connect us to the men of our race. We have also realized that the inte ractive oppressions that circumscribe our lives produce a dist inctive content for black womanhood. --Deborah K. King The aim of this dissertation research is to explore how young black women talk about and understand colorism in their everyday lives. Further, the purpose of this st udy is to: show that colorism continues to impact black women; examine the ways in wh ich day-to-day situations and interaction are shaped by contemporary notions of colorism; develop a beginning foundation of a theoretical framework of colorism in the 21st century; and produce culturally relevant knowledge that will inform recommendations for social change. Examining black women and their everyday experiences of colorism requires at tention to two equally important bodies of scholarship: black feminist theory and sociological theories that integrate both micro and macrolevel paradigms. Each of these frameworks is essential in articulating the concept of everyday colorism This chapter therefore presents a discussi on of these theoretical conceptualizations. First, I will outline the core features of black feminist ideology, a theoretical framework centered on the distinctive experiences of black women. Next I turn to the work of Patricia Hill Collins, Pierre Bourdieu, and Philomena Essedthinkers who articulate ideas on the inter-connected processes of everyday life and practice. Finall y I will discuss how everyday colorism, a model encompassing various elements of both theoretical perspectives, is useful in situating the day-to day experiences of black women and skin tone. Black Feminist Theory Black fem inism did not produce a groundswell in academia until the 1980s (Breines 2006). Yet, black womens consciousness and intellectual pro ductionboth inside and outside
66 the ivory towerhas persisted for centuries. As Deborah King (1988) points out, black women have been feminists since the early 1800s ( p.70). Despite being unrightfully acknowledged and recorded for generations, bl ack women have historically ta ken a critical stance against inequality and oppression. A theoretical approach that embraces the ideas of resistance, voice, and activism, black feminist theory (or more commonly black feminist ideology or black feminist thought) was borne out of the desire to be heard, warranted, and legitimized. This ideology is centered around a distinctive bl ack female experience grounded in intersecting oppressions, standpoint and visibility, and the self-producti on of black womens knowledge and experience for the purpose of empowerment. Intersectionality Central to understand ing the experiences of black wom e n, intersectionality is a core feature of black feminist theory. As many black women scholars have observed, the position of a black woman in American society is one that is rife with distinction. On e of the first women to articulate this experience, Anna Julia Cooper (1892; 1988) writes: The colored woman of to-day occupies, one may say, a unique position in this country. In a period of itself transitional and unsettled, he r status seems one of the least ascertainable and definitive of all forces which make for our civilization. She is confronted by both a woman question and a race problem, and is ye t an unknown or and unacknowledged factor in both (134). Excerpted from A Voice From the South one of the earliest writings of black feminist theory, Cooper underscores that a black womans lifeuni que compared to a black man or a white womanis shaped by both her race and her gender She also asserts that because of their distinct place in society, black women are relega ted to the bottom of the social hierarchy. Coopers original expression of a woman question and a race problem in 1892 has remained a core feature of black feminist thought, however there has been a progression in the ways in which black female thinkers have articul ated black womens place in society.
67 Much later in 1970, Frances Beale furthers our thinking of intersectionality by noting that the black female experience is subject to the double jeopardy of racism a nd sexism. Beale also points to the system of capitalism as the culp rit for reduc[ing black] women to a state of enslavement (as quoted in Guy-Sheftall, 1995, p. 149). For a significant portion of time (from Reconstruction to the 1960s), the majority of black women were concentrated in domestic labor and servitude (Hesse-Biber & Carter, 2006). Pointing not only to racism (from whites) and sexism (from black men) as vehicles of oppr ession, many black feminists in the 1960s and 1970s extended Marxist notions of economic exploi tation to show classism as an additional subjugation shaping the lives of bl ack women and the ideals of black feminist thought. This is exhibited for instance in the writings of the Combahee Rive r Collective (1977). Employing an intersectional framework of race, class, and gender as a system of interlocking oppressions more accurately captures the unique and shared history and status of black women (Collins, 1986). It is important to underscore, however that there is no one generic, mono lithic version of black womanhood, but rather various models that are re flective of race, class, and gender inequality. Deborah Kings (1989) pivotal work, Multiple Jeopardy, Multiple Consciousnesses advanced black feminist thinking on the inters ectional paradigm. As Guy-Sheftall (1995) suggests, her groundbreaking essayis an importa nt contribution to black feminist theory, which goes beyond the triple jeopardy thesis to describe the nature of black womanhood (p.293). King critiques the ra ce-sex, double-jeopardy model of research and theoretical investigation for black women, and advocates inst ead for utilizing an interactive, multiplicative paradigm of triple jeopardy, ra ther than an additive one:
68 racism, sexism, and classism constitute three, interdependent control systems. An interactive model, which I have termed multip le jeopardy, better captures the processes. The modifier multiple refers not only to several, simultaneous oppressions but multiplicative relationships among them as well. In other words, the equivalent formulation is racism multiplied by sexism multiplied by classism (p.47). Kings work further illuminates the distinctive position of black women in American society. Her theory, in conjunction with the broader aspects of black feminist thought, provided a platform for other women of color, including Ch icana feminists and Native American women, to articulate their multidimensional st ruggle (Garcia, 1989; Mihesuah, 2003). Standpoint and Visibility Since the first wave of fem inism, the expe riences and concerns of black women have been disregarded. The main objective of the first wavethe right to votewas never meant to benefit the lives of all women, just middleclass white women (hooks, 1981). As bell hooks (1999) argues, The first white womens rights advocates were never seeking social equality for all womenhistoriographers and especially femi nist writing have created a version of American history in which white womens ri ghts advocates are presented as champions of oppressed black people (p.376). Despite the notion that white women and black women were united in solidarity against slavery and for suffrage, hooks reveals that the needs an d concerns of black women did not match those of white women. Black feminist writing at the time tells the same story. Sojourner Truths 1851 speech on Womans Rights, asked the famous question, ant I a woman, which spoke volumes to the exclusive nature of the suffragist movement and the invisible presence of black women within the movement (Guy-Sheftall, 1995, p.36). History repeated itself in the second-wave of feminism, as th e voices and concerns of black women and other women of color were overlooked and counted as one within the struggle of mainstream feminism. Many black feminists accu sed white feminists for failing to represent the
69 interests and positions of black women. Betty Friedans one dimensional perspective on womens reality in her seminal book, The Feminine Mystique offers one such example of this exclusion (Hooks, 2000, p.3). As hooks and other black feminist scholars argue, marginality and invisibility were part and parcel of the black woman experience. To that end, visibility and standpoint char acterize a key element of black feminist thought. As Deborah King (1989) notes, conceptu ally invisible,black women have found that much in the movement has denied important aspects of our history and experience (p.60). Negative images and stereotypes of black womanhood prevented the intellect, value, and position of black women from being recognized as legitimate and valid. Sexually and economically exploited, black women were often s een as mules uh de world, with no human value (Collins, 2000, p.45). Thus, the black woma ns standpoint begins with the basic belief that black women are inherently valuab le (Combahee River Collective, 1983, p.274). Furthermore, black feminist thoug ht is concerned with developi ng a standpoint and theoretical framework that accurately captures the true and real experiences of black womanhood with black women at the center of analysis. A self-defin ed standpoint, black feminist ideology is grounded in the reality of black women (King, 1989), and as Collins (1986) points out, the act of insisting on Black female self-definition validates Black womens power as human subjects (p.S17). This is one of the reasons why Patricia Hill Co llins (1986) argues that bl ack feminist thought can be produced only by black women. This theoretical perspective provides agency, while simultaneously creating a vehicle and outlet for expression. Voice and Empowerment Bell hooks (1989) argues that for the oppresse d, power originates in m oving from silence into speech (p.9). Patr icia Hill Collins (1998) adds that when black women come out of silence, they simultaneously come into voice and power. Bringing the silenced voices from the
70 margins to the center, black feminist thought is concerned with connec ting personal lives to greater social forces and insi sts on the power of self-definit ion to change consciousness and increase awareness. This theoretical approach em braces lived experience as a worthy criterion of producing knowledge and wisdom. The orientati on of black feminist thought recognizes the importance of dialogue in supporting relationships and connectedness, partic ularly in challenging and resisting domination (Collins, 2000). More importantly, recognizing that there is no one voice that captures black all women, black fe minist thought embraces a multiplicity of voices that is shaped by individual biography and e xperience. Talking back and coming into voice signifies for black women the authority, resist ance, and empowerment needed in order to develop and maintain a critical consciousness. Bridging Micro and Macro-Level Process in Social Reality As C. W right Mills (1959) suggests, no soci ological examination is complete without investigating the connecti on between an individuals private troubles and the public issues of social structure (p.8). Although Mills is consid ered a theorist who focuses on macro-levels of understanding, he was in fact a thinker who sa w the benefit in examining the relationship between large-scale institutions a nd individual aspects of social life. One of the recurring debates in past and present so ciology lies in this distincti on between micro and macro-level processes (Cuff, 2003; Ritzer, 1991) Despite the divisive histor y and nature of sociological theory, more contemporary sociological theory features a movement away from micro-macro extremism and toward the integration (or synt hesis, linkage) of micro and macro theories and/or levels of social anal ysis (Ritzer, 2008, p.375). In reflecting on my own placement as a sociologist, I chose to situate myself within th e field of theorists who employ more unified and integrated social theories to guide their work. Given the context of this research on black women and colorism, I rely heavily on the unified theori es of Pierre Bourdieu, Patricia Hill Collins and
71 Philomena Essedthree scholars who successfully na vigate the theoretical terrains of micro and macro-level sociology. Pierre Bourdieu French sociologist P ierre Bourdieu offers many contributions to contemporary sociological theory, mainly his theories to th e sociology of culture th rough his pivotal work Distinction. Yet, Bourdieu is also a so cial scientist whose work is useful in bridging the divide between macro and micro-sociology. Viewed by Cuff (2003) as a synthesist, Bourdieu is concerned with the ways actors create the so cial world around them[ by] looking more closely at the relationship between structure and agen cy in the social world (Gattone, 2006, p.102). Bourdieu takes on this task in his piece, Vive La Crise! Written in 1988, Bourdieu is openly critical of the false unanimity and oppositional na ture of sociology. Accusing the discipline of being divided into theoretical denominations, Bourdieu suggests that sociology make a number of connections, namely between theory and prac tice, micro and macro sociology, and qualitative and quantitative methods (p.780). More importa ntly, he is focused on the unification of objectivity and subjectivity. As Cu ff (2003) points out, Bourdieu is centrally concerned with the reconciling of dualismsthe dualism which occupies centre stageis the classical epistemological one between objectivism and subj ectivism (p.322). In Bourdieus view, the concentration of intellectuals on objectivity prevents them from knowing and understanding the social world from the perspective of the soci al actors within it. Conversely, an emphasis on subjectivity leads to a reductionist view of the social world. Despite this limitation, Bourdieu argues that the subjective, or soft sociology is perhaps a more accurate representation of the social world (p.781). He offe rs the following resolution: I believe that true scientific theory an d practice must overcome this opposition by integrating into a single model the analysis of the experience of social agents and the analysis of the objective st ructures that make this experience possible (p.782).
72 In consideration of Bourdieus numerous cont ributions to the area of sociological theory, I believe his conceptualization of habitus, practices and fields are most applicable to this research. Framing these concepts within the conversation of structure and agency, Bourdieu situates these three ideas as critical elements in how people cons truct life and social reality. First, the habitus represents the internalized thoughts a nd ideas that guide the ways in which people understand and view the social world. Hab itus is acquired through socialization, and as people internalize the rules and st ructures of the world, these dis positions become part of ones consciousness. In fact, Bourdieu (1984) suggests that the habitu s functions below the level of consciousness and language, beyond the reach of intros pective scrutiny and control by the will (p.466). Further, Bourdieu notes that while each individual has their own habitus (shaped by their social location and position in society), there is, however, an element of collectivity inherent within habitus. Ultimately, the habitu s provides a basis for choice and action, producing the practices within society. While habitus represents the internalization of thought, practices then constitute the externalization of internalized thoughts and ideas. According to Bourdieu, practices represent the behavior mediated by structure and agen cy; practices are simply what one does. Fields, then, symbolize the setting of shared relations which contextualizes group interaction and identity. Both individual agents and institutions co-exist within fields, and matters of power and position impact habitus. As Ritzer (2008) explains, t he field conditions the ha bitus; on the other hand, the habitus constitutes the field as something th at is meaningful (p. 408). Bourdieus unified perspective of habitus, practices, and fields attempts to resolve the partiality of a micro or macrolevel model explaining the social world.
73 Patricia Hill Collins Patricia Hill Collins is an other thinker who is useful in bridging the micro-macro divide. Unlike Bourdieu, Collins is much less formal in her analysis and does not engage a theoretical debate or critique in her work. Yet, she does provide an interesting pa radigm for exploring the relationship between structure and agency. Like many feminist theorists, Collins employs an integrative macro-micro framework, and thus is quite capable of bridging this divide in her work. Throughout her work, Collins offers a clear and yet seamless way of understanding the interdependent nature of institutional organization and individual though t and behavior. Using the empowerment of black women as her th eoretical lens, Collins employs four highly interconnected systems of power (structural, disciplinary, he gemonic, and interpersonal) operating through the matrix of domination in vari ous micro and macro-levels ways. As Collins (2000) reveals, although each domain functions at different societal or individual levels, and each domain influences individua l and collective human agency. The structural domain of power reflects the ways in which macro-level processes affect the lives of black women. As Collins (2000) expl ains, this particular domain encompasses how social institutions are organized to reproduce Black womens subordination over time (277). She points to such structural inequities in housing, education, and employment that have hindered the resources and opportun ity for black women, and reinfo rced institutional forms of racism. An interplay of the structural and disciplinary domains of power enable the enforcement of such large-scale bias and discrimination. Th is second feature of macr o-level power points to the inside enforcement and surveillance of orga nizations that foster new and unanticipated forms of disciplinary control (282). Despite legal advances (i.e. Ci vil Rights Act or Voting Rights Act) that impact the stru ctural domain of power by furt hering the position of women of color, large-scale discrimination is stil l possible at this disciplinary level.
74 In comparing the four models of power, Collins (2000) provides this summary: The structural and disciplinary domains of power operate through system-wide social policies managed primarily through bureaucracies In contrast, the hegemonic domain of power aims to justify practices in these domains of power. By manipulating ideology and culture, the hegemonic domain acts as a link between social institutions (structural domain), their organizational practices (dis ciplinary domain), and the level of everyday social interaction (interpersonal domain) (p.284). As Collins maintains, the hegemonic domain of power refers to sym bols, ideas, and ideologies, while the interpersonal realm is more concerned with day-to-day relationships and communication. Although this model is comp lex, it does provide an alternative way to understand how the status and position of black wo men individually and collectively is mediated through this interrelated process of micro and macro-level domains. These linkages are critical to the social transformation and empowerment of women of color. Philomena Essed In her research exam ining the daily experien ces of racism faced by black women in the United States and the Netherlands, Dutch sociologist Philomena Esseds 1991 pioneering work, Understanding Everyday Racism provides both a theoretical and empirical framework for studying and understanding the unique perspectives of black women. By using the narratives of 55 black women as her guide, Esse d builds a theoretical frame of everyday racism that explains both micro and macro-level implications of racism. Similar to other theorists who engage th e sociology of knowledge, Essed considers knowledge to be an integral part of everyday life and practice. Within any given society or culture, there exists a co llective stock of knowledge that guides behavior and action (Berger and Luckmann, 1966). All members of a society acquire the knowledge needed for navigation within that particular society or cultu re. The acquisition of such knowledge is developed by learning the language, customs, traditions, and rules of th at particular culture or society. According to
75 Essed, knowledge used in everyday life is in ma ny ways mediated by the institutions of family, media, and education. For many members in a society, going about daily life and interacting with these various institutions on a frequent basis results in the institutionalization and embodiment of this frame of knowledge that is ofte ntimes taken for granted as an objective part of reality. Philomena Essed applies an intersectional pe rspective to the sociology of knowledge, and uses the framework to explain: 1) how member s of a society acquire a collective knowledge on racism; and 2) how black women are particularly impacted by everyday practice and interaction as it relates to racism. As she points out, ev eryday practices are pr esent and reproduced by everyday situations. The situatio ns of the everyday world are s ubstructured by relations of race, ethnicity, class, and gender. This introduces, finally, the notion of everyday racism (p.49). Esseds specific use of the concept everyday is key in fusing a micro and macro-level paradigm. As she explains, employing the term cross[es] the boundaries between structural and interactional approaches to racism and link[s] details of micro experiences to the structural and ideological context in which they are shape d. (p.288) For Essed, it remains important to underscore the cumulative effects of racism. Sh e describes that specific instances acquire meaning only in relation to the sum total of othe r experiences of everyday racism (p.288). To that end, everyday racism encapsula tes the routine practices, attit udes, and behavior of racism that taken alone would go ignor ed and unnamed as racist. Esseds framework of everyday racism is so essential to scholarly research on black women for several reasons. First, Essed points to a scholarly disinterest in micro-level practices and in the evaluation of everyday experience. Due to this prevailing macro-sociological bias, she writes, micro-interactional perspectiv es on racismhave been neglected. (Essed,1991,
76 pp.7-8). As such, in considering the scholarly work of experiences of racism, the value of everyday experience has been taken for granted and omitted from empirical inquiry. It is important to highlight that at the time of Esse ds publication, this was a legitimate concern; more contemporary research, however, does address ever yday experiences of racism. The work of St. Jean and Feagin (1998) provides one such ex ample of an empirical focus on micro-level processes. Secondly, Essed highlights that a ma rriage of micro-level practices and macro-level structure within research and method is neces sary in order to completely understand the experiences of black women and racism. To acco mplish this task, Essed (1991) suggests that more studies of racism are needed that start fr om real-life experiences. (p.294). This empirical and theoretical example provides a usef ul tool for subsequent research. Understanding Everyday Colorism The theoretical questions and perspectives concerning skin tone have been commonly evaluated throughout the history of the sociologi cal study of colorism From W.E.B. DuBois (1903) classic essay, The Talented Tenth to Margaret Hunters (2005) recent work Race, Gender, & the Politics of Skin Tone, key theoretical conceptualizations of colorism have all been grounded within race scholarship. Scholars who st udy colorism rely heavily on racial paradigms to explain the dual phenomenons of race and skin tone. As Kimberly McClain Dacosta (2005) explains, it was commonplace for early studies of colorism to be c oupled with broader studies of racism (see for e.g. Drake & Cayton, 1945; Frazie r, 1957; Kronus, 1971). As such, colorism (like racism) typically has been viewed as ei ther a consequence of slavery or colonial domination. Conversely, many wo men of color who examine the e ffects of skin tone in their work do so from a critical intersectional standpoint investigating how skin tone intersects with other factors such as race, class, and gender. Unlike race scholarship however, conceptual frameworks of colorism have remained unde r-theorized over time, and many scholars who
77 conduct empirical research fail to advance colori sm theory beyond the scope of race and racism (Hill, 2000; Hunter, 1998). The exception to this rule is the theory offered by scholar Margaret Hunter (1998; 2002). She frames colorism as a skin color selection system, pointing out that black women form a beauty queue with light-skinned women at the front and darker-skinned women in within the larger power relations present within the structure of colorism. While I agree that it is essential to engage race theory when conceptualizing colorism, there remains a critical gap in the literature relating to the theoreti cal foundations of colorism. The present body of scholarship on race theory is quite broad and expansive; many scholars have advanced our theoretical understandings of the various form s of race, including color-blind racism (BonillaSilva, 2006), everyday racism (Essed, 1991), an d silent racism (Trepagnier, 2007). Yet colorismarguably another form and derivative of racismhas yet to realize an independent theoretical development. Given the theoretical limitations of the literatu re, a portion of this research aims to develop a starting framework for understanding the contem porary nature of colorism. In addressing how the framework of everyday racism can be useful in understanding other forms of oppression experienced by black women, Philomena Essed (1 991) suggests that apart from racism, the same method can be applied to assess other a ccounts of systematic injustice  in everyday life (294). Her model is useful then in engaging a conversation about colorism. Building upon the theoretical contribu tions of Bourdieus habitus Collins framework of empowerment, and Philomena Esseds notion of everyday racism, I am positing the term everyday colorism a theoretical frame emerging from the data that co ntextualizes the voices and experiences of the women involved in this research project. I argue that everyday co lorism is comprised of three elements: language, internal scripts, and external practices (See Figure 3-1). I define language
78 in this context as the everyday vocabulary and system of meaning attached to skin tone. Internal scripts refer to the socially constructed ideas, ex pectations, emotions, and beliefs women carry with them about skin tone. Internal scripts then guide external practices everyday behaviors and actions enacted by women towards themselves a nd others based upon their internalized views about skin color. It is importa nt to highlight that the language, scripts, and practices of everyday colorism can yield two models: a normative framework and an oppositional framework. The most common form of everyday colorism, a normative model explains the dominant nature of colorism that places light-skinned women at the top of the skin color hierarchy and dark-skinned women at the bottom. An oppositional model of everyday colorism yields everyday language, internal scripts and external practices that resist and ch allenge the dominant ideology. I argue that the model of everyday colorism is significant for several reasons. First, my usage of the term colorism is a first step in forma lly naming the issue. It is important to note that despite the long history and widespread prevalen ce of colorism in black communities, the term itself remains largely unnamed. In fact, at the onset of this project, I found it more challenging to recruit participants using the term colori sm on my recruitment flyer. After quickly recognizing this oversight, my recruitment efforts were more fruitful after I started looking for young women who wanted to discuss issues of li ght skin, dark skin, good hair and bad hair (See Appendix A). Like other scholars who read ily study and understand the issue of colorism, this term is part of my everyday vocabulary; yet my researcher bias failed to consider how uncommon the term is among young black women. In fact, at the beginning of one focus group session, I asked every participant to talk about why she wanted to be a part of this research. One young woman honestly stated, before today, I have never really hear d of this word, so I cant really give you any answer and look stupid. What exactly is colorism? When asking
79 participants about the relative obscurity of the term, many obse rved that usage of the term colorism was rare and directly related to the pr oblematic nature of this sensitive subject. As Karina, a Haitian woman notes: I think  if we dont give it a name, then its not really an issue, were not considering it an issue, so were like keeping it, you know undercover. If we were to say you know, like racism, if we called it colorism, then that m eans its an issue in our community and I guess we dont want to say that all the time. Throughout this project, there were no respondents who used the term colorism freely. Some women talked about the color complex (w hich could be a direct allusion to the popular 1992 book of the same name), yet the majority of participants did not connect their daily experiences with skin color to the term colorism. The irony however is that although colorism is not readily recognizable or eas ily defined, not one woman in this study had any difficulty articulating the meaning and value inherent in skin tone, or that colorism was a problem disproportionately affecting black women. As Bec ky so aptly remarks, This is something that plagues women rather than men, and I was dr awn [to this research project] because its something you could never really get tired of ta lking about because it always seems to be an issue. Despite the fact that colorism goe s unnamed in the black community, there is a unanimous recognition that colorism is alive a nd well in everyday life an d interaction, and as Becky suggests, operates in a covert fashion, looming in the mindset and mentality of young women. The inability to name colorism also translates into the scholarly arena. In the classic works, in addition to the more recent body of lite rature, colorism is more commonly referred to as skin tone bias, discriminati on, or stratification. Although this is sufficient in describing the issue of light skin and dark skin, it still does not accurately en capsulate the overarching ideology and discourse of skin tone looming in the backdr op of black American life. As colorism is a
80 form of internalized racism, I assert that colo rism should be invoked as the universal term used to describe the complex system of social inequality that exists in conjunction with other forms of oppression to perpetuate differe nce, subordination, and hierarc hy in black society. Naming colorismwithin black communities and in academiawill undoubtedly give way to formally challenging this long-standing hist ory of bias and discrimination. As Patricia Hill Collins (1998) reminds us, private naming is not enoughtruth must be publicly proclaimed (p.237). Naming, then, is ultimately about empowerment. The second value of this framework is that th is model highlights ever yday experiences of colorism, yet it also points to the connection between individual behavior and the actions of institutions. This research f ills a gap in the literature by ex amining day-to-day interaction, however it is equally important to address the role individuals play in reinforcing behavior that becomes reproduced and institutionalized on a regular basis. As earlier stated, more contemporary scholars are devising frameworks th at transcend micro and macro-level paradigms (Cuff, 2003). The manifestations of colorism remain salient yet insidious in a variety of contexts including family and personal relationships, and larg er societal institutions such as the media and education. Consistent with Pierre Bourdieus interplay of habitus, practice, and fields, or even Patricia Hill Collins four domains of power (str uctural, disciplinary, hegemonic, interpersonal), perceptions and experiences of colo rism rest on a fine line of indivi dual agency/constraint that is influenced by both micro and macro-level forces Evaluating one or the other does not provide an accurate description of how bl ack women view their skin tone as a multi-dimensional element (in conjunction of course, with additional interlocking oppressions) that sh apes their life agency and/or constrains them within th is dynamic system. Their micro-le vel interactions also speak to macro-level, structural implications.
81 Finally, building upon Rismans (2004) interpretation of gender as a social structure, I argue that colorism can also be viewed as mu lti-dimensional structure. Although colorism does exist within the larger structure of racism, it can undoubtedly be conceptu alized as a structure functioning at the individual, inte ractional, and institutional levels. As Risman (2004) defines these areas in relation to gender, the individual le vel constitutes internalization and socialization; the interactional level defines status expectations, bias and othering; the institutional level of course refers to organizational practices, legal regulations, and ideol ogy. Although I am not equating colorism with gender, I consider colori sm a multi-level construct existing at these three levels. Everyday colorism examines the broa der connections between these micro and macrolevel structures. These ideas represent a start point in advancing the scholarship on colorism theory. In the following chapters, I present the findings of analysis that ar e centered on the framework of everyday colorism.
82 Language Internal scripts External Practices n Language Internal scripts External Practices POINTSOF ORIGIN STABILIZING AGENTS TRANSFORMATIVE AGENTS NORMATIVEFRAMEWORK OPPOSITIONALFRAMEWORK Figure 3-1. The structure of everyday colorism
83 CHAPTER 4 REVISITING COLOR NAMES AND COLOR NOTIONS From the time I can remember everyone was desc ribed by color, down to a half or quarter shade darker than someone else. If the pe rson was dark, the desc ription was negative, especially if the person was femaleI got the message: no good, dark, ugly, not worth black mens attention, unattractive, and not wife material. I believed it. --Virginia R. Harris In the statement above, artist Virginia Ha rris (1994) describe s her own experience growing up as a prison of color. Being called black on a regular basis led Harris to believe all of the negative attributes commonly associat ed with having a dark skin tone. There are a variety of descriptors used within African-American society to refer to various skin tones, as well as a wide range of connotat ions (positive and negative) attached to every name. These names and ideas constitute the first two elements of everyday colorism, language and internal scripts. Referring back to the story of Virginia Ha rris, she notes that as a child she was called black so many times by family members and schoolmates that by the time she reached adulthood she unknowingly internalized the socially construc ted images of the term, convincing herself and others that she was in fact no good, dark, ugly. In many respects, this research aims to deconstruct the collective language and internal sc ripts of colorism. Furthermore, by examining how young black women talk about and understand colo rism in their everyday life, this research aims to identify any shifts in color consciousness compared to previous generations of young black Americans. I use the pioneering work of sociologist Charles Parrish (1946) Color Names and Color Notions to serve as a basis of comparison. This chapter presents the results of this exploration; I engage a detailed discussion of the langua ge and internal scri pts related to light, medium, and dark skin tones. Ne xt, I describe how the language a nd internal scripts of colorism influence and produce external practices. Data is presented to demonstrate each area separately.
84 Language: Color Names W ithin our society, language is perhaps the most vital component of interaction and communication. As Berger and Luckman (1966) poi nt out, an understanding of language is essential for any understanding of the reality of everyday lif e (p.37). The language of a particular culture or society inherently im plies meaning, power, iden tity, and location. Sociologist Larry Crawford (2000) shares his pe rspective on language and its relationship to race and color: Language is a very powerful tool. When oral or written symbols ar e reinforced through entertainment, education and religion, it b ecomes even more potent. Words communicate meanings that are commonly understood by all participants or they cannot stand as a method for conveying meaning or order. The subconscious, symbolic reality which people speak into existence facilitates the exercise of power or reveals impotence. Words, also, are made into allies or enemies. Our unspoken awareness of the European meanings behind the symbols we use demonstrates a willing consumption of a racist reference groups seductive culture. The language we ape reveals our not so blind endorsement of anothers self-benefitting cultural definitions about colo r, ours relative to their lack of it. The first element of everyday colorism, language is defined as the everyday vocabulary attached to skin tone. This language of cour se is filled with value and meaning. Although the term colorism is vaguely mentioned in the bl ack community, there exists an extensive and sophisticated vocabulary for identifying and disti nguishing skin color cate gories. Historically, blacks have designated each other as either light-skinned or dark-s kinned. In addition to these two basic terms, there is an additi onal set of terms associated with being light or dark. As Marita Golden (2004) suggests, it is the more specific descrip tive terms that separate Blacks and create castes and cliques (p. 7). Many of these te rms, including high yellow, brownskin, and redbone are connected directly to the perceived hue of ones skin tone, and have been commonplace in black American culture for genera tions. Yet the extensive vocabulary of color has origins in slavery and colonia lism. As Obiagele Lake (2003) observes, European colonialists are credited with the invention of racial te rms (i.e. black and white) and are additionally
85 responsible for developing a nomen clature differentiating light and dark-skinned blacks. It is African-Americans, for sure, who have amplified the attention given to the nuances of skin gradations and hair texture. Perhaps the most comprehensive attention to the vocabulary of skin tone has been the work of sociologist Charles Parrish. In his seminal study, Color Names and Color Notions (1946), Parrish explores the various names blacks use to describe people of varying skin shades. The results of his questionnaire given to high school and college students finds twenty-five1 commonly used terms to describe light, medium, and dark skin tones. Names such as fair bright and yellow are regularly cited for ch aracterizing light-skinned indi viduals. Variations of the word brown (e.g. high brown or brownskin ) are universal terms for a medium skin tone. Dark and black are commonly used names for those with the darkest skin tones. Parrish also investigates the various meanings and associations attached to th ese terms. He learns that the names associated with skin tone are invariably connected to stereotypes and personality traits. Those blacks having a medium complexion are favored the most and receive either neutral or positive attributes. Yet those who are both very light and very dark are subject to the most objectionable stereotypes. [Blacks who are very light] are physically attractivelook well in their clothes. They are thought to have a superiority complex which makes them conceited; they act like White people and have little to do with darker Negroes; they are not in the race [Blacks who are very dark]: Most of them are thought to be ugly; they are thought to be evil and hard to get along with; they have a strong f eeling of inferiority; they are quick tempered and like to fight (Parrish, 1946, p.18). 1 Parrish originally found over 125 various names referring to various skin tones, but draws from 25 names that are the most commonly used among all participants.
86 Although the aim of this research is not to re plicate Parrishs study, it is important to gain an understanding of the names that young women today use and hear on a regular basis. In the first phase of data collection, I noted the preponderance of differ ent names participants talked about to describe various skin tones. In light of this, in the second pha se of data collection I explicitly asked respondents to free-list and di scuss the many color names they use or hear on a regular basis. The results of the focus groups indicate that there are 40 terms that these women commonly employed to describe themselves and othe rs in their day-to da y lives (See Table 4.1). Several points of significance are worth highli ghting here. Each of the included terms was mentioned by at least three participants; the majority of these terms were easily identified, recognized, and understood by all of the women inte rviewed. There are nine terms (denoted with an asterisk) that are an exact match to Parrishs list of terms. Close to half of the names are related to being light-skinned; many of these are consistent with not only the terms Parrish found over sixty years ago, but resonate with many other bodies of ficti on and scholarly literature (see for example Kerr, 2006 or Lake, 2003). Reflectin g the history of color language in AfricanAmerican culture, the terms associated with a light-skin tone, such as pretty skin is generally positive. However, it is necessary to mention the term house nigga As Denise, a brown-skinned participant aptly stated, I thi nk that the problem with the colo r complex is that everybody wants to be a house nigga. This comment is a direct reference to the distinct ions made between lightskinned slaves whose duties were relegated inside the slave masters house, and their darker counterparts ( field niggas) who had to perform manual labor in the outdoors. Denises remark, in addition to the other women wh o noted either using or heari ng the term house nigga, reflects not only the survival of the cont entious word nigger, but the con tinued reification of the slave mentality within black culture.
87 As light skin and dark skin reflect the polar opposites of colorism, th e majority of terms offered for dark-skin are de rogatory; names such as burnt charcoal and watermelon child point to a historical bias toward being dark and rein forced controlling images of dark-skinned black women. These labels continue to signify negativity and inferiority standing in stark contrast to the favorable labels of light skin. Some terms listed provide direct references to more concrete instances of skin tone bias. For instance, there is a significan t portion of Jamaican particip ants in this study, and many of them offered the terms browning and coolie to denote a light-skinned in dividual. Both of these terms are rooted within Jamaican culture, as they typically refer to racial ly mixed (light-skinned) girls. In addition, the term jigaboo was mentioned by several participants, as the name for a darkskinned black girl, but also alluding to the divisi ons between black women that are played out in the popular film School Daze. In the movie, the jigaboos are dark-skinned women with kinky hair. Their counterparts, the wannabes are the more popular and attr active light-skinned women with long hair and Eurocentric features. Althoug h the film is more than twenty years old, the term jigaboo is still pres ent within the contemporary language of skin color. Interestingly, there are several terms falling w ithin all three categories that are connected in some way, shape, or form to food. From vanilla for light skin, caramel for medium tones, to chocolate for dark skin, these food terms may in some way point to th e (hyper) sexualized and eroticized images of all black women regardless of their skin tone. Without question, historical white images and attitudes surrounding the black female body have primarily been connected to sex. As sociologist K. Sue Jewell (1993) relate s, from the early 1630s to the present, Black American women of all shades have been por trayed as hypersexual "b ad-black-girls" (p.46). Consequently, the names given to black women by larger society incorporate food metaphors. In
88 1984 sociologist Irving Allen published in Sex Roles the results of a study that examined the battery of terms found within Am erican culture that derogate women of color. Finding the largest number of epithets for black women, many of these termsincluding brown sugar, chocolate drop, hot chocolate, mocha, charcoal blossom, and honeysymbolize food. As Allen (1984) observes, although the connection of food to sexuality may seem p eculiar, there exists nonetheless this universal correla tion within American vernacular fo r all women of color. It is no surprise, then that many of the color names o ffered by respondents in th is study typify various foods. The larger importance of this finding is the survival (and oftentimes embracing, e.g. sexy red or sexy black) of these derogatory terms within black American culture. Many of the same terms Allen found for black women, which are both racist and sexist, get reintroduced and reaffirmed through colorism. Although there exists a wide ra nge of descriptors for light and dark complexions, the women in the study do not use or hear very ofte n terms associated with having a medium skin tone. As one respondent stated, I have never heard of any names for anyone with a medium tone. This comment is consistent with the literature on colorism, which has traditionally operated from a light/dark bi nary structure. Despite the fe w names offered, there is some indication that the experiences of women in the middle are quite different compared to their light and dark counterparts, suggesting that colorism is a threetiered experience as opposed to a binary. I will return to this issue later in this chapter. It is also important to highli ght the most commonly used term s. When referring to lightskinned women, the overwhelming majority of re spondents use the word red compared to any other term, including light-skinned. Red is synonymous with light-ski n and is viewed as the ideal
89 color holding the most value in the black commun ity. Historically, the term redbone has signified a person with mixed white, Native American, a nd African-American ancestry (Marler, 1997). Conversely, the term black is used by women in this study as the predominant name for dark skin, above and beyond the term dark-skinn ed itself. As Drake and Cayton (1945) point out, this word has always been loaded with ne gative implications in Anglo-Saxon linguistics. Things are black as sin. When you dont like a person you give him a black look (p.496). Although many people of African des cent in the U.S. today identify themselves as Black, this connotation for a dark-skinned woman is negative a nd is in no way infused with Black pride. Neal and Wilson (1989) observe that the usage of the word black in this context is a derogatory adjective[and] does little to enforce the idea that black is beautiful (p.327). The characterization of dark-skinned women as black further reinforces the socially constructed divisions among black women. Internal Scripts: Color Notions As noted in the previous sect ion, the nam es and labels attach ed to varying skin tones are loaded with meaning. Red, brown, and black are much more than phenotypic descriptors; these color names, of course, shape color notions. More importantly, the language of skin tone creates a collective stock of knowledge th at is shared and maintained by many members of the black community. The everyday experiences of colori sm are connected to the ways in which women internalize the mental messages, or internal scripts of skin tone. In this context, I define this second element of everyday colorism as the soci ally constructed ideas, expectations, emotions, and beliefs pertaining to skin tone. Similar to B ourdieus (1984) concept of habitus, internalized scripts represent a color habitus, reinforcing for the wo men this study their commonsense knowledge about skin color.
90 Red Girls Get More Attention Consisten t with the many positive terms used to denote a light skin tone, many of the internalized scripts rela ted to light skin were also positive. When asking respondents to describe the attributes associated with light-skinned women, many used words such as trustworthy, amiable, non-threatening, and comfortable. The most commonly held view however, was that light skin was synonymous with beauty. As Beyonce, a medium toned participant observed, I think theres an expectation [that] when somebodys light skinned, you just automatically [assume that] theyre just suppose d to be pretty. The vast majority of the women in this projectregardless of her skin to neechoed this sentiment. Equating light skin with beauty translates into th e placement of light-skinned women at the top of what Margaret Hunter (2002) refers to as the beauty queue. As skin tones are placed on a continuum of light to dark, so too is beauty; a black womans level of attractiveness corresponds to where she falls within the beauty queue. The internalizati on of light-skinned women as the most beautiful black women has pervaded virtually every lite rary, theoretical, and empirical body of work on colorism. It is no surprise, then that this wa s the most universal attr ibute offered by the women in this study. Because light-skinned women are viewed as the most attractive, connected to this idea is the expectation of superiority. Parrish (1946) and others find th at within the black community conceit and arrogance are often inte rnalized scripts associated with light skin. Due to their skin tone, many light-skinned blacks historically looked down upon darker blacks, distancing themselves through many social clubs and organi zations. Consequently, li ght-skinned women are viewed to be snobbish because of their proximity to whiteness. The same ideas emerge from the women in the study. Consider for example the e xperience of Sharelle, an eighteen-year old who identifies her skin tone as light brown. When di scussing the perceived attr ibutes associated with
91 having light skin, Sharelle openly discusses her frustration with constantly being stereotyped as a snob. People always assume that because Im light skinned that Im stuck up and they say, oh youd make the perfect AKA I dont think Im stuck up but people say that I am, and I just think its because of my complexion. I dont think Im stuck up. Sharelles account is a compelling example mirro ring the stories of other light-skinned women participating in this study. Before they have the opportunity to prove otherwise, many lightskinned women are often judged and evaluated in th eir everyday lives on the basis of their skin tone. The other assumption that Sharelle allude d tothat she would make the perfect member of Alpha Kappa Alpha (a black sorority historically believed to select mainly light-skinned members) automatically places her in the mind of others at the top of the beauty queue. Although Sharelle insists that she is not a conce ited individual, this in ternalized script of superiority leads to an inevitable disconnect in communication between light and dark-skinned women. As Hunter (2005) states, the more beauty one possesses, the better off she will be when competing for resources such as jobs, education, or even spouses in the ma rriage market (p. 70). Hunter goes on to explain that for African-American women light skin provides more social commodity and capital. In addition to the internalized scripts shared about light-skinned women and beauty, there was an overwhelming per ception by the women I interviewed that light skin carried more privilege compared to dark skin. Many of these advantages include better employment, the ability to have more inter-raci al friendships and rela tionships, and overall appeal. The following response shared by Denise a medium-toned particip ant, illustrates this belief:
92 Red girls get more attention [from men] than dark skinned girls [be]cause of the  simple fact that theyre just red  it could be a prettier dark skinned girl, the red girl may not even be that pretty, but shes getting a ttention just because sh es red. And its where the feud begins because some dark skinned girls feel as though this red girl isnt as pretty as they are and shes getting al l the attention just because shes red, the dark skinned girls are being over looked just because this person is red. Inherent in what Denise has inte rnalized about what it means to be red is the notion that being average-looking and light-skinned is always better than being pretty and dark-skinned. What is more desirable (i.e. what holds more value) in dating and mate selection is being red. Similar scripts about friendships and the business arena rein force the idea of light-skin privilege. Consider the examples offered by Desiree and Vivica, tw o brown-skinned women who each discuss the additional advant ages of lighter-toned black women: when we see black people who hang out w ith different ethnicities other than black people, a lot of times theyre light skinne d girls with really nice hair. (Desiree) wouldnt you say that you have more privileges  would you agree or disagree that the privileges offered to light skinned people in corporate America wouldnt you say there is more privilege? (Vivica) Because these ideas about the advantages of light skin have been so carefully ingrained within the psyche of many black women, there is no questi on that these internalized scripts are indeed verities in the everyday lives of these women. As Denise points out in the above statement about red girls, their value to black men and their posi tion ahead of darker women is a simple fact. Berger and Luckmann (1966) argue that, The reality of everyday life is taken for grante d as reality. It does not require additional verification over and beyond its simp le presence. It is simply there as self-evident and compelling facticity. I know that it is real (p. 23). The subjective belief that light-skinned women are the most beautiful, superior, and resourceful of all black women become the shared objective reality of many of the women I interviewed: light skin is about more than just beautyit signals an overall better quality of life.
93 Perhaps an unintended consequence of having lig ht skin is the question of authenticity. To be sure, the Black is Beautif ul mantra of the 1960s invoked ra cial pride into the hearts and minds of many African-Americans through a rej ection of whiteness and an appreciation of blackness. The acceptance of dark-skin as t rue blackness reverberated throughout the focus groups. As one participant Colleen noted, If yo ure a lighter Black person, you have to prove how Black you are. This idea mirrors one of Hunter s (2005) major findings in her research. In spite of its associated privilege, those who are light-skinned also expressed feelings of constraint, subject to others stereotyping and questioning their identity. Some of these feelings include the perception that due to their skin tone that they do not face discrimination. In addition, there is the expectation that because someone has light skin, it is automatically assumed that they must be biracial. This can be part icularly offensive for some wo men. As Melissa, a light-skinned woman explains, the interrogations by other black women about her blackness are rather bothersome. It was hard being the light-skinned girl b ecause most people always asked me, Are you Dominican? Are you mixed with something? And Id [say] No, Im just black. What does that have to do with anything? But I always got th at, even to this day I still get, Oh what are you mixed with? or W here are your parents from? Are you Jamaican? Are you something? Then I just say, Oh no Im just black. My parents are just African American. Melissas discomfort of course stems from her lack of recogn ition and immediate acceptance by other blacks as fully African-American. Ackno wledgement as an authentic member of the black community is extremely important for this participant, as it is fo r many people of color. The same level of frustration is echoed by Trina, a young woman who considers her skin tone to be very light. Trina notes that she is very active in school a nd community activities, and considers herself especially committed to issues impacting black Americans. Yet, as she describes, her level of activism is not take n as seriously because of her skin tone:
94 Im light skinned and  honestly feel disc riminated against. You know, I feel like Im more about the cause than blacker people are. You know what I mean?  And I feel its a barrier because  I am light skinned and  my natural hair may not be as coarse  I still feel like its a barrier for our people  I dont feel like Im doing good, just because somebody calls me red. In Trinas mind, because she does not fit the ster eotypical image of a pro-black activist, her motives and ideas are often discredited. Because of her experiences Tr ina considers her light skin to carry an additional layer of baggage co mpared to her darker counterparts due to the fact that she is constantly working to prove that she is black enough and worthy of validation from the black community. Black Girls Are Ghetto As the literature on gendered colorism indicates, the expe rience of dark-skinned black wom en at times creates a position of qua druple jeopardy: race class, gender, and dark skin can serve as mutually intersecting oppressions shaping the experience of dark-skinned women (Thompson & Keith, 2001). To no surprise, the in ternalized scripts revealed by the women in this study support the vast majority of literature i ndicating that dark skin is inherently negative. Further, the attitudes expressed about dark-s kinned women reflect the polar opposite of the attitudes expressed about light sk in. In every focus group, women with darker skin tones were typically described as loud, s uspicious, unattractive, and l ess intelligent. The following internal scripts about dark-skinned women accurately depict this mindset: I dont think I can really dis cern any true advantages [to be ing dark-skinned] other than the idea that you are truly Black, but  ther e are not true advantag es of being darker skin, unless you define that yourself. But I th ink as far as society goes, I cant imagine anything that truly makes you at an adva ntage for being that complexion. (Allea) I guess its a good thing and a bad thing, but people are intimidated by you sort of, nobody is going to mess with you or anything. Nobody wa nt[s] to talk back to you, so. Thats the advantages of being more dark skinned. (Keysha)
95 Ive actually heard that the darker your skin, the more militant African American women are suppose to be  because you are so dark, youre not pretty, youre not attractive  Boys dont look at dark girls. (Yolanda) Well, I think that people seem to think that Blacker girls are more ghetto. And they are loud [and] have more attitude. (Keleechi) The scripts offered here portray dark-skinned wo men as intimidating, militant, ghetto, and loud. Although it could be argued that equating darkness with streng th and attitude are positive attributes, the beliefs about dark skin more likely exemplify the controlling images of AfricanAmerican women. Patricia Hill Collins (2000) de fines controlling images as socially constructed ideas about black womanhood that reinforce thei r subordination. Defined and manipulated by members of the dominant group, negative depictions of black women have been institutionalized since slavery. Two such images are particularly relevant here: The Ma triarch and the Welfare Mother. The Matriarch is the epitome of the strong black woman, but to a fault. She is represented as overly strong, aggressive, and at times a militant black woman who works to emasculate black men (Collins 2000). The Welfare Mother, by contrast is not strong but lazy, poor and uneducated. Both of these figures, coupled with more recent images of the angry black woman point to the internalization of these controlling images within the AfricanAmerican community. This highlights the nature of colorism as a vehicle for the reproduction of hegemonic racism and sexism against black wome n. Via these negative internalized scripts of dark skin, the young black women in this study are supporting the same images that have been historically used in their own subjugation. Another powerful of image of black women that appear in the focus group data is darkskinned women as objects of sexual desire. Many scholars suggest that th e sexuality of black women has traditionally been presented as sexua lly promiscuous and deviant (see, for example Collins, 2000 or St. Jean and Feagin,1998). Yet, so me allude to the idea that there are divergent
96 perspectives of sexuality based upon skin tone. For instance, considering the historical representations of dark-skinned women in music and literature, Kerr (2006) indicates that the recurring questions become: Is sexuality generally defined differently for darkand light-hued women? (p.14). Based upon the data gathered in the focus groups, young black women answer that question with a resounding yes. While many respondents talked about light-skinned women as the object of beauty, many also communicated internal scripts about dark-skinned women as the objects of sexual desire. It was comm onplace for women like Ashley, a 21-year old who identifies as light-brown, to associate a higher level of sexuality with darker women. When I asked about the qualities related to dark skin, Ashley responds, I would say also sexuality th eyre more than lighter skinned women,  darker-skinned women (pause) theyre more promiscuous and doing things. Kelechi, a participant identifying herself as very light, makes the same connections when sharing her experience in high school. She notes that her school popu lation had a disproportionate amount of dark-skinned girls, a nd she noticed a huge difference in the way in which she was perceived by the young men in her school. She recalls that, Me and my sister were the only  light ski nned girls, it was mostly dark skinned [girls] and guys would approach us differentl y, if a guy came and I was with a friend, he might talk to her because she was darker. But when he came to me, he talked to me. Guys would approach the dark skinned girls in a more sexual manner or they just wouldnt approach me at all. Kelechi quickly recognizes this difference in tr eatment, and attributes this difference to the perceived sexual desirability of darker-skinned girls. It is important to note that wo men with darker tone s recognize their classification as sexual objects in opposition to the light-skinned beauty. Some women even su ggested that black men date light-skinned women for their facial a ppearance, and dark-skinned women for the body.
97 Take for example the ideas of Shanae, a dark-skinned participant who describes her own experiences with men: Well to be honest it seems that men are a ttracted to Black women [for] their body traits, most guys are approaching me because of the way Im shaped rather than the way I actually look. [..] I dont know if I ever noticed this but most red skinned girls, if theyre talking to a guy  and if you try to figure out why that particular guy is with that girl, its because shes pretty rather than she has a nice body her face stands out more than her body. Women in this study also make this connection through the media. There was agreement across focus groups that light-skinned wome n are typically featured as the prize or point of beauty in music videos, while darker-skinne d women are used to in music videos to entice viewers with their overly-sexualized bodies. Sherelle s comments illustrate this position: ..in [music] videos, usually if its  a love song or something, and theyre talking about how they feel about a girl  she tends to be lighter skinned. And if theyre talking about, oh shes got a nice body or she shake her whatever,  it tends to be a dark skinned girl. And I think in the media the li ght skinned people are portrayed as  the prize And I dont think its right, but thats just the way the world is because its been going on for so long, and its been a while and no ones actually doi ng anything to stop it. Many focus group members like Sharelle are critical of media images and are readily able to identify the various ways in which colorism b ecomes highlighted within the context of music videos. Consistent with the body of literature on colo rism that documents the struggles of lightskinned women invalidating the perception that they are not authentic members of the race, there also emerged from this data similar experiences from dark-skinned women. Just as light-skinned women fight to prove that they are black enough, many dark-skinned women in this study battle to invalidate controlling imagesto prove for instance that they are not violent and not ghetto. The effort to disprove stereotypes appears in a variety of contexts. Recall the experience of Sharelle, the young woman who was labeled as the perfect AKA simply because of her skin tone. Although Sharelle was not a part of this organization, many people assumed that she was,
98 or that she should be. Contrast Sharelles experience with Yolanda and Bernice, two young women who are in fact members of this sorori ty. Yet because of their dark skin, their membership in this organization does not make sense to many people and is often questioned. Yolanda explains, Everyone around here is confused because we are [members of] AKA. We joke about it  because we just crossed into Alpha Kappa Alpha a few weeks ago and  because Bernice and I are a little bit darker than a paper bag people assume that we wouldnt be AKAs . But the stereotypes that are connected out there, they are hurtful and people just perpetuate them continually. The experience of Yolanda and Bernice is a good example of how some women struggle to invalidate negative stereotype s about being dark-skinned. As evidenced from their story, dispelling myths about their skin tone is a minor annoyance because it is something that they can joke about. This ongoing battle is one that dark-skinned women frequently engage in, and this is related to the ongoing effort in contesting controlling images. Tessa, a young woman who identifies herself as very dark, discusses openly how her familys internalized scripts about her dark skin lowered their e xpectations about her own intelligence. She states, My experience, I think, Ive always seen this idea if you are lighter skinned then you are capable of education. I remember my young c ousins growing up who were lighter skinned and had the good hair,  they were just expected to be smart, to say smart things, to kind of carry on the family name, versus I was never expected to be smart, but maybe they didnt expect it more from me, and when they did see it, it was a surprise and kind of different than what they thought it would be, versus the lighter skinned kids [who] came out perfect and they were, they were manifested to be perf ect. Where I had to prove [my intelligence] over and over again. As an honor student, Tessa mentioned not only peopl e in her family lowering their expectations of her, but she explains that many of her pe ers presumed that her African dark skin automatically made her less capable than others Indeed, a majority of the respondents who
99 identified themselves as dark or very dark spoke about the limitations of their skin tone. As Tatiana and Toni express, there are always constant self-reminders about who they are: I think its always been in the back of my head,  people see you differently, Ive had to learn to realize that I l ove being sexy chocolate, you know what I mean? I had to tell myself that, but like it was inst illed in me at a young age, that theres something wrong with you, I got called all the names, doo doo brown, all thatit was hard, when youre a child and you dont know that youre different from everybody else, so I think its always been in the back of my head (Tatiana) Im an adult now and its something that still sticks with me even though I feel as though Ive grown and matured but I do still catch myself falling back into that mind-frame of insecurity because of my skin complexion (Toni) These two young women point to th e internal work required to deconstruct the negativity placed upon them. Like Toni and Tatiana, many of the women interviewed share a turning point in their lives that re-directs the normative internal scripts of colorism. As Tatiana shares, she had to learn to love being sexy c hocolate rather than internalizing doo doo brown. This process of resistance and reclamation is di scussed at length in Chapter Six. I am Not Black, I Am Brown: Medium Ski n-Tone As a Safe and Protected Class? Much of the literature of skin tone and colo rism within the black community speaks to the preferences and disadvantages associated with light or dark-skin, yet few studies concentrate on what it means to fall in the middle of the color spectrum. In many respects, colorism is situated within the context of a binary structur e (light skin/dark skin; good hair/bad hair), yet there is some indication that being medium or brown skinned is seen as favorable and is therefore somewhat of a protec ted position. Although a much less reported idea, the works of Coard, Breland, and Raskin (2001), Drake and Cayton (1945), Goering (1972) and Parrish (1946) find that blacks rated those who are medium or brownskinned more favorably than their counterparts with extreme light or extreme dark skin. Similarly, Zook (1990) suggests an element of safety inherent in the middle when she writes, all of us but the most even-toned,
100 chestnut-smooth browns are inevit ably screwed in one way or anot her (p.94). Results from this research support the idea that those who are medi um or brown-skinned are not as affected by the consequences of colorism. Yet, there is some evidence that also refutes this same idea. The focus groups do not point to a universal voice from the middle, but rather various internalized scripts on what it means to be brown. One of the first themes emerging about medium sk in tone is that colorism is not an issue for those who are considered brown. As twenty year-old Lela points out, I would consider myself medium and theres always been this whole thing with the red girls and the dark skinned gi rls and being in the middle, Ive never you know had any problems or anything like that. Nobo dys ever said anything to me. Lela considers her experiences very different fr om other black women because she is recognized as being in the middle and treated as such. For this young woman, colorism has never been her issue; it is rather this whole thing between thos e who are either very light or very dark. This sentiment is echoed by Fuze, a young woman who responds, Ive just kind of view[ed] myse lf right in the middle and I th ink that, I feel like I kind of walk the line and can observe a lot more th an a lot of other women because  when I interact with women I dont really have a problem  Similarly, Fiona adds, I dont think people call [me] dark, and I dont th ink people call me light, either. So I feel kind of lucky to be in the middle, cause Id say that Ive escaped a lot of negative things, the extreme negative things that come with be ing light or dark  I feel kind of nice in the middle. From the viewpoints shared by these women, it is apparent that being brown often creates a unique buffer position that affords them be tter navigation among women than their light and dark counterparts. Desiree articulates her middle pos ition very differently from other women participating in the focus groups. She understands her skin tone to be quantifiably different than women of
101 different skin tones. Believing that black wome n are indeed placed in a queue, Desiree is fully aware that her position as a brown-skinned woman affords her more advantage than a dark skin woman, yet less advantage than a light -skinned black woman. She notes: And if I go into an interview and there is a dark skinned girl sitting next to me, I feel as though I have a better chance than her just b ecause I have a lighter skin complexion. Im not light skinned, but Im brown skinned and I dont care what kind of degree she has, I have something that appeals to other people a nd thats my complexion and if I go into the interview and theres a lighter sk inned girl than me there, I f eel threatened because she has something that she can use against me and thats her complexion. Desiree goes on to explain that for black women, sk in color is about the survival of the fittest. Having brown skin deems her better fit than dark women and less f it than light women. Nevertheless, for Desiree this tran slates into varied levels of resource and opportunity, including employment. And it is for reason that Desiree uses her skin tone to the be st of her advantage and ability in order to get ahead in her life experiences. Despite the relative inconsequence of colori sm in the everyday lives of the medium-toned women listed above, there are some in this groups who, like dark-skinned women, feel a considerable amount of constraint within their day-to-day lives. Fo r instance, Vivica, a young woman who identifies herself as medium, recount s her experience in elementary school when she first learns that there is less value placed upon her brown skin. R ecalling how many of the young boys in her class were more enamored w ith the light and Spanish-looking girls, Vivica quickly internalized the negativity placed upon her brownness, and thus developed an internal script that regu lated how she viewed her outlook on life. She says: And so when you are in that mindset or wh atever, you dont try to go out for the light skinned people or whatever. You just try to stay amongst yourself because you feel like ok, this is my level. This is what I ca n reach  I mean were just at the bottom anyways. In light of the varying contex ts and meanings attached to being a brown-skinned woman, it is useful to point out that many of the women who identified themselves as medium were very
102 sensitive and particular about characteri zing themselves as brown. These young women distanced themselves from the la bel of dark, preferring instead to be considered brown. Even though these women are not light-skinned, for them it was better to be brown than dark. The following statement offered by Nia is illustrative of this point: Ive never [been called dark] until my freshman year and people were like, oh [yeah], youre dark and to this day I still dont think Im dark, I th ink Im brownI really think my perception of color is distorted because  I will think that Im the same shade as someone else, and theyre like oh no no no youre darker than that and Im like how? [laughter] And Im you know, pulling my arm out and [comparing to others]. That looks the same to me! This story is particularly inte resting because Nia speaks in the focus group about her discovery of being dark upon her arrival to college. Grow ing up, Nias family always referred to her as brown, and that is the identity that she internalized. There was however, a disconnect between how her family viewed her skin tone and how she was classified in the larger African-American community. This mismatch of color is fairly common among blacks as th ere are varying frames of reference for classifying someone as light, dar k, or brown. As Nia mentions, her perception is that she was brown, yet she finds herself in a posi tion of fighting against be ing labeled as dark. Similar to Nia, Leahanother young woman who identifies as mediumlearned from her family that it was better to be brown than dark. During the focus group, she talks about her experience as a young girl, and getting darker during the summer. After many hours of playing out in the sun, she would come home and shower in an effort to restore her brown color. Leah describes, [As a little girl] I would get really dark in the summer time [and I would] come home and scrub my skin when I was in the s hower, so I could get my [brown] color back  cause I didnt want to be too dark, th ats that was in my mind. Dont know why, I just didnt like it, cause I felt like I looke d um dry and dirty. And my mom would come home and [ask] What are you doing? And Im like mom, Im black, Im black. And shes like no. From that point she woul d tell me no, you are not black, you are brown. Dont let anyone call you bl ack, cause youre brown.
103 Even as a young girl, Leah fears the condemnation inherent in dark skin (i.e. looking dry and dirty), by attempting to scrub her color back. Additionally, her mothers insistence of calling herself brown and not black speaks to the elevation of brownness over blackness in the AfricanAmerican community. This elevation of brown over black interestin gly played itself out during one focus group session. This particular gatheri ng included a pair of best friends : Melissa, who considers herself light-brown, and Denise, who identifies as me dium. At one point during the focus group, Melissa talks about her friendship with Denise. She says, one of my closest friend[s], shes dark skinned and we have the best relationship. We dont um, well shes brown skinned, sorry, brown skinned. When Melissa first describes Denises complexion as dark, Denise cuts her eye at Melissa, indicating her disa pproval of being labeled dark. In the midst of her comment Melissa changes her characterization from dark to brown-skinned. This change was important to Denise, and is indicative of th e notion that brown-skin is saf e and much more desirable than dark skin. Although it is uncertain whether or not being medium tr anslates into life experiences that are truly protected and safe from the challeng es of very light or very dark skin, it is clear from these narratives that feeling brown is much more significant than being dark. In comparing the findings from this study w ith the results of Parrishs 1946 work, it appears that in many ways, the color names and co lor notions present within black culture have not changed. We see overwhelmingly positive names for light skin and negative names for dark skin. There is some difficulty in naming the te rms for those who fall in the middle of the color spectrum. The contemporary language of skin tone very much shapes what ideas are communicated and internalized about light, brown, and dark ski n. The internal scripts of skin tone emerging
104 from the focus groups underscore findings from pr evious research on colori sm, yet also point to new patterns among contemporary women of color. First, messages about light skin as the beauty ideal is repeated by the women interviewe d, as well as implications of light skin offering more privilege and value in the black comm unity. Negative images of black women as unintelligent and ghetto are also re iterations of the previous resear ch. As these findings suggest, there is red-brown-black divi de at work in the lives of these young women. Obiagele Lake (2003) notes a similar pattern operating within Jamaican society. The majority of the women in this study are conscious that their skin tone is an integral part of their identity, and fully aware that as young black women, skin tone indeed denotes a certain social position. On defining colorism, many women mentioned issu es of beauty. Light skin carries the most value in terms of physical attractiveness and desirability. Yet in the everyday lives of these women, colorism goes beyond standards of beauty as participants c onsider colorism to be about separation, preference, attention, and treatment. Red women seem to occupy in the black community the same space that white women hold in greater society. Dark-skinned women, who are more typically referred to in this study as black, occupy the same space held by black women in broader societythe bottom space. Perh aps what is new is the presence of a middle voice, and a keen recognition of the safe space being brown provides. In addition to this recognition is a resistance to bei ng labeled black, as that equates in to true blackness, especially in treatment. The internalization of the scripts indicating that light is best, brown is safe, and dark is worst creates in the lives of black women a subjective reality that influences the ways in which these three distinct groups of women go about their day-to-day behavior. The next section explores this everyday behavior.
105 Practices of Everyday Colorism I had little if any interaction with the light-skinned elite, but their codes of conduct, their etiquette, their colorist belie fs and practices, were well known in the Black community and for the most part when I was a child went unchallenged. Colorism existed like a bitter, unalterable pollutant in the atmosphere of the Black community, something of which we were all aware and yet tried to ignore. --Marita Golden In the statement above, Marita Golden, author of Dont Play in the Sun: One Womans Journey Through the Color Complex writes about the unspoken and uncontested codes of colorism that invariably create difference a nd distinction based upon skin tone. As Golden suggests, these codes manifest themselves in th e form of norms, beliefs, and practices of people in a wide range of social settings. The final component of everyday colorism, external practices are everyday behaviors and acti ons enacted by women towards themselves and others based upon their internalized view s about skin color. Just as the internalized scripts of skin tone represent a young womans id entity, external practic es reflect a young womans experience of colorism. The following example perhaps best crys tallizes the nature of everyday colorism. Melissa, a young woman who identifies as light-b rown, indicates how her views about darker women influenced her behavior: I know sometimes I can be kind of racist towa rd dark skinned girls because I have been before when in my high school days, I really di dnt like dark skinned girls, because they used to be evil, so I didnt really like them  I used to say really hurtful comments and really bring down pe oples self esteem. She goes on to say: I saw that their color was their insecurity, so I used that against them. So, it was basically them showing me their weakness as  their dark skinned color being their insecurity so I used that against them. Melissas racism towards dark-s kinned women is based upon her pe rception that they are evil. This of course justified her deplorable actions Melissas experience provides an excellent example of how white racism beco mes internalized and reified th rough the daily interactions of
106 black women. Similar stories emerged thr oughout the focus group discussions. These comments suggest that women e ngage in three specific areas of practice: ritualistic, compensatory and discriminatory. Each practice is detailed below. Ritualistic Practices Historically, black wom en have engaged in countless ritualistic practices in an effort to uphold standards of beauty in the African-American community. It is not inconceivable then to assume that at some point in her life, almost every black woman (including myself) has been cautioned to stay out of the sun, for fear of spoili ng (or further darkening) her skin color. In fact, one participant shares th e story of her dark-skinned cous in who in preparation for her wedding refused to go out in the sun a full month before her wedding in order to preserve her color. As Russell, Wilson, & Hall (1992) and Kerr (2006) carefully document, the traditions and folklore surrounding skin color are central to und erstanding the nature of colorism. Kerr (2006) points out, Historically, black women, in the company of other black women, are exposed to folk beliefs and practices concerned with skin lightening, hair leng thening or straightening, and repressing facial features, includ ing milk baths to lighten skin, exercises to tighten full lips and retract full nostrils, and hom e-backed concoctions to strai ghten hair and inspire hair growth (p.9). Although many of the above-mentioned customs are a ssociated with practices occurring in the 19th and early 20th centuries before the dawn of the Bl ack is Beautiful movement, there is evidence that some of these rituals have been transferred to the younger generation, and are alive and well within the lives of young black women. Many of the women in this study mentioned hearing and/or participating in su ch ritualistic practices as: holding the nose with a clothespin in order to make it narrower; scrubbing ones knees, elbows and neck with a white wash cloth in order to prevent the areas from becoming darker ; double wrapping the elbows in gauze treated
107 with special oils; and expectant mothers drinking special herbal teas in order to improve the chances of giving birth to a ba by with light or brown skin. The birth of a new baby in many African -American families signifies even more ritualistic practices that reinforce the strength of colorism. Close examination of an infants ears, fingers, and even nail beds suppos edly aid relatives in determining how light (or dark) a childs skin tone will become. The following remarks of two participants further demonstrate this tradition: All [of] my nieces and nephews ar e very light, and when they [we]re babies, we could tell if they were [getting] darker by checking  th eir ears apparently. So a part of your ear is the shade that youre gonna be, I remember th ey would always check my ears, you know if its dark [then] youre gonna be, because I mean all black babies are lighter when theyre born, they check their ears after. (Michelle) My nephew, hes the cutest baby in the wo rld. [laughter] And hes light, you know. And when he was born they were like, do you all think hes gonna get da rker? [laughter and agreement]. And then, [my family] was like w ell look at his ears, and look at his nail beds. Whatever color they are, thats the color hes gonna be. (Trina) Although many women could relate to the cu stoms connected to newborns, the vast majority of women in the study more commonly shared their experiences with bleaching. A multi-million dollar industry in the United States many black women participate in colorism through the purchase of skin bl eaching products. This ritua listic practice was revealed by numerous women who admit to a long history of bleaching starting in childhood. Consider for instance the parallel accounts shared by Chanel, Vivica, and Stacey--three Haitian participants who link the practice of bleaching to being a central aspect of their ethnic culture. Chanel, a dark-skinned woman attributes bl eaching her skin every night before going to bed during early adolescence as a recommended remedy for curing her acne. Vivica, a medium-toned participant, further illuminates that for Haitian wome n, bleaching is a comm on beauty practice:
108 And speaking from the Haitian part of it, women, Haitian women  put [bleach] on every time [they] take a shower they put it on, take it off, they get a pimple and I was even at one point I mean you know, dont forget to put that on, cause you [dont] want to go back, you want to be as light as possible what ever  its still prevalent in our society. Likewise, Stacey grew up in a family where bleaching was common among her female relatives. She reveals that as a child her mother taught he r to use a bleaching soap every night before bed in order to keep her pretty complexion: My mom said, oh were going to buy you some soap for you to [use] at night, you take a shower with [it], not like Irish Spring, but bleaching soap, an d I put a bleaching lotion on. I mean theres so much discoloration in my face, I [asked my] mom, why is my face so white, and my neck so dark? Cause you di dnt put your cream there, you gotta work on that. And being Haitian [that] means a lot. A large part of the care that Staceys mother put into her complexion was due to Staceys position in the family as the lightest child. On he r demographic sheet Stacey indicated her skin tone as dark, yet explains that within her fam ily she was faintly lighter than her brothers and sisters. Because of this, Stacey explains that she was coveted by her mother more than her other siblings, and being encouraged to use bleach ev ery night was a way for Staceys commodity and social capital within the family to be improved. Outside of skin bleaching, perhaps the one ritualistic practice that almost every woman in this research could readily identify with was th e sun. Staying out of the suns damaging rays was mentioned by nearly every focus group participant. For many respondents, they learn early on to heed the advice of their mothers, grandmot hers, or other female family members and subconsciously avoid the sun. This is fact wa s my own experience. Although I would describe my upbringing to be full of positive ideals and pract ices especially relating to skin tone, I can vividly recall questioning my mothers request for me to wear long sleeves during the hot months of the summer. I curren tly live in a climate that aver ages 300 sunny days a year and admittedly, I am sometimes cautious about how long I am direct contact with sunlight. Many of
109 the women interviewed share a similar concern, while others express more of a ritualistic avoidance of the sun. Compensatory Practices The second type of external practices, com pensatory practices is a behavior enacted in order to balance or counteract a perceived negativ e attribute. In this project women who spoke about engaging in compensatory practices were of darker hues. These women felt that they had to alter their appearance in order to be validated by themselves and others. An example of this is the story shared by Vivica. The young woman who was featured in the previous section cites bleaching as part of her regular beauty regimen. Yet lightening her skin also serves as a compensatory practice because she does so in or der to please her boyfriend, who admits that he is typically attracted to light er women. At one point during the focus group session, there is a discussion about where to buy certain bleaching products. Vivica says, Its a huge section  you know theres [a st ore] across the street from Winn Dixie  go right in there and just go to the aisle  I know exactly what aisle it is because I used to I mean theres no reason to lie because you use [bleaching crmes] sometimes you feel like you know, if you were just a little bit light er and you know whats so bad about it because my boyfriend did like me like me when I was that color  that cream makes you lighter and he likes it. As Vivica explains, she gets a better response from her partner when she is lighter, so in her mind taking the extra step in bleaching is worth it. Like Vivica, there are other women who feel compelled to pay close attention to their appearance in order to be on the same level as women with lighter complexions. Monica, a medium-toned woman, suggests that one of her best friends (a dark-skinned woman) employs various compensatory practices when she is around a mixed group of black women. Monica describes that her friend feels like she has to do extra things to make herself look more appealing her hair has to be extravagant, ma ke up, nails, everything has to be perfect because
110 she feels like she has to balance that out with her dark skin. This idea of settling the color score is reiterated by the experience of Stacey, a dark-skinned participant who readily acknowledged that because of th e negative ideas that she and ot hers carry about dark-skinned women, she has to do things in order to redress her position: I feel because [I am dark], I always have to step up my game and  always have my dress code, doing things, always trying, mak[ing] sure that I have the knowledge or trying to play up yourself more and do more and exhaust yourself to the point of depression because you just want to be the best because youre a dark skinned Black woman. There are other women in this study who, like St acey, believe that carry ing out these kind of practices are necessary in order to successfully navigate within larger society. It is only until an oppositional knowledge of colorism is gained that Stacey and others no longer feel the pressure or need to engage in such behaviors. Discriminatory Practices Perhaps the most common (and hurtful) type s of practices m entioned throughout this research project, discriminatory practices are thos e behaviors that function to include or exclude someone based upon their skin tone. They range fr om small incidents such as joking or teasing, to larger-scale practices that preclude certain pe ople from forming friends hips or relationships. Within the domain of discriminatory behavior, bias occurs from all points of the color spectrum. As previously noted, on a smaller scale disc riminatory practices include taunting and excluding someone on the basis of their skin color. Many women in this study recollect these types of experiences happening in grade school. Shanta, a medium-hued participant, recounts her experience in the fifth-grade of being snubbed by a nother classmate for not be ing the right shade:  the other girl was mainly like two shades lighter than I was, [but] I was told, you cant hang out with us because youre dark,  you should probably drink from the other water fountain.
111 Shantas memory of her grade school experien ce demonstrates two important features of colorism. First, this story highlights the mean ing and significance of shades. Throughout the focus groups, many participants speak about bei ng included or excluded for being one or two shades too light or dark. Mi nute delineations in skin tone (i.e. one shade), as indicated by Shantas account, translate into larg e-scale differences in treatment. Second, being told that she should drink from another water fountain is a direct reference to Jim Crow segregation practices that relegated people of colo r to separate and substandard facilities prior to the Civil Rights movement. Although twenty-year old Shanta is recalling an experience that occurred in the late 1990s, it is a stunning example of what Patricia Hill Collins refers to as the past in present occurrences of the new racism (2004). Collins is speaking specifically to the ways in which old patterns of Jim Crow racism continue to manifest and reappear throughout our contemporary society. As colorism is a form of internalized racism, the same reasoning can be applied to the modern-day experiences of colorism. Separatist practices such as the brown paper bag test are no longer a reality for many black Americans, yet everyday discriminatory practices resembling old-school colorism are still ve ry much commonplace in African-American culture. On into adulthood, the women in this study not e that discriminatory practices become more substantive as their experiences and ideals of colorism grow more solid. For instance, Shanae suspects that her dark complexion cause s her to be profiled on a regular basis, Well being dark skinned, I have been called burnt and midnight,  people seem to think that Im ghetto and have and have an attitude because I am black. I have always been discriminated against because of my skin colo r, for instance say I go into a store, you know people tend to follow me because of my skin color  I dont know why, but you know. Although Shanae cannot explicitly pinpoint her skin complexion as the reason for being followed in stores, it is evident that she has clear gras p of the effects of not only her race but her skin
112 color. Everyday racism is characteristic of the more subtle, daily occurr ences of mistreatment that are typically not intended to be harmful, but are viewed as such (Collins 1998). Everyday colorism then embodies the same characteristi cs; in Shanaes case, l ooking suspicious and being discriminated against is part and parcel of being dark-skinned. In this project, the area of relationships specifically, friendships with other black womenare the root of the majority of discrimina tory practices. The lang uage of skin color, combined with the internal scripts associated w ith light skin and dark skin, work to create barriers in forming friendships with women of o pposite skin tones. Te ssa discusses openly how her views about her darkness serv e as an impediment to developing meaningful relationships with light-skinned women: Its not like I go out and say Im not going to be friends with white skinned women, but definitely, even though you dont want to be doing it in your head, you definitely say OK this girl is light skinned and maybe I shouldn t be friends with her because she might not understand where Im coming from or want to be my friend because I am [dark], Ill bring her down basically. Tessas perception that she will bring down a light-skinned woman down is rooted in her familys negative attitudes toward her dark skin. Recall that in an earlier chapter that Tessa talks about the low expectations conveyed to her as she was growing up. As this excerpt suggests, although she tries hard not to let the same pessimism continue to control her internal scripts and external practices, Tessa nonetheless perceives herself as unworthy of the friendship of a lightertoned woman. Similar to Tessa, there are other cases in whic h discriminatory practices take the form of complete evasion of women of differing skin tones. In some instances, women avoid making friendships with women who share are the same comp lexion. This is in fact the case for Rachel, a young woman who describes her skin tone as light brown, but confesses th at her peer group of friends is intentionally darker-skinned.
113 I have to say, I dont have a lot of lighter skinned friends.  But I think that some of them, I wont names name, Ive seen the lighter skinned girls and theyre all in the cliques, theyre the fashionable ones, and I dont really care for that kind of lifestyle at all. Rachel implies from this statement that most light-skinned women are aloof and exclusionary and notes that she would rather spare herself by intermingling with darker-skinned women. This is the same sentiment of Ashley, also a young woman who identifies as light brown; she admits to having negative internal scri pts about light-skinned women a nd therefore chooses to make friendships with women who are darker, b ecause she considers them more real. All my best friends are of darker skin tone s. I think when Ive had you know situations with women who are  lighter than me, it s become catty  I wouldnt say that all light skinned girls are ca tty, but its just from my experien ces its been a lo t of, oh yeah, I got you, I got you, and then something happens and they were the ones who disappear.  In comparison with my relationships with darker skinned women, theyve never really pressured me about stuff,  theyre real with me, honest with me about stuff  thats the type of people I like to su rround myself with. My experience with lighter skinned girls has not been that real to me. We learn from these statements that light-skinned women are also viewed as less authentic in the area of friendships as well. Although Rachel a nd Ashley are light-skinned they too believe the socially constructed id eals about light-skin. To be sure, negative internalized scripts are sh ared by women of all skin tones, and can in many ways function to create hostility and tens ion among women of contrasting complexions. This notion is perhaps best displayed during a focus group session in which participants candidly discuss their reasons for avoiding thei r lighter and darker counterparts: Monica: I think personally, with myself, just being honest, sometimes when I see someone who is really dark Im kind of hesitant. In other words, Im wondering where theyre coming from, do they come from the same place that Im coming from. Are our personalities going to be compatible? Um, light skinned women, I dont really approach either  So I tend to seek out women that look like me, that are medium skinned, same kind of tone, you know. Shanae: Ok, for me most of my friends are re d boned, before we became friends, we had a feud because of the whole red and black thing.
114 JeffriAnne : Give me an example of a feud that you had. Shanae: Ok, I remember a fight in my 9th grade year with my best friend who was very light skinned and if you see her you would thi nk that she was, well I wouldnt say white but she is light skinned  yeah, and we both had this attitude to where we thought, you know, walk with our heads up high, bad ass or wh atever we sat next to each other and we would not talk to each other  I dont know how to explain it was just always like that with me and my friends that ar e red skinned. But now, its all good. Kira: Im also going to agree with what Monica said,  I am more hesitant, I guess, to go up to someone who is lighter skin, just because of that stereotype.  Im not going to go up [to them] in the back of my head, Im like, I hope theyre not rude.  vice versa for a darker skinned person, I hope youre not extremely ghetto, trying to hit me in my face or something crazy is going to happen. But, its just always in the back of my mind,  it affects how I speak to them or how I view them right off th e bat, its just there. Asia: Ill finish what I was saying, I really, I dont ha ve problems with anybody, but I dont really approach black women because sometimes I dont find that theyre easily approachable. JeffriAnne: What about just in your day to day interaction. Not necessarily with your friends. But just walking on campus or bei ng somewhere, do you think that the way that you interact with other black women who arent your friends do you think that skin tone plays some sort of role? Kelechi: Yes because when I approach, like I try to be nice to everybody, just so, I dont get any stereotype put on me, if I approach someone of da rker skin tone, I try not to talk too much because when I talk, I sound like a white girl, so they say, so I try not to talk that much. This dialogue speaks to the complexity of rela tionships between young black women. Monica, a brown-skinned participant believes that initiating friendships with women of similar skin tones is best, and further speaks to the distrust and per ceived lack of connection she has for dark-skinned women. Shanae, on the other hand, has a close friendship with a red girl, but admits that their differences in skin color initially necessitated a fight in order to get ove r each others hang-ups about women of opposite skin tones. Kira c onfesses that she is cautious of her light and darkskinned counterparts, citing the expectation of crue lty from light women, and the fear of violence from dark women. Asia, who also identifies as medium, points out that she has no problems with any black women, but nonetheless avoi ds approaching black women. These young
115 women are readily aware that their internalized view points are influencing their behavior and potential for building true bonds of bl ack sisterhood across skin tones. There are some cases in which women actually make attempts to forge relationships with their lighter counterparts but are rejected. As a result, a type of retaliatory discriminatory practice is enacted against members of the opposite skin tone in an effort to challenge the system of hierarchy and stratific ation. For example, Toni recalled numerous occasions of being slighted because of her darker skin tone. Despite being openly discriminated against by her lighter-skinned counterparts, she often seeks to c ounteract the treatment she received in the past by establishing exclusionary friendships w ith fellow dark-skinned girls in college: My roommate was  also dark skinned and  we kind of did a reverse kind of thing, where we only hung out with dark skinned girls, our whole clique was dark skinned girls. And [. .] it wasnt necessarily like oh, if youre light skinned you cant hang out with us but it was kind of on purpose, you know and I thi nk it was just kind of our way of [. .] turning up our noses at the way that things ty pically are, which is you know, light skinned girls, oh they stick together and theyre boughee and  we were like, oh ok cool, so were all going to stick together and were fly and were dark skinned and you know we roll together. Tonis experience provides a useful ex ample of how those who are initially victims of colorism later become themselves culprits of colorism; the only way for Toni to combat skin tone discrimination was to take part in th e same discriminatory behavior. Summary The findings from this section reinforce just how strongly racism is internalized and inculcated within the minds of young black women. The ways in which these young people formulate negative opinions about women of differi ng skin tones, and then discriminate against light, brown, and dark women is surprisingly sim ilar to the documented e xperiences of racism. Consider for example the 1991 study conducted by scholar Joe Feagin. In his research examining the contemporary significance of race for middle-class blacks, Feagin finds that
116 through day-to-day contact with whites, African -Americans are discriminated against in five specific ways: through avoidance ac tions, rejection actions, verbal attacks, physical attacks by police; and attacks by other whites (see Feagin, 1991, p.102). Although I am careful not to equate the experience of the blac k Americans featured in Feagins research with the young black women in this study, the parallels of racism and colorism are quite similar. The resemblances lie between the kinds of discriminatory practices hi ghlighted in the everyday experiences of racism with those of everyday colorism. Similar acts of avoidance, rejection, and verbal attacks are noted in the stories shared by the young black women in this research. The next chapter addresses how the language, script s, and practices are learned, pe rpetuated, and transformed.
117 Table 4-1. Terms associated with light, dark, and medium skin tones LIGHT MEDIUM DARK Coolie Brown (Skin)* Jigaboo Bright* Milk Chocolate Black (ie) Light Bright Caramel Darky High Yellow* Pecan Tan* Burnt Red (Bone) Midnight Red-Skinned Chocolate* Sexy Red Blue-Black* Dirty Red Purple Fair* Super Black Pretty Skin African House Nigga Darkness Yellow* Charcoal Mulatto Sexy Black Caramel Tar Babies* Mixed Watermelon Child White Oreo Browning Vanilla French Vanilla
118 CHAPTER 5 POINTS OF ORIGIN, STABILIZING AGENTS, & TRANSFORMATIVE AGENTS Often it is w ithin the family, where a variet y of skin colors may be represented among individual members, that black children first l earn the values attributed to differences in skin color. When the child enters the larger social world, she carries these color conscious attitudes beyond the confines of the home, and in turn, those attitudes are reinforced by that world. --Margo Okazawa-Rey, Tracy Robinson, & Janie Victoria Ward The previous chapter details the ways in which young black women perceive skin tone differences in their daily lives. Emerging from the data was the idea that everyday colorism or the day-to-day experiences of skin color bias, appears in thes e young womens lives via language, internal scripts, and external practices. Throughout th e process of analysis, however, there were several recurring questions surr ounding the nature of everyday colorism: How does the discourse of colorism begin? How is it maintained? Does it ever change; can there be an oppositional discourse of colorism? This chapter is focused on addressing these important inquiries. Results of the anal ysis suggest that there are th ree factors impacting everyday colorism: points of origin, stabilizing agents, and transformative agents By taking a deeper look inside the stories of the young women in this st udy, I will examine how everyday colorism starts, is maintained, and in some cases transformed. Defining Points of Origin, Stabilizing Agents, and Transformative Agents An overwhelm ing majority of the women in th is study share a strong sense of colorism in their day-to-day lives. The language, beliefs, and pr actices attached to the discourse of skin tone are learned through points of origin ; reinforced by stabilizing ag ents; and challenged by way of transformative agents. Simply stated, a point of origin is the way in which colorist ideology is first introduced to an indi vidual. Serving as the primary means of socialization, points of origin provide the knowledge base (i.e language, scripts, practices ) for understanding the socially constructed meaning of skin tone. As Berger and Luckmann (1966) note, primary socialization
119 is the most important for an individual, and signifies ones membership in society. Because primary socialization occurs in childhood, the majority of women in this study reveal that colorism was introduced to them by their families; others cite grade school and the media. For nearly all the women, colorism is introduced within a normative framework; young women learn the dominant views of skin tone widely held within the black community. Yet, for a small number of participants, an oppos itional framework of colorism is laid as the foundation of knowledge. In these instances, individuals ar e socialized to embrace positive aspects and attributes of all skin tones. Although very few women learn oppositional perspectives early in life, many strive later in life to establish this alternative ideol ogy in resistance to mainstream principles of colorism. Berger and Luckmann (1966) further note that secondary socializati on is any subsequent process that inducts an already socialized individual into new sectors of the objective world of his society (p.130). Once the ideology of colorism (normative or oppositional) is introduced, the analysis suggests that there are points of secondary socialization that work to either strengthen or shift a young womans identity and experien ces with colorism. I am defining these elements as stabilizing a nd transformative agents. Stabilizing agents are defined as people and/or events that legitimize ones primary unde rstanding of colorism, confirming internalized scripts and justifying the external practices of everyday colorism. Transformative agents then represent people and/or events that change ones primary understanding of colorism. These agents either work to a) introduce the dominant discourse of colorism, representing a shift from an oppositional to a normative framework; or b) work to challenge the normative framework, resulting in a re-directio n of language, internalized scripts, and external practices (See Figure 51). In essence, points of origin signify the foundation of knowledge; st abilizing agents confirm
120 old knowledge, and transformative agents creat e new knowledge. In this project I examine family, school, and friendships/intimate relati onships as playing signi ficant roles in the socialization of normative and/or oppositional ideo logies of colorism. The remainder of this chapter is devoted to an in-d epth exploration of each area. The Black Family: The Ultimate Point of Origin The fa mily is regarded as a powerful force in the lives of black Americans (BoydFranklin, 2006; McAdoo, 1997; Staples, 1986; Tatum, 2003). For many, the black family represents the bedrock of survival, resilience, kinship, and community. Black families have historically served as an institut ional buffer against the external forces of racism. It is oftentimes within the family unit that black consciousness an d black pride is learned and celebrated. At the same time, however, the black family can simultane ously work to indoctrinate colorist ideology. This notion is well-documented in c ontemporary literary works such as Our Kind of People, Dont Play in the Sun and The Color Complex yet there is still a gap in scholarly research. Although there is an extensive body of revi sionist literature on black families and a growing body of scholarship on the contemporary nature of colorism, there is a dearth of empirical researchparticularly within the field of sociologyaddressing the ro le of the black family as it relates to colorism. This section of analysis begins to fill this gap. Women in this study cited their family more th an any other individual or institution as the most influential factor in shaping their views a nd ideas about themselves and others as it relates to skin tone. As one participant observes, Ive always been affected by colorism. The majority of the members of my family are light skinned, th ere is a couple [who] are dark skinned, its just always been a big issue. When sharing their stories many participants began their narratives even if they were not about the familyby describi ng the skin tone of their family members, at times even mentioning great-grandparents. Furthe r, women were very honest about the color
121 dichotomies existing within their families, often referring to the light side or dark side of the family, or placing emphasis on family members with distinctive features, such as the cousins with the curly hair, or the gray-eyed nephew. Almost every person shared this type of information at some point in the focus groups. It is clear, then that th e language, scripts, and practices of everyday colorism start in the family, the ultimate point of origin for skin color hierarchy and division. The findings point to two specific patterns in the black family: 1) the instillation of the normative discourse of colori sm via female family members; and 2) the creation of an oppositional ideology. Bloodmothers and Othermothers W ith very few exceptions, women in this study note that female family members play a significant role in the production and socialization of a skin color hierarchy within their respective families. This is not surprising given th e matriarchal-centered family structure that has dominated African-American cultur e since slavery. Part of this centrality involves what Collins (2000) refers to as the power of motherhood. Alt hough she raises this idea in the context of the politicization of mo therhood as a source of activism and em powerment, in this research the power of mothers bloodmothers and othermothersalso lies in their ability to shape a young womans perceptions about skin tone. Bloodm others, or biological kin, and othermothers, extended family or non-kin, play integral parts in childrearing and child care, and thus play a significant role in handing down colorist ideology to the next generation. As bell hooks (2005) observes, it is crucial that we look at the black female experience. For if the majority of black children are being raised by bl ack females then certainly how we perceive ourselves, our blackness, informs the social construction of our individual and collective identity (p. 63). Each woman in this study understands herself as a direct reflection of her mother, grandmother, or other female family member who in many ways serve as the source of her identity
122 construction. For many of the participants making this connection was not an easy one, as talking about their families in the focus groups made them realize that women were responsible for enabling normative ideas of colorism. Consider the story of Luann, a twenty-one year old that initially had difficulty pointing to female figures as points of origin within her own life. At the beginning of her focus group the medium-toned responde nt did not consider sk in tone bias to be a problem, citing I dont think my life has been shaped by colorism, I think Im medium, right in the middle. Despite her initial misgivings ab out the impact of colorism in her life, Luann later recognizes that she was wrong. Like many ot her participants, she sh ares stories of the women in her family doing a range of things fr om cautioning her to stay out of the sun to influencing her attraction to light-skinned men. By the end of the discussion Luann confesses, I dont think colorism will ever go away. She goes on to say, Cause we all know about it, and the moment we started talking, I di dnt even realize  what I said at the beginning, when I started ta lking I said I dont th ink [colorism] should [matter], well not that much. And then I kept talking [and thought] well you know what, my grandma said this to me, my auntie said th is, my mom has said, its all, its the women. Its how you internalize [coloris m] is in Black women. I didnt even think about it. Wow. Luanns participation in a focus group convers ation with other black women caused her to understand the oftentimes covert nature of co lorism, particularly within black families. Another woman who shared in the same ment al voyage connecting family to her first awareness of colorism was Karina, a twenty-one year old Haitian woman who identifies herself as medium. When thinking about her first memori es of colorism, Karina initially attributes college life to exposing her to skin tone differences. She begins, for most of my life  with me it was more youre either White or youre Black  there were two Black kids in my school . Bu t when I got here to [college], thats when I  first noticed it. As Karina explains, attending predominately white schools serv ed as a reminder of racial differences rather than distinctions based upon colo r. She also points to her diverse circle of
123 friends for making her less aware of colorism. Howe ver, similar to the experience of Luann, it is only until the stories of other women are shared in the focus group that Karina recognizes the differences her family made about skin color. As she continues, But my family, well now that I know about it and I look back  you know my family had roots into colorism  a lot of them are mixed and [a lot of them are] the darkest of dark. And there were little competitions, lik e you know my child came out lighter than your child or, my child had better hair, you know little things like th at. And I didnt notice it when I was younger  I didnt care about that, cause my mind was focused on other things. Now that I look back on where all this coming from, its like now I notice [that] its probably coming from family. Karina goes on to share that as a young adolescen t she stayed in constant competitions with her cousins whom she considers to be more co lorstruck because they migrated to the United States from Haiti in their late teens. Noting that class and color is a pretty major issue in Haiti, Karina admits that her cousins (who have darker skin tones) were socialized to concentrate more on skin color differences than she, and that resu lted in small battles over who was prettier or who had the better hair. Like the African-American community, Haiti has a similar history of colonization, yet the socially constructed diffe rences based upon phenotype translated into a more rigid caste system of hair, skin, and feat ures (Trouillot, 1994). As such, class and color differences are more pronounced, which explains why Karinas cousins were more concerned about skin color and hair. Several other partic ipants of Haitian and Jamaican heritage comment on more exaggerated notions of colorism in thos e Caribbean societies compared to the U.S. A more detailed discussion of this matter follows in Chapter 5. Despite the fact that some women were completely unaware of the impact of female family members upon their views on skin color, there were quite a few participants who readily acknowledged the authority of women in their fam ily, particularly their mothers. The majority of women in this study identified experiences wi th their mothers as having the most influence over their identity, ability, and re lationship choices. For Rachel, an eighteen-year old participant
124 woman who speaks openly about th e preferential treatment she receives as a light-skinned woman remembers that as a chil d her mother would make differences between her and her older sister. Clarifying that having different fathers co ntributed to their differing skin tones, Rachel suggests that even in the smallest things like housework her mother w ould elevate and praise Rachel more than her darker sister: I dont know if its just my imagination but my mom would yell at her more than me.  growing up doing chores, I would do my chores better than my sister and it just didnt make sense, but thats how it is in my family. For eighteen year-old Amy, she vaguely recalls overt experiences of colorism in her family, yet does share that her mother would regularly encourage the medium-toned participant to bleach her skin. As Amy describes, my mom is always trying to get me to use products to lighten my skin color because my mother is also pretty light and she wants me to be more like that. She sees that other pe ople look at darker as a bad thi ng, [and] she doesnt really want me to go through that stereotype. Although Amy s mother is trying to protect her daughter she is at the same time reinforcing the value placed on lighter skin. Amy and Rachels stories offer small yet noteworthy examples of how mothers can subtly reinforce the normative ideology of colorism. There are, however more significant instances of mothers making blatant references to skin tone. Take for instance the experience of Leah, a young woman who considers herself medium. As a young child Leah was preoccupied with her skin tone, partially due to her mothers insistence that Leah identify herself as brown and not black. Her mother, a lightskinned woman, was also influential in shaping Leahs relationship choices. As a teenager she admits being more attracted to dark-skinned men. Leah states, I had this infatuation with men that were darker than me, I dont care how dark, just as long as you were darker than me cause it was something that made me feel good that they we re darker than I was. From this statement it
125 appears that for Leah dating darker men was a way to affirm her skin color. Yet as Leah further explains, her mother was not happy with this decision and strongly encouraged Leah to date up within the color hierarchy as opposed to dating down: So one day my mom, being red, being light-ski nned, she comes [and] Im telling her about my current choice. We were driving down [the street] and he was wa lking past,  and I was like mom, thats him right there. My mo m turns to me and stops the car and says, Who?! That Black boy there? I was in comp lete shock [laughter]. I was like Black boy? I was like Mom!  You know? She [said] Im tired of you dating these blackskinned boys. And I was like b lack-skinned?  And then she told me  I want my grandchildren to have nice hair and a nice skin tone. And Im looking like are you serious?  how is it that youre with daddy, and daddys darker than me. She was like, well thats how its supposed to be, that the light-skinned and dark-skinned are supposed to be together and not dark on dark and light on light This exchange between Leah and her mother speaks volumes to the ways in which mothers promote the negative ideals of colorism. Although Leahs mother attempted to guide her on the right path in relationships, she did so in such a way that reinforces the rules of the color hierarchy. Suggesting to Leah th at it was only natural for people to date and marry people of opposite skin tones was a common theme mentione d throughout the focus groups. Inherent in this popular adage is the idea that a mixed-tone couple (one light-skinned and one dark-skinned) will ideally produce offsprings that are brown an d exempt from the negative experiences of being extremely light or dark. This example show s how powerful maternal influences can be in shaping self-perception and intimate choices. In addition to mothers, some respondents acknowledge the impact their grandmothers have in forming their perspectives on skin color. This is not surprising, considering the special place grandmothers hold in many black families. As Nancy Boyd-Franklin (2003) points out, The role of the grandmother is one of the most central ones in African-American familiesGrandmothers are central to the economic support of Black families and play a crucial role in childcareThey represent a major source of strength and security for many Black children (p.79).
126 As a main figure in families, grandmothers are oftentimes responsible for the transmission of values from one generation to the next. Wh en the women in this study mentioned their grandmother playing a significant role in shapi ng their views on colorism more often than not these grandmothers were distinguished as the fair est member of their families. It can be argued that they have more at stake in the maintenance of colorism co mpared to mothers. Coming of age in an earlier generation and time when skin to ne stratification was more structured and overt, these grandmothers may feel a greater obligation to uphold color divisions and to draw sharper lines between their families and darker black fa milies. Indeed, this was the case for Trina, Missy, and Monicathree young women who share th at their grandmothers of mixed ancestry were responsible for transmitting the dominant langua ge, scripts and practices of colorism to the women and girls in their respective families. Tr ina, a very light woman, reveals that growing up she recognized that her grandmother was very color conscious: And what I noticed was that my grandma w ould [say], dont bring no black niggers here. She would [say], I dont want no blackeys arou nd here.  My mom used to date dark guys, and for whatever reason [she] was attract ed to really dark, husky Black guys and my grandma would [warn] no Black gorilla ghosts around here. The harsh warnings Trina received from her gr andmother refute the popular belief that lightskinned and dark-skinned blacks should couple t ogether. Instead, it is clear from these admonishments that dark-skinned people are demonized as inferior and in the mind of Trinas grandmother, a threat to the purit y of her light-skinned family. Th is is strikingly similar to the opening pages of Lawrence Otis Grahams (1999) Our Kind of People an autobiographical account of life within the black elite. As a child, Graham recalls his well to-do, faircomplexioned grandmother referring to darker blacks as niggers (See Graham, 1999, p.2). This type of blatant colori sm may be more common among older generations of black Americans.
127 Although Missys grandmother did not impact her decisions on who to date, she did however have considerable control in how Missy viewed herself. At the beginning of her focus group session Missy explains, My grandmother  is almost as pale as you are [pointing to Colleen, a white cofacilitator], and shes Black. And she calls al l her grandkids from my family colored  were [the] colored children, the darker one s in the whole family. As a result of being called colored and categoriz ed by her grandmother as the darkest one in the family, Missy identified and understood her life experience as a medium-toned individual. However, Missy is one example of the discrepa ncies I sometimes found be tween my perceptions as a researcher and the participants own per ceptions of their skin tone category. On her demographic sheet Missy identified herself as me dium. Yet, I noticed that she was one of the fairest women in her focus group; she had a yellow tone, and could be eas ily classified as light brown. Although there is at times variation and disagreement as it relates to who belongs to what skin tone category (light, br own, or dark), there is no mistake that Missy rated her skin tone darker based upon her grandmothers influence and construction of her as dark. Each time that an inconsistency of this kind occurred it wa s readily traceable back to the family. Finally, Monica, a brown-skinned woman, descri bes that her grandmother is notorious for creating divisions and hierarchy am ong her sisters. She explains that even though her mother has never raised the issue of skin tone to her or her siblings, it is instead her fathers mother (whom she describes as very light and passable for white ) who holds the most colorist values in the family. As Monica informs the focus group, her grandmothers fair skin and her views about skin tone dictated how she a nd her sisters were treated: my mother is very dark and  my sist ers happened to come out dark and I came out more of a different skin color. And my gra ndmother prefers me to th e two of them because [of] my features, you kn ow, my straight nose or whatever  my skin color is more acceptable to her, she likes me better than them.
128 She continues, Well, like I said,  my grandmother had issues  But she was always OK with my other sisters because of the features they had. One of them is dark but she has really curly hair. That made it OK. A number of lessons can be le arned from Monicas narrative about her grandmother. First, Monica was the preferred sister due to her lighter skin tone in comparison to her darker sisters. As Monica suggests, she was favored more and got treated better. Yet, in her grandmothers eyes, her sisters European feat ures and good hair served as redeeming qualities in spite of their dark skin. Unfortunately, Monicas experi ence with her grandmother is all too common, as her story resonates not only with other focus group participants, but also with previous literature. Tessa also shares a family story of how her grandmother influences her early romanticized ideals of colorism. Although the narratives of Trina, Missy, and Monica point to their grandmothers as having a palpable role in producing colorism within their families, Tessas grandmother has a common reaction to the birt h of a light-skinned baby that resonates throughout her entire family. According to Ru ssell, Wilson, and Hall (1992), within black families there exists a great deal of exciteme nt and obsession about a childs impending skin color, hair texture, and facial fe atures that begins we ll before birth. Tessa explains how the birth of her biracial cousins y oungest child creates a color commotion in her family: [My cousin has] two sons and a girl, and his daughter in the middle is darker skinned, she takes after her mother, and his younger son  was born with gray eyes and you know, turned out to be this beautiful light skinned child, and I just remember  in my family a mass flocking to the hospital to see this child and my grandmother, she still to this day, will go to the house and pick up this little boy and leave the da ughter there, just leave her there. And I mean, theres no other reason to explain it other than its just, everyone wanted to babysit him, everyone to take care of him. I even fell into the trap as well, and you know, I want to have a little gray eyed baby myself. And [my grandmother would say] how can we be so lucky to have a beautiful gray eyed child? Tessa openly discusses how members of her fam ily discriminate agai nst each other based upon skin tone, and the birth of this infant boy reinforces the negativity inherent in dark skin, and the
129 praise and elevation accompanying light skin. People in her familyTessa includedwould provide extra attention to this beautiful baby, while disregarding the other child with darker skin. Internalizing the favor given to this baby, Tessa admits that she f ell into the trap of colorism and wished for a light-skinned baby of her own. She later real izes her error, noting, This the wrong line of thinking to have. Like ot her participants in this study, Tessa recognizes that replacing the normative language, scripts, and practices of colorism with an oppositional line of thinking and behavior is at times very difficult. It seems so powerful, she confesses, yet Tessa remains insistent on moving from a place of compliance to point of resistance. Although mothers and grandmothers are most commonly mentioned as the main purveyors of colorism in families, it is important to note here the role of other female family members in creating a color consciousness for some of the women in the study. I will illustrate this through the compelling narratives of Chanel and Jasmin e, two focus group participants who in their childhood are impacted by female cousins in two very different ways. Chanel, a twenty-one year old respondent, shares that she was first made aware of the negativity placed upon her dark skin at a family reunion. Up until this point Chanel admits that she was not cognizant of skin tone differences because her immediate family was fa irly homogenous in relation to skin tone. Yet the sharp words of a lighter-skinned cousin permanently change her perspective: I remember I was about 8 years old and I went to one of my family reunions  one of our cousins married a really light skinned wo man and  the matriarchs, the heads of the family  made her this supposedly most beautiful person because she was light skinned and it just used to bother me cause I coul d never understand  And I remember her sitting next to me. She just looked at me [and] said, why do you look like that ? Im just confused. Im like what do you mean? You know, she left the question alone, but I really felt that she was talking partly because of my weight, but also too because of my skin tone. Because you know, most of my family is dark er skinned and she really thought she was important because she was light skinned because many people made her believe that. So that was one of the first really experiences I got from my family.
130 Chanel honestly notes that her c ousin never explicitly degraded her dark skin. Yet this small exchange set the tone for how Chanel she woul d evaluate, perceive, a nd judge herself in the future. She admits this internalization impacted her intimate relationships with men. Because of her dark skin Chanel reveals that she didnt believe she was worthy of a good relationship and discusses how she had to unlear n this crippling mentality: I didnt really see myself as being desirable because thats the way you know men treated me.  so when I got older and the time came [when] men were showin g interest in me, I really had a significant problem accepting that. I thought they were crazy and I thought that I could never accept it and still to this day, Im working on it. Its ok, I can actually talk about that. But I know personally, its just be en, emotionally its been more difficult for me to accept that men would find me attractiv e because thats not what I experienced growing up. As we learn from Chanels story, moving to a po int of acceptance and self-love can at times be complicated. The narrative of focus group member Jasmine pr ovides a good example of the black family serving as both a point of origin and stabilizing agent for the normative model of everyday colorism. A nineteen year-old young woman who identifies as light brown, Jasmine has a keen sense of colorism within her life, and attributes her early family experiences for the development of her normative ideals of skin tone. Similar to other women in this project, Jasmine cites her mother as an influence upon her identity, but al so credits the elevated position of two lightskinned cousins in her family to th e development of her own self-image: I have 2 older cousins  who Im closer with and theyre very light  they are a lot lighter than me and they have  brown-gray ish eyes you know and I really admire them  and that really legitimized [my] skin tone because how I view myself, I guess I kind of want to be just like them because they are really beautiful and I really admire them, so you know that really influences me  my fa mily used to say how I always looked like one of my cousins  so I guess I just dont wa nt to get darker because I just want to seem more like my cousins.
131 Jasmine does not mention any particular action or behavior on the part of her cousins that serve as the trigger of her color awareness. Yet being compared to her light cousins with the browngrayish eyes creates internal scripts that c onnect light-skin to beau ty and privilege. Jasmines early ideals of skin t one constructed by her mother and cousins become even more solidified when she encounters a stabilizing agent in high school, When I was 15 or 16, I did color guard in 10th grade and I got so dark  I even got sun burned. I did not know that I could get sun burned until I woke up one day and my skin was peeling I remember taking pictures with one of my frie nds and getting them developed  my mom [saw th e pictures] and said, wow, youre really, really dark, and I dont know I guess it just hit me because I didnt like the fact that my mom called me dark because I was so used to being called lig ht, and you know I also associated that, back then I was also like really fat so, you know I ki nd of associate being dark with not being as attractive because I noticed that in 11th grade, after I lost weight and I was lighter, I got a lot more attention from males. Joining the marching band represents a critical poin t in Jasmines life for a number of reasons. Participating in an outdoor activit y like the color guard may be re garded as a fun experience for many teenagers, yet for Jasmine the constant e xposure to the sun signifies a demotion in the color hierarchy. The language her mother uses to describe her changes fr om light to really, really dark. In an earlier point in her focus group Jasmine recalls that her mother never called her dark, that she typically used the word dark to refer to Jasmines younge r sister. At one point Jasmine mentions that to her, being called red symbolized total affection and beautification. Her internal scripts significantly shift from attrac tive to unattractive, fr om being likened to her beautiful light cousins to feeling dark and fat. The response Jasmine receives from her mother deeply impacts her experience, and thus precipi tates the need for a change. Her behavior (external practice) then is guided by these two fact ors. This event serves as a stabilizing agent because it re-affirms her ideals about being light -skinned and fuels her aspirations to get her color back. As Jasmine explains, the followi ng year she quit color gua rd, lost weight, and
132 restored her rednessand beauty. Consequent ly, the attention she gets from young men is attributed to her lighter tone. Family as the Point of Origin for Oppositional Colorism A considerable share of wom en in this study admit that their families are responsible for instilling within them a belief system of bias a nd judgment as it relates to skin tone. Many respondents learn early in life to associate negativity with darkness, and to equate goodness with lightness. Yet, there are some women involved in this project w ho talk about a different pattern of family socialization. Several participants sp eak of being reared in black families that espouse the ideals of Afrocentricity. Nancy Boyd-Franklin (2003) observes that the Afrocentric movement has been a process by which many A frican-Americans have reclaimed the cultural strengths of their African heritage while offering them a positive alternative to negative messages and stereotypes perpetuated by the domina nt European American society (p.144). For the women who learn from their families to celebrate all the various hues of blackness, an oppositional knowledge of colorism serves as their point of origin. Illustrative of this notion is the case of Kira, a nineteen-year-old participant who credits the wide diversity of hues in her family for her oppositional foundation of colorism: My family always taught me to accept everyone  there was never any type of differentiation with anyone in my family. Everyone was always welcome in my house no matter skin tone you were. And in my family alone, there [is] a wide range of people  my dads side of the family is really light skinned [...] they have green eyes  My moms side of the family is very dark, so th ere is a very big mix between everyone in my family. Being exposed to the positive attributes of both li ght and dark skin, Kira learns from her family members not to discriminate on this ba sis, and to treat everyone the same. U-Neek reveals that as a child she was never exposed to colorism. As the twenty-oneyear-old participant notes, I di dnt think that I was ever affect ed by colorism because my family
133 was so pro Black, and Black is beautiful is how they talk to you. My mother is really dark skinned, my aunt is light, so we have these diffe rent variations in my family and it was never noticed. U-Neek cites that her familys appreciation of everything black influenced her positive viewpoints on all skin tones. However, like many women in this study, upon entering all-black environments outside the home, U-Neek is introduced to the normative viewpoint s of skin color, And then I went to Black schools [where] ev eryone was always focused on fashion,  talking amongst my friends we were very focu sed on the color contrasts and stuff like that, and now Im realizing that yeah, even when you meet somebody, [s kin tone is] one of the first things I notice. High school, then serves as a transformative agent that functions to make U-Neek more aware of colorism and to enact the scripts and pract ices attached to the normative discourse. Callea shares a parallel experience about her fa mily. Similar to U-Neek, she recalls no formal knowledge of colorism as a child, and conf esses, I didnt really know colorism, I just knew that I was black. This young woman credits her fathers strong Afrocentric values as central to shaping her positive self-image. Ye t, similar to other participants, her positive valuations of dark skin and African features are challenged when she enters high school: I had African ancestors  that is what my fa ther really focused on. He always told us, (my sister and I) that were be autiful, natural hair is African silk, and you ar e beautiful the way you are. I guess that is because he knew how society is . because when I went to high school it was the lighter you are, the prettier you are. If you had long hair and youre light skinned, youre beautiful as opposed as to if youre da rk  Im not that pretty [now] because my hair is short and its not long-flowing or straight because Im darker.  I play[ed] basketball when I was in high sc hool, and we were out in the sun five times a week, and I got really dark. And I liked that because my sk in was even, so I was pretty happy, but it was because I was dark skinned I wa snt considered beau tiful [compared] to other girls who stayed out of the sun and who were lighter than me. Contrast Calleas narrative with the story of Jasmine, the young wo man featured earlier in this chapter. While Jasmine was raised with the normative beliefs of colorism privileging light over dark, Callea instead learned at an early age to value all skin tones. Both young women enter high school and decide to partic ipate in outdoor activities (color guard and basketball), causing
134 their skin tones to deepen. Pressured by th e desire to be accepted, Jasmine gives up her extracurricular activity. Unshaken by dominant standards of beau ty, Callea stays involved in a sport that makes her darker, and admits to be ing pretty happy despite how unattractive she is viewed by others. Both womens high school ex periences function as stabilizing events that yield different results. Jasmine learns from her mother that light skin is beautiful, and this ideology dictates how she views herself and othe rs. On the other hand, Callea learns early on from her father to celebrate her dark-skin, and has no qualms about and getting darker and challenging normative ideologi es of skin color. There are certain cases where respondents not e being socialized with both a normative and oppositional framework of colorism. For Vivica, her experiences with colorism are more complex because within her family she is presente d with competing ideologies of skin tone from different family members. Vivica describes her skin tone as medium, but as many women in the study reveal, she was much lighter as a young child. I was born the fairest of all the children, Vivica explains. It is through her aunt that she learns the dominant ideals of colorism as she was regularly admonished for turning, My auntie  was like why you keep on going in the sun? You keep on turning![ ] you know kids like to go outside [and] you will turn especially if you go in the pool and stuff. We had a pool at our house. And my aunt would always say, every time I see you, you turn darker.  And its true because I [ ] come from this light light child and then you know slowly but surely, I become darker. Despite the frequent references Vi vicas aunt made to her changing skin tone, her parents refused to play color and make a difference between she and her siblings. Unlike this young womans aunt, her parents are instrumental in countering the dominant noti ons of skin tone, and providing Vivica with an oppositional framework. She recounts a different childhood story where she learns that divisions among skin color are not accepted within her family:
135 My little sister  remained her color cause shes stayed more inside or whatever. She has my grandmas  long hair and shes kind a  shes not light light skinned, but one time she told my older sister who took after my father and is very dark, she was prancing through the house and she was like, Vivica and I are the lightest on es, Vivica and I are lightest ones. Were the prettiest ones [ ] and I remember my father,  he came running inside cause hes dark and my older si ster is dark,  and he was upset. He was just like, No! You know you dont say this.[ ] Dont make her feel bad because  she is the darkest. It is through her fathers reprim ands that Vivica becomes keenly aware that making distinctions is neither valued nor welcomed within her imme diate family. Although she admits that both her mother and father were adamant about challenging colorism, it is her subsequent exposure to extended family members, schools, and relationshi ps that override what her parents initially fought so hard to instill within her. Vivica concedes to the do minant language, scripts, and practices of colorism, openly admitting that as a brown-skinned woman, she feels there are still more mountains to climb. This respondent is candid about the struggl e she has with color hierarchy; at one moment she is be ing critical of colorism and the larger system of racism, and in another instant she is hoping that her young niece her older sisters daug hterdoes not turn out to be her sisters dark color. Vivicas cons cious battle with the normative and oppositional forms of colorism is typical of several women in this study. Yet like so many others, it is difficult to decipher which one ultimately wins out. School Even though an overwhelm ing majo rity of participants cite their family as the foundation for their views on colorism, a large number of respondents further admit that they were not consciously aware of skin tone difference until they were regularly surrounded by other people their own age. It is usually in school sett ings where colorism (similar to racism) is institutionalized, and black wo men begin to understand just how skin tone makes a difference in their lives. Consider Toni Morrisons classic, The Bluest Eye, a fictional story dealing with the
136 tension[s] that can exist among Black women grappling with the meaning of prevailing standards of beauty (Collins, 2000, p.92). Deeply embedded within the pages of this novel is the pain and heartache of colorism as narrated by two young girls, Pecola Breedlove and Claudia MacTeer. At one point in the nove l, the arrival of a new school mate provides a tough lesson in how colorism operates among young people. As told through the voice of Claudia, The disrupter of seasons was a new girl in school named Ma ureen Peal. A high yellow dream child with long brown hair braided in to two lynch ropes that hung down her back. She was rich, at least by our standa rds, as rich as the richest of the white girls, swaddled in comfort and careShe enchanted the entire sc hool. When teachers called on her they smiled encouragingly. Black boys didnt trip her in the halls ; white boys didnt stone her, white girls didnt suck their teeth when she wa s assigned to be their work partners; black girls stepped aside when she wanted to sink in the girls toiletFreida and I were bemused, irritated, and fascinated by her. We looked hard for flaws to restore our equilibriumBut we had to do it alone, for none of the other girl s would cooperate with our hostility. They adored her (Morrison, 1970, pp.62-63). From this story we see that not all black girl s are treated the same. The elevation, praise, and privilege bestowed to light-skinned Maureen Pe al substantiate young Pecolas longing for blue eyes. Similar to the young girl featured in Mo rrisons work, data from the focus groups also suggest that school experiences are critical in shaping, reinforc ing, or redirecting young womens views about skin tone. Earlier s ections of this chapte r document that for so me participants entry into high school challenged or reiterated their foundati onal beliefs of colorism. Yet a larger portion of participants cite various points in their educationgrade school, high school, and collegeas stabilizing and transformative agents impacting their awareness of colorism. Although women on opposite sides of the spectru m remember being taunted or shunned by their schoolmates for their skin co lor, focus group member Shanae at tributes her darker skin tone to frequent trips to the princi pals office in middle school, [In] elementary school I would always stay in the pool and you know chlorine makes you darker so once I got to middle school, I got in a lot of trouble with ot her kids because the first thing they would say was, Oh, Black.  so I got into a lot of fights because  they called me black. So thats when peopl e started telling me, did you know the saying
137 the blacker the berry the sweeter the juice? a nd thats when I accepted my skin color more  now Im proud of it. Shanaes experience is so noteworthy because she moves from a young girl who resorts to physical violence in order to defend herself against name-calling and harassment to a young woman who learns to appreciate who she is. Sh e mentions a schoolteacher who exposed her to the adage the blacker the berry the sweeter the juice. Although the origins of this saying are rooted in sexuality, the context in which Shanae discovers this id ea is rooted in black pride and appreciation. This transformative event enab les Shanae to transition to an alternative understanding of colorism where she is better able to handle subse quent experiences of ignorance and prejudice. For some participants, school experiences reinforce the normative values of skin tone that are originally learned in the family. Keeshas story is one such experience. The young woman who describes her skin color as dark relates that members of her immediate family were recognized by her extended family as the the black sheep because they were darkest. The knowledge she gains in her family is solidified wh en she starts high school. Keesha realizes immediate differences when she is jokingly compared to her lighter brother as night, while is he is referred to as day. However, one specific incident serves as the most stabilizing agent of normative colorism: I remember hearing a group of black guys talk about who the prettiest girls in school were, and what I noticed now is that either the girl s were light skinned  or had longer hair. And thats a really big thing. Those two, its e ither one or the other. If you have longer hair then its great, and if you ha ve lighter skin then its grea t too. So, it wasnt the darker girls in school that were the pr ettiest to them. I think that wa s important. And that kind of hurt too, because I didnt make that list. It is in high school that Keesha grasps the concept of the beauty queue, and learns her position within the socially constructed hi erarchy of skin tone and attractiv eness. As a dark-skinned girl, she comes to understand the rejection and exclusion associated with not having the right skin
138 tone or hair length. Keeshas opening comment in the focus group aptly captures what she uncovered while in high school: it seems that the lighter you are the better you are, the prettier you are perceived. While school experiences are noted as central in shaping views on colorism, there are several women who specifically mention that changing from a predominately white school environment to an all-black school creates a tran sformative experience that propels them into a larger-scale exposure to colorism. Whereas concerns about racism are more evident in all-white settings, colorism holds more significance in places that are exclusively bl ack. Take for instance the narratives of Beyonce, Tessa, and Tatia na, three young women who observe substantial differences upon making the transition to all-black surroundings: Coming from my high school, it was predominantly White,  and then coming here [to college], to be honest with you, it doesnt feel like Im at a predominan tly White school. I know we are, but it doesnt really feel that way just because the Black community is so tight-knit  its an all Black high school almost.  so the reason why I said earlier that I dont really know how to define myself you know, light, dark, medium, whatever, is because Ive never had to talk about it before. But here, its like, people are describing people as high yellow, red bone, Im just like, OK well what exactly is that?  I didnt really even hear some of the terms until I got here, and its because I was around more Black people. (Beyonce) This focus group made me start thinking a bout school and everything, and I went to a predominantly suburban school in the South and about sixth grade, [moved] to inner city schools and from then on, I noticed that I never even understood what color I was until I went to inner city schools. That was the firs t time that I understood in relation to our value into our society  And I found that so funny b ecause I had always felt that in my family, but it had never been so explicit as when I went to school around my peers. (Tessa) I grew up in a suburban community. I went to private school my entire life. And I started off in  a majority White elementary school. So it was never an issue for me until I got to middle school and the only people who have sa id anything about it or made me think twice about you are very dark has been black people, and theyre only about two shades lighter than me (Tatiana) It is clear from these narratives that being in all-black environments creates a more exaggerated focus on skin tone.
139 Without a doubt, classmateswhether in the form of friends or adversariesplay a role in perpetuating skin tone bias and difference within school settings. Yet findings from the analysis also point to adults within educational settingsspecifically teachersw ho further reinforce the stratification and hierarchy of colorism. Sociologist and colo rism scholar Margaret Hunter (2007) asserts that teachers, who exert a powerful influence of student achievement, are indeed responsible for highlighting color difference in the classroom. If teachers, of any race, expect their light-skinned students of color to be smarter, more academically prepared, from better families, and better behaved than their darker-skinned classmates, the students may rise and fall to meet those racialized expectat ions (Hunter, 2007, p.243). Commonly, differential treatment appears in the form of light-skinned children being chosen as the teachers pet. Charles Parrish (1946) finds in his research on pe rceptions about skin tone that favoritism is displayed by teachers toward the light colored pupils according to 63% of the persons questioned (p.17). Although this conclusion was reached more than sixty years ago, there are similar beliefs and experiences shared by member s in the current study. For instance, Chanel, a participant with dark-skin, joking ly recalls her perception that her elementary school teacher was much nicer to the light skinned pe ople in the class.  She would give them more treats than the rest of us. Although Chanel makes light of th is remark because she is not sure if in fact the lighter children were rea lly preferred, Kira notes a different experience in which she distinctly remembers being singled out by her fifth grade teacher: I remember when I was in 5th grade, I had this one teacher  who was black and she would ride me like no one else in my class. My handwriting had to be perfect, everything had to be perfect that I turned in. Everything. And if it was not perfect, she would fail me. She called my parents daily  she was crazy.
140 Kira admits that it is through this experience that she becomes more consciously aware of the differences people make in relation to skin tone. Teresa, a twenty-one-year-old participant who identifies her skin tone as dark, shares an interesting experience involving her grade school teacher and her dad. Similar to other participants, Teresa recollects that many of her elementary and middle school teachers assigned seats and placed the lighter-skinned children at the head of the class. As she describes, it was every class that was this way. I had a few teachers who had the light skinned or the rich family kids up front. Acknowledging that her darker skin relegated her to the back row with all the other kids, Teresa notices that only until her teac her meets her father that she is awarded a new place in the class. One day  I was talking to my dad casually a nd he goes, I dont real ly like this teacher, Id like to come in and meet her. My dad s a light skinned black male,  hes a couple shades lighter than I am. And he went there and he spoke to the teacher, not about racism or anything, but what about [m y daughters] grades and  a bout her being in the back, and then you know she pushed me up to the front. But everyday up front, shed always be asking me about my dad, is he single, how in love is he with my mo ther, and stuff like that. And it was definitely crossing the line, and I had to think to my self, why is this?  she obviously favored the light skinned kids, a nd here she was trying to be my friend, just to get some of my dad. And I figured she put me in front of the class [because I] had some light skin in [my] family. Like Teresa, many respondents are ca reful to highlight that not every teacher or class experience was one in which skin tone was of premium signifi cance. But as these narratives suggest, all it takes is one bad incident involving colorism to le ave a lasting impression upon a young womans perceptions and life experience. While grade, middle, and high school o ccurrences are mentioned to serve as transformative and stabilizing ag ents, college life is more often noted by the women in this study as a transformative experience relating to colo rism. To be sure, the history of colorism documents the various ways in which historic ally black colleges and universities routinely
141 discriminated against darker-skinned African-Ameri cans via fraternities, sororities, and even college admission. This is the focus of Audrey Elisa Kerrs (2006) work. Within this study, young women note the persistent the divisions of skin color along sorority lines, as numerous women referred to the color stereotypes presen t on campus, including the idea that most lightskinned women are AKAs and Deltas, while da rker-skinned women are expected to pledge sororities such as Zeta Phi Beta and Sigma Gamma Rho. In spite of the obvious differences expected to reinforce colorism on a college campus, a larger majority of women in this study note a di fferent connection to thei r college experience; it is through the institution of higher education that an opposit ional knowledge of colorism is acquired, developed and matured. This is exhib ited through the language used within the focus groups. Without prompting, a number of participants situate the following concepts within their narratives: white racism, colonialism, slave ment ality, Willie Lynch, the one-drop rule, octoroon, quadroon Eurocentric and Afrocentric standards of beauty and controlling images of black women. As college students, these young women are exposed to scholarly literature, arming them with an oppositional knowledg e of colorism. This is perhaps captured best by the opening remarks of Meeko, a participant who reveals that taking a class in womens studies and learning about colorism in the course changed her entire pe rspective and her fueled interest in colorism: what sparked my interest was a summer cour se that I took, it was womens Studies and  I had a lot of unanswered questions and I felt that coming to this focus group would help me gauge more, on how people see this issu e, because its a big issue in my life and I never thought it was that big until taking the course, becaus e it basically involves every part of my life, and I never knew that. Majoring in and/or taking cla sses in womens studies, Englis h literature, African-American studies, and sociology (as participants mention) provides an alternativ e stock of knowledge on black women and skin color that easily enab le many respondents to develop a critical consciousness of their everyday experiences with colorism.
142 Relationships As Kelly, a bi-racial participan t adm its, My skin tone has b een the theme of my life when it comes to dating black men. Although they do not function as points of origin, friendships and intimate relationships do serve as stabilizing and/or transformative agents for the women in this study. A large part for the scrutiny black women gi ve and receive is owed to European standards of beauty, and the long-standing belief in the black community that light-skinned women are the most suitable dating and marriage partners. Even in modern-day society, as Russell, Wilson, and Hall (1992) remind us, the most intimate of re lationships are still governed by the politics of color and race (p.107). This, of course impact s the relationships between black men and black women, but the underlying threat of competition invariably shapes the context of black female relationships. Margaret Hunter (2005) expounds on this issue: The demographic reality of the African Am erican community today exacerbates the perception (and reality) of competition for scarce male partners because of the unbalanced sex ratio of African AmericansThis scarcity leads to increased tension and competition among African American women for the limited number of male partners, thus increasing animosity over issues of b eauty and skin color (p.73). On the issue of relationships with black wo men, a considerable number of women revealed circumstances when their skin tone impacted a friendship with another black woman. The previous chapter details how the in ternal scripts related to light, medium, and dark skin tones at times prevent women from making friendships across skin tone lines. Yet in the instances where friendships are forged between women of varying hues, difference in skin color may cause friction. For Stacey, building bonds with all types of black women is easy. In fact, similar to many other participants in this study, she indicates that initially sk in tone is never an issue. This young woman notes that her current group of close friends falls on various places of the color spectrum. Yet, as she describes one part icular incident when she and her friends are
143 preparing for a night out, Stacy qui ckly realizes that colorism indeed plays a role in their relationship: I was going out and my hair, I didnt like my hair style so I just didn t want to go out and my friend who is half Black and half Puerto Rican was like, Well, it doesnt matter what you look like, you know, lets just go out becau se you know, your hair is never that great looking anyway. Hurt by that comment  I [asked her], are you trying to call me your Ugly Betty?1 and we got into this huge disagreement  there is this issue that I would call, the Ugly Betty. She needs to be a pa rt of the group in order for the other women who are a shade lighter or a tone lighter to feel better about themselves and [she] is always a darkskinned black woman.  I consid er myself a dark skinned woman, [and] I have to always make sure that I wake up in the morning and look in the mirror and be like, Im a beautiful dark skinned Black woman, a nd thats one of the th ings that you have to be conscious about even in your everyday set ting, even among your friends, [that] youre a beautiful Black woman. Internalizing her perceived role as the Ugly Bett y, Stacey believes that she is only part of her peer group because her friends do not view her dark -skin and short hair as intimidating. She later confides that she feels that she has to engage in compensatory pr actices such as getting a hair weave or wearing a new outfitin order to feel on the same level with her lighter-skinned friends. Stacey recognizes the irony in doing these things because she notes that it typically results in even more scrutiny from her friends. Hearing her girlfriends react with comments like, wow, you look so nice today, furt her reinforces the ideas of co lorism; there is no expectation for a dark-skinned girl to look ni ce and be attractive. Being in this circle of friends and going through these varied experiences provides Stacey with transformative moments that alter her thinking about colorism. At the end of the fo cus group experience Stacey acknowledges that she is more enlightened and determined to challe nge many things in her friendships which she previously left unquestioned. Her language, internal scripts, and external practices shift to an 1 This a direct reference to the popular television sitcom Ugly Betty, which features a relatively plain-looking, slightly overweight woman of color as the title character.
144 oppositional understanding of colorism. Stacey changes from seeing herself as the unattractive friend to waking up everyday and affirming th at she indeed is a beautiful woman. Finding herself in the same situation as Stace y, Rosetta also reveals how colorism unveils itself in the context of her peer group. The young woman describes that she has a diverse group of friends, and when all the women come together, [colorism] comes out and  some people will say, well you know, dark skinned people dont need to wear that color or dark skinned people dont need to wear that type of make up, or dark skinned people dont need to have this type of make up on and light skinned people, they can wear any color because you can see a ny color on lighter people. Rosetta mentions that she does believe her friends action to be malicious or intentional. Yet, they do serve to perpetuate di fference by privileging light skin. To be sure, experiences in dating provide focus group participants with even more recollections of how colorism im pacts their intimate relationships and everyday experiences with black men. Stories surrounding dating and marriage surfaced during each focus group, and many of the narratives shared reflect the normative ideology of colorism. As the conversations in each focus group reveal, young women cons ider the decisions black men make in dating or marriage to be more about status and less about love. In fact, second only to beauty, the majority of participants cited colorism to revolve around how men perceive or approach other women. To no surp rise, common responses from women of all skin tones were that light-ski nned women carried the most advantage and privilege in relationships. Lighter-toned women are seen as more attractive, and thus are better choices in the areas of dating and marriage. For many, light-skin is synonymous with freedom and options; it is believed that fairer women have carte blanche over other women. The exception, of course is white women, who are seen to be the largest competition for black men above and beyond the fairest black girl. One downside for light-skinn ed women is perhaps best described by Mary, a
145 brown-skinned participant who admits that she harbors no feelings of jealousy or resentment toward her lighter friends because in her mind, they are the ones who have a more difficult time separating serious suitors from th e crazy guys who are only after th em for their looks. Another disadvantage noted by lighter-skinned women is th e frequent assumption by women of other skin tones that they get a ll the guys and are always the center of attention. As one light-skinned participant added, I have a problem with dating because I dont want to be seen just for the way I look. Undoubtedly, it is this popular notion of normative colori sm that fuels competition and division among black women. Consider the riveting narrative of Nia, a young woman who struggles with the fact that black people typically devalue da rker skin tones. Sharing a dating story with her focus group, Nia speaks about being turned down for a second date with a young man because he usually doesnt date dark girls. Talking about this experience leads Nia in to a shocking yet frank disclosure about her feelings: Nia : I used to hate light-skinned girls. I used to truly, truly hate them. And I dont mean like oh youre lighter than me no I mean lik e if I look at you, you look high yellow, but youre still Black. And you will still claim Black, like that used to get on my damn nerves, because I got the impression that most will walk around all high and mighty because they are preferred  And whenever someone says to me, oh youre pretty for a dark girl, like it just, it gets me really pissed off cau se its, thats not a complement . JeffriAnne: You mentioned that you hate d light-skinned women, you mentioned that earlier I wanted to ask you Nia: Used to JeffriAnne: Used to, exactly, I want to know if you can understand this issue from their perspective what its like to experience th e same things that you experience, but on the other side of the spectrum? Nia: Yeah, I can definitely see how the shoe would be on the other foot with them because I mean, Im not, the thing that I cant wrap my [head around], I mean Ive spoken to one, to one [laughs] but, I mean cause I dont real ly care to hear your pain, you know what I mean [uhuh]. Like I hate it when it sounds like, it sounds like the  the mulatto and
146 JA: tragic mulatto? Nia: Yeah, you know what I mean? [mocking light-skinned women] Oh, life is just so hard for me. Im just so light-skinned. Oh my goodness. Its just so hard with all these men hitting on me all the time. Shut up! You know what I mean? Come on now. I cant fathom being in your shoes, but at the same time can we not play the oh Im just the victim because and Im not bitching as th e victim, but dont play the victim knowing good and well that you are at an advantage. I mean when it comes down to it, you really are. Nias honest and raw emotion dominated the fo cus group (composed of women with varying skin tones) conversation for several minutes. At the end of this young womans diatribe on lighter black women, Nia ends her comments on a somewhat happier note, convincing the group that she has progressed beyond those negative fee lings and remains committed to moving toward a place of education and agency. Yet it is Nias final comments that resonated with me as a fellow black woman and a researcher: its like a slap in the face though b ecause it wasnt until I got here that I realized how sad it is, like where does this all come from? The answer to Nias question escaped me. On the surface, the knee-je rk response is colonialism and white racism. But this young woman, who is college-educated and has a keen sense of agency and a critical consciousness of colorism, simultaneously ha s a strong sense of conflict, bias, and discrimination. Where does Nia assess blame fo r her hatred? Where does her empowerment truly begin? Time and agai n these devastating accountsfo llowed by even tougher questions point to the complex and problematic str uggle of colorism for young black women in contemporary society. While lighter-skinned women are viewed as ha ving free reign in which men they are able to date, some brown and dark-skinned women talk about considerable lim itations in their dating choices and position. Returning to Margaret Hunter s (2005) notion of the beauty queue,
147 common responses elicited from darker-toned wome n in the focus groups indicate that they are less frequently sought after as potential dati ng and marriage partners Supporting this widespread notion is the belief th at boys dont look at dark-skinned girls. This viewpoint is perhaps best illustrated from Becky, a young woman who relates an incident involving her aunt and cousin, I have a cousin and she has a very dark complexion but beautiful skin and  she want[ed] a boyfriend and her mom chuckled and said, oh sweetheart, youre just going to have to find a White man, because hes the only one whos going to find beauty in you.  youre going to have to go to Europe because  those are the only men who are going to appreciate the beauty in a black woman. And she was like, you know, a Black man will never ever date a darker skinned woman. This rule associated with normative colorism is echoed from many women participating in the focus groups. As Vivica explains in fifth grade when she noticed all the boys f locking to the Spanish looking and light-skinned girls, she rec ognizes that her brown skin tone only afforded her a certain number of dating ch oices. Vivica states, You could be the prettiest dark-skinned personbut society has already set limits for you. Likewise, Callea learns a hard lesson when she is heartbroken by a cheating boyfriend. Describing to the group that although this young man was a lot darker than me, he was surround ed with people who had extremely light-skinned girlfriends. Confused about w hy her relationship was in trouble, Callea consulted a close friend for advice, And she said something really interesting, sh e said that he had a reputation to uphold  it wasnt that I was a bad person, [it was] just that all of his friends had light skinned girlfriends,  And he kind of wants to be a pa rt of that  thats how I interpreted what she said  because I dont fit the bill, Im not light-skinned and I dont have long hair. Frustrated with the rejection sometimes accompanying dark skin, there are some women however, like Tessa who understands that her re lationship choices are limited, and therefore engages in compensatory practices by to dating partners who are not black.
148 Although the women in this study blame dominant standards of beauty for impacting their intimate relationships with black men, it is impera tive to highlight that in some instances, women play an equal part in colorism by discriminati ng against lighter-skinned men. The literature on gendered colorism clearly indicates that black women are more affected by colorism compared to black men. However, the literature also points to bias and discrimina tion against light-skinned men as it relates to issues of attractiveness and desirability. The adula tion often reserved for light-skinned women is not extended to light-s kinned men; as Mark Hi ll (2000) suggests, for men, dark-skin has stereotypically been associated with masculinity and sexual attractiveness. Contemporary black male celebri ties, including Denzel Washi ngton, Morris Chestnut, Djimon Hounsou and Taye Diggs are all examples of da rk-skinned men who are considered sex symbols partly because of their skin tone. There ar e respondents who openly express bias when making decisions in dating and relationships: Personally Im more attracted to dark skinne d guys,  in my mind,  Im kind of light so I guess he should be darker, so if we repr oduce it will be, thats th e way I think. I dont know if that might be good, but I try to overc ompensate,  I havent really seen two dark skinned people together and I know its we ird, but Ive never seen it. And Ive never seen two light skinned people together either. Its usually either one is darker than the other, like just a little, or one is really darker than the othe r. You know its never the same thing. (Kira) I dont know if anyone has ever heard this [ ] but older people in my family, and some people that Ive talked to [tell me], dont bring home a light ski nned guy cuz hes not going to work, or hes going to think hes too pr etty to work, that kind of stuff. (Fuze) I actually prefer darker guys because lighter guys with curly hair, theyre too pretty. I dont think that they would be strong, and Im sure that there are [strong] light skinned men, you know Im sure. But I prefer th e dark skin, more chestnut. (Keesha) Kira chooses to date dark-skinned men exclusively due to the common belief among black people that light and dark-skinned people should date or marry their color opposite. Citing the stereotype that light-skinned me n are not as capable as dark-skinned men, Fuze avoids dating men who are lighter than her medium skin tone. Likewise, Keeshas preference for dark skin
149 relates to their perceived strength over lighter men. The nature of gendered colorism has reverse effects for black men; lighter-skinned males are viewed as less attractive, intelligent, and desirable in many of the same ways that dark-skinned women are regarded. These ideas become the focus of one group conversation, where partic ipants are asked about the characteristics of their ideal mates: JeffriAnne: If you could choose the skin tone of your significant othe r, what color would that be and why? Luann: And I know it would be light, because I know for some reason, I love red men. Im not sure why, and I feel terrible about it. I know its, I know it s like this is like a stereotype that I have, but I love red men. I dont know why. I do, and Im not sure why. And my dad was darker, my grandpa was darker my uncle is dark. I just dont know why. Kelly: Mine would be brown, because  ther e are a lot of light skinned people in my family and I would never date a light ski nned person. And I dont know why. Its just weird, like Im not attracted to like red people, I dont know  its just interesting that Ive never dated someone red, its always dark or brown skinned. Patricia: I mean, I dont thi nk I would like guys darker than me, I dont know why, it just seems like, I dont like a lot light men and hones tly,  theyre just not attractive to me. They gotta be either brown or a darker comp lexion. But theres a reason  light skinned men  they are possessive, they are controlling, they dont want you to, Ive heard theyre controlling and everything, and so the red men [I know] are like that, conceited and  my personality is totally different from them, so Im just attracted to brown skinned men. Colleen: Um, so I have [had] two boyfriends. And one was red  one was darker and youre right about the red one, he was craz y, he was possessive. He would check [my] phone and everything, he wasnt th at smart,  he really had security issues and it was [the] dark skinned [boyfriend] I had more fun with. I think I loved [him] more and he was very clever though, he would keep secrets, he w ouldnt tell me stuff, like he was very, very smart.  but I dont really have a preferen ce, I like[d] both of th em [...] but the dark skinned men, theyre just something so sexy about the skin tone. Luann:  OK, like we all said [about] red men,  I think because theyre red theyre not as black, so they are men constantly trying to prove how black they are, they have to prove how much of a man they are, let alone a Black man . Stacey: I just think light skinned men  ar e douche bags. Because they are closer to White  give me a fine black brother.
150 This particular discussion ma de me aware of the ever-compl ex and paradoxical nature of colorism. All of the women featured in this excerpt mention at other points how their life has been impactedfor some quite negativelyby colorism. In spite of that, they openly discriminate and stereotype light and dark-skinned men. This is an excellent example of how the normative and oppositional forces of colorism compete within the lives of young black women. A Note on the Media Although fam ily, school, and relationships are ci ted by the women in this study as the most central agents in shaping their ideas and experiences with colori sm, there was to some extent a smaller reference to the media. As a resear cher my initial assumption was that respondents would talk much more about the media shaping thei r lives, as this particul ar generation has been more affected by various media a nd technological advances compared to previous generations of black Americans. Yet, as Rana Emerson ( n.d.) explains, although surro unded by distorted and disparaging images of themselves, many young Black women seem to find the ability to avoid internalizing and accepting these representations as reflections of their own lives and experiences (p. 87). Although the data from the focus groups suggest that young black women are in fact impacted by colorism, part of what Em erson is hinting at is the idea that young black women are not heavily influenced by the media. This of course, is reflected within the data, as influences from family, school, a nd relationships outwei gh media representations. To be sure, many focus group participants ha ve a clear understand ing that the most popular and celebrated images of black women in the media embody Euro centric standards of beauty. For example, Denises remarks about the members of singing group Destinys Child reflect this awareness: Kelly [is] not even looked at, in Destinys Child she doesnt really get the focus, but Beyonce gets all the focus because shes  more appealing to the White and the Black, the whole entire United States, all the culture s, cause shes fair skinned and  more appealing to both cultures, but Kelly  a lo t of people find Kelly to be really really attractive cause shes dark skinned  but she doesnt get all the limelight.
151 Similar to Denises comments about megastar Beyonce Knowles, other entertainers-including Alicia Keyes, Halle Berry, Tyra Banks, a nd the cast of popular television show Girlfriends were discussed as the most beautiful black women in popular culture. Yet respondents were equally critical of these images, suggesting that light-skinned a nd biracial women have always been viewed as the standard. It is common kno wledge for many of the women interviewed that the media embraces colorism through the prolif eration of light-skinned women in movie, singing, and television roles. For fewer women in this study, the media serves as the point of origin for their awareness of the normative ideals of colorism. Consider the experience of Meeko, a twenty-year old African-American woman who shares that colorism basically goes unsaid within her family. Although she does not share similar family experi ences with other focus group members, Meeko does confess how the film School Daze impacted her understanding of colorism. I still remember the night that I was watching HBO and School Daze came on.  I was really young. And I remember the beauty shop scene where there s just running around dancing singing jigga-boo and wanna-be and you know, I just remember that so vividly because I never knew that there was, you know, th at type of classification. I mean, theyre calling the other girls, oh wanna be, you want to have blue eyes, you wa nt to have straight hair, and you think youre all that, and youre stuck up. And then, the jigga-boos, they were just, oh youre ugly and your hair is knotty and that was the first time I knew that colorism existed. Released in 1988, the film School Daze was written and directed by filmmaker Spike Lee. The movie, which showcased the tensions among black women as it relates to skin color and hair, was pivotal because it was one of the first cont emporary films explicitly addressing colorism among young black college students. Straight and Nappy, the specific scene Meeko alludes to, is a musical number that draws attention to the various color namessuch as high-yellow and tarbabyand color notions that are pervasive in black culture. The entire performance is comprised of the name-calling and hostility often accompanying the divide between light and
152 dark-skinned women. As such, the film can functi on as a point of origin (as in Meekos case), and undoubtedly a stabilizing agent reinforcing the politics of skin color among black women. Similar to Meeko, Jessicaa ni neteen-year-old participant who describes her complexion as mediumreveals that the media was also he r introduction to colorism. For this young woman, however, hip-hop music videos, made her conscious of the dominant and prevailing standards of beauty. As bell hooks (1996) articulates, rap musi c is indeed responsible for promoting the value of light-skinned beauty over dark skin. It is quite rare to see da rker-skinned black females among the groups of women that are seen as sexually viable and desirable. In most music videos, whet her rap or otherwise,  it is the light-skinned, pref erably long-haired, preferably straightened-haired female who becomes once again re-inscribed as the de sirable object. This again is one of the tragic dimensions right now of race in Ameri ca because more than ever before, color caste systems are being overtly affirmed (As quoted in bell hooks on Video: Cultural Criticism & Transformation ) It is the overt placement of light -skin and long hair as the beauty standard in videos that prompts focus-group member Jessica into a color consciou sness. As she describes, when I was younger I watched music videos and Id always see the li ght skinned girls with lo ng hair, so I used to want to be light skinned [too]. This young woman, who openly admits comparing her medium skin tone to the women she saw in the videos, illustrates how this has shaped her experience: I was never really color consci ous until I really started watching and Park in school. All the girls were light skinned in the video, and like I said, coming, a nd after a couple of videos I was starting to notice and really st arted bothering me because I soon I started looking for dark skinned women in videos.  So Im not really that color conscious any more cuz Im starting to love my self more and more everyday. Jessica is able to be critical of the colorism in music videos because she as she notes, she began to love herself more. Self-love cannot be unde restimated as a key st rategy in battling the normative forces of colorism.
153 Summary We learn in this ch apter that families, school relationships, and the media operate as the mediate the experiences of colorism. Also illustrate d in this chapter is that points of origin are typically very strong, setting the foundation for bias/conflict or alternative ideology. There are more stabilizing and transformative agents that reinforce the normative framework as opposed to stabilizing and transformative agen ts that re-direct language, scri pts, and practices toward an oppositional view of colorism. More often than not stabilizing and transformative agents further the struggle between the competing discourses of colorism. The following chapter engages a discussion about divergent perspectives of colorism.
154 Points of Origin & Stabilizing Agents OR Transformative Agents OR Figure 5-1. Points of origin, stabiliz ing agents, and transformative agents
155 CHAPTER 6 THE COUNTER-NARRATIVES OF EVERYDAY COLORISM People arrive at an understanding of th emselves and the world through narratives purveyed by schoolteachers, newscasters, autho rities, and all the other authors of our common sense. Counter-narratives are, in turn, the means by which groups contest that dominant reality and fretwork of assumptions that supports it. So metimes delusions lie that way, sometimes not. --Henry Louis Gates Speaking to the divergent pe rspectives of Black Americans that run counter to mainstream (white) society, Henry Louis Gates, Jr. (1995) defines counter-narratives in the above excerpt as stories or beliefs that cha llenge dominant ideology and narratives. Cultural theorist Martin McQuillan (2000) further explains that narrativ es and counter-narratives exist together, and that both are equally valid and le gitimate as forms of the truth. The previous chapters show that for the young black women in this study, colorism is very much alive and well in their everyday lives. This is perhaps the dominant narrative overlapping throughout many of the stories shared in this project; albe it in various different ways, colorism impacts everyday experiences in many areas from family to relationships. Further, some young women understand colorism through a normative framework, embracing dominant ideals about skin tone inherent throughout mainstream black culture; others have developed an oppositional knowledge to these conventional ideals. It is interesting to note that despite the dominant narrative speaking to the sustained presence of colorism, thr ee counter-narratives emerged throughout the focus groups: 1) the absence of colorism in the Northe rn half of the United States; 2) and increased presence of colorism in the Caribbean; and 3) th e decline of the importance of skin tone in the current generation. This chapter is devoted to a discussion of these three ideas. Although these counter-narratives are not generalizeable to an entire generation of young black women, they are nonetheless useful in understand ing the complex and oft contradi ctory nature of colorism.
156 Up North, Its Different The history of black America points to palpable differences in the lives of AfricanAm ericans residing in the North compared to those living in the South. From the escape of slaves prior to the emancipation of sl avery to the Great Migration,1 many African-Americans sought better opportunity and overall quality of life outside of Southern st ates rife with segregation and racism. Of course, many black Americans fleeing to the Northern half of the United States still had to contend with prejudice and racism. Yet, the anti -racist ideology accompanying perceptions of life in the North becomes apparent in this project as many participants quickly made distinctions between the North and the South. As a resear cher, I did not anticipate that region would come up during the focus group sessions. However it was first mentioned by participants involved in the pilo t study. Since that initial disc ussion, differences about the North and the South re-surfaced during subsequent focu s groups. The majority of the women in this study (81%) cite the state of Flor ida as their native state, and there is an overwhelming sense from respondents that the North is mo re progressive in terms of intraand inter-racial relations. Alicia, a light-brown re spondent who is African-American and Puerto Rican, grew up in various parts of the country due to her parents military background and considers the time she spent in the North better than her everyday experiences in the South. She states: I grew up partly in the North a nd partly in the South and I do notice there is a difference in behavior [between] black people  in the South and in the North. You know, black women are loud  but confident and ve ry, you know, the matriarch, I see that predominantly in the South. In the North I kind of see  both man and wife together. Alicias comments point to a be lief that there are more black female-headed households existing in the Southern parts of the United States, while there are more two-parent black families 1 A period of time in black American history, dating from 1910-1970, in which a significant number of AfricanAmericans migrated from Southern states to Northern U. S. cities including Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago, and New York.
157 residing in the Northern half of the country. Agreeing with Alicias statement, Toni, a respondent from the same focus group makes a similar connection: Ive lived in the South and Ive lived in the North and [..] I always wondered why there was such as difference,  the family was able to develop more along the lines of your typical Caucasian family where there [are] two parents in the home and they were able  to have wealth and to pass that wealth onto generations which is why I think you find a lot more wealthy [black] people up North than you find in the South.  I do agree that there are differences in the north and the south [ ] that directly relate to the differences in how women are perceived and how they act as well. Because participants view the North as a place where black Americans are able to flourish, colorism then is viewed as insignifican t there and accompanies more of the attitudes, perceptions, and beliefs of those blacks who are living in the Sout h. One participant specifically ties this to its historical origins by explaining ho w it was that more fair-skinned Blacks moved to the North during the great migrati on, and those that stayed in the South were often, not always, those who had darker skin. Others argue that th e spectrum of skin tones is wider in the North. As a result, people are more comfortable and thus more accepting of a variety of skin tones, even tones falling at the extremes. These perceptions go against the dominant ideology that colorism is an issue for blacks in all regions of the United States. The following accounts describe this counter-narrative further: I was born  in New York. I [spent] the ma jority of my younger years in New York, up North . And to tell you the truth, in the nine years that I was there, it was never a problem. Nobodys ever come to me and said anything. Ive never heard anything. And even my cousins who are up there [now], they dont have a problem dating a lighter skinned, darker skinned [woman]. Its ju st not a problem in the North. (Lela) Lelas viewpoint indicates that similar to an anti -racist ideology associated with Northern states, there exists a parallel discourse of anti-colorism. Chanel, a re spondent who talks openly about the negative experiences she has as a dark-skinned woman, concurs that Southern black people are more colorstruck:
158 I know growing up here, down South,  men ha ve just been so conscious about skin tone where they dont even approach me you know. And by the time they approach its more like, oh, you know you kinda look good for a dark skinned girl. And Im just looking at them saying, you fool. But when I go up No rth, its very different. I mean Ill walk down the street and the men they ll literally stop to look at me and I feel so much better up there. The idea that dark skin is more exalted in th e North is echoed by many women participating in the focus groups. Consider for instance the co mments of Mary, a twenty-four-year old woman who completed her undergraduate de gree in the city of Philadelphia. Contrasting this time to her current experience attending gr aduate school in the South, Mary recognizes that her life is distinctly dissimilar: Ive been up North also where the blacker the better, the sweeter the juice you know, shes so beautiful, shes so strong or the same thing, this man is so beautiful, hes strong because hes darker. The same thing with the [black] woman. I dont know if its the whole Black Power thing, [but] you want to cele brate darkness. But [here] I think color is definitely an issue and you tend to point it out in different situations and sometimes [it is] the first thing that people look at. Mary also mentions that as an undergraduate student she formed friendships with first-generation black immigrants from Jamaica, Trinidad, and Nigeria, and that these friends were less concerned about her dark-skin tone compared to African-Americans. In addition to the belief Mary has about the North being more accepting of bl ack people of all skin tones, she holds the same views about black people who are not from America. These statements are both eye-opening and ir onic. The ways in which participants characterize the experiences of black Americans in the North is quite nostalgic, and a stark contrast to a number of contem porary events and books providing ev idence that colorism is alive and well all over the United States, including th e North. The recent controversy over a party exclusively for light-skinned black women occurred in Detroit, Michigan (for more details, please refer to Chapter 1). In 2000, Lawrence Otis Graham published Our Kind of People, a tellall autobiography exposing the hidden life of Americas black elite. In this memoir Graham
159 outlines a number of colorist and elitist black organizations, thriving predominately in the North. Author Marita Golden publis hed her autobiography, entitled Dont Play in the Sun: One Womans Journey Through the Color Complex in 2004. In this text Golden shares a number of experiences dealing with colorism while growin g up in Washington, D.C. Likewise, professor Audrey Elisa Kerr (2006) de tails the myths and folklore attach ed to colorism specifically in Washington, D.C. in the recent case study, The Paper Bag Principle: Class, Colorism, and Rumor and the Case of Washington, D.C. As an African-American growing up in Cleveland, Ohio I can personally attest to the presence of colorism during my ch ildhood and adolescence. Although I acquired an oppositional knowledge about colorism from my mother, I was, however, made aware of skin color differences through my school experiences, pers onal relationships, and from members of my extended family. I do admit that since moving to the Southern part of the United States I am reminded more often in my daily life a bout skin tone differences. I hear black people regularly make distinctions between red girls and black girls; the language of color appears more pervasive in this region. However, colorism does exist in the Northbut why do the young women in this study maintain a different belief? Perhaps this counter-narra tive points to the need for further resear ch comparing the viewpoints of black women living in various regions in the United States. Caribbean Influences In addition to perceiving colorism as less of an issue in the North, many participants commented about other regional differe nces in their experiences with color. Certainly, issues of skin color are present thr oughout the African Diaspora, ye t the second co unter-narrative emerging from the analysis points to the idea that Jamaica and Haiti are societies that focus more on skin tone differences compared to the Unite d States. There is an extensive amount of literature devoted to colorism within these tw o Caribbean societies (see for example Charles,
160 2003; Nettleford, 1973, or Trouillot, 1994); there ha s yet to be any schol arly attention on the comparative experiences of colorism between blac ks living in the Caribbea n, and blacks living in the United States. Furthermore, the entire body of scholarship on colorism in black American society ignores the increasing amount of Afro-Car ibbeans and Africans set tling in the U.S. In this project, the study sample included 24 re spondents who identifie d as Afro-Caribbean (primarily as first or second-generation Haitians or Jamaicans); this represents forty-one percent of the study sample. Although I would not classify this project as a comparative study in relation to ethnicity, respondents who were of Caribbean descent talked freely and often about their ethnic culture. For example, there was a tendency for some participants to begin comments with phrases such as speaking for the Jamaican community, or I f youre Haitian you know what Im talking about. However, these allusions to ethnicity do not signify a significant difference in how these young women experience colorism compared to their African-American counterparts. What these comments do point to however is th e notion that colorism is more prominent in the nations of Jamaica and Haiti. In order to illu strate this counter-narrative, I will discuss how participants cons truct colorism in each country. Colorism in Haiti The republic of Haiti is a m ajority-black society located in the Caribbean, gaining independence from French colonization in 1804. As John Lobb (1940) describes, in spite of attaining freedom so long ago, Haiti has maintained an anti-black ideology. He writes: The prestige of lightness of skin color, along with ot her white physical character istics, was so deeply impressed upon Haitian society in pre-revolutionary days, that it has unfortunately survived  and carries great weight today (p.26). Although Lobb articulates the pres ence of colorism in Haiti over 60 years ago, the young women in this st udy confirm the survival of this scholars
161 report. There were 11 Haitian respondents part icipating in the focus groups, making up 19% of the total study population. In relati ng their experiences of colorism to their Haitian ancestry, the majority of these women made two specific conn ections: bleaching and class differences. More than any other group of respondents, young women of Haitian descent talk more about using bleaching products themselves, or knowing family members who bleach their skin on a regular basis. Recall from Chapter 5 the narratives of Stacy, Vivica, and Chanel, young women who link their ritualistic bleaching habits to a specific part of their Haitian culture. A similar story is shared by Amy, an eighteen-year-old Haitian woman who notes that her mother regularly encourages her to bleach her skin: I know that my mom is always trying to get me to use products to lighten my skin color because my mother is pretty light and she wants me to be more like that [...] she sees the other people look at being darker as a bad thing, so she doesnt really me to go through that stereotype. Likewise, Stacey mentions that the pressure she received from her mother to bleach her skin was due to her dark complexion, but also to the rela tionship between class and color often highlighted within Haitian culture. This young woman even notes that extended family members were shocked to find out that she was attending a resp ected four-year university, as many reacted with comments such as, oh shes Black shes going to have to go to a community college. As Stacey explains about Haitian culture, these thin gs are associated with being dark-skinned. Other respondents make parallel conn ections about their Haitian ancestry: You kind of know that in Haiti there is a clas s division and the lighter you are, the better you are Haiti and the mass of the people in Ha iti are poor whatever and theyre dark.  you already understand its a systematic th ing thats been goi ng on since you know, you great gran I mean, its been going on  the elite are light, they dont work with their hands, they know how to read. The Black work with the soil whatever, they work with agriculture and they dont know how to read. (Vivica)
162 I think I mentioned this before, but in Haiti ther es a class issue and its associated with the color of your skin. And in my family, a lot of th em that are [still] in Haiti, theyre really light skinned and they have servants and thi ngs like that. And they re considered upper class in Haiti.  I dont really know too mu ch about slavery here, but [in Haiti] people were treated differently because of their darker skin. (Karina) Both of these statements infer that skin tone and class are two inte rconnected and immutable categories within Haitian society. While fo cus group member Charlie does not offer an experience that parallel the stories of Kari na and Vivica, she does however discuss her perception that Haitians are more influenced by skin color. She relates to her focus group the following story about her light-skinned cousin, wh om she noted to receive more attention: Lighter skinned people get treated really differe ntly in Haiti. Because whenever my cousin goes back, she says people  treat her rea lly differently  because shes lighter. I guess being light is valued there a lot like it is here. Lightskinned people are special and prettier. While we cannot draw conclusions th at apply to the entire Haitian culture, it is evident from the young Haitian women in this study that bleaching and class stratification are believed to be common features of their culture, supporting the no tion that colorism is more prevalent in that nation. Colorism in Jamaica Sim ilar to Haiti, Jamaica is a predominat ely black nation that was once dominated by (English) colonial rule. Also pr esent within this Caribbean society is the elevation of light skin; in fact, Christopher Charles (2003) notes a widespread bleaching phenomenon among many Jamaican girls and young women. While there was far less mention of bleaching among the 13 Jamaican respondents in this study, the young women do believe that colorism is more blatant on the island compared to the United States. They ar ticulate this difference in the areas of class and beauty. Similar to the racial structure in Haiti, skin color structures class status and overall
163 opportunity. In writing about her research on colori sm in Jamaica, author Obiagele Lake (2003) observes, my field work in Jamaica and other parts of the Caribbean  indicates that the positive value placed on whiteness persists. If one is not actually white, th en ones education, speech patterns, place of reside nce, and close associates combine to codify ones proximity to the white ideal (p.76). This is the same pattern noted by the women interviewed. Many of the Jamaican respondents comment on spending time both in the U.S. and in Jama ica, and thus are able to pinpoint specific features of Jamaican culture. The following comments demonstrate these noteworthy differences: I think [colorism] almost depends in a way where you are. Because if youre in Jamaica and youre dark skinned, its not good. Because you will be looked over for jobs. You wont be considered in the upper-classes of society. You are basically looked down upon if youre dark skinned. And the funny thing is, you can be the smartest person in your class and a light skinned kid could be the dumbest person,  if you are compared to them, they might just win because of their light skin. (Callea) I dont know if its a Jamaican thing, but mo st people teach their young kids that when youre lighter, you get more opportunities, and you get to do more things than when youre darker. Even when we used to go to the beach in Jamaica, we werent allowed to stay out [in the sun] too long [we were told] you need to stay out of the sun, things like that. Its going to affect how pretty I am. (Natasha) Outside of being more aware of skin color diffe rences in Jamaica, some participants also talk about differential treatment in Jamaica compared to the States. Indeed, this is the case for Callea, a young woman who identifies her skin tone as dark. She explains that because she has extended family still living in Jamaica, she spends a considerable amount of time there during the summers. This young woman also states that because there is a strong Jamaican community at her university, she often runs into her colleg e-mates while visiting the island. Yet, as Callea tells the members of her focus group, skin color b ecomes much more of an issue once she gets to Jamaica:
164 But the fact is that when I was in Jamaica wh en I use to go home and visit, like [my friends from the States] wouldnt even spit on me, they wouldnt talk to me, nobody called me, nobody said anything. When I came back up to school, [my friends] would call [and ask], Do you want to go out? Because at school  you want to be with your kind, you dont want to stand out, but when youre in Jamai ca and theyre amongst their own, to hell with her, whatever. Shes not you know, Jamaican anymore. As Callea recounts in this story, while in the Un ited States skin color takes a back seat to ethnicity; identifying with other Jamaicans is much more important for those who wish to cling to their nationality rather than identifying with African-Americans. However, going back to the island means reverting back to the color and class hierarchy that is so commonplace there. Although it has been documented throughout th is project that the majority of women (regardless of their ethnic identity ) perceive light-skin and European features as the standard of beauty, Jamaican respondents sh are a strong sense that these standards are much higher in Jamaica. When discussing the issue of beaut y, Jasmine, a second-generation Jamaican amuses that, theres never any dark skinned flight atte ndants [in Jamaica]. They are always light skin with the long hair, the Jamaican accent and some pretty eyes. On a more serious note Monica states, theres such a struggle to become like the red skinned girls, the light skinned uptown girls in Jamaica, thats the kind of status that you want to as pire to. Other participants recognize this pattern in Jamaica, and are quite critical of the way things are in Jamaican society. One such critique is given by Callea, who follows up her stor y about being snubbed by lighterskinned Jamaicans with an interestin g analysis of beauty pageants: [My friend] and I were talking about it th e other day, about Miss Jamaica, how every single year, we send a light ski nned girl to the competition and 90 percent of the country is dark, is Black. We sent a White Jewish gi rl a couple years ago and I dont think weve sent a dark skinned girl since 1978, and its re ally sad because they say, out of many one people but less than 10 percent is Lebanese or Indian  the majority of us, were dark skinned.  and its not like Jamaica is lack ing in beautiful dark skinned women. You can walk any road in Kingston, in the count ry, Montego Bay, Ocho Ri os or wherever and find dark skinned women. Short hair, long hair  but the thing is we dont want to send them to represent our country because  we cant get past that slave mentality. 1838, we abolished slavery, and we cant get over that, we cant over the thought that White
165 people or mixed people are better than us, the house slaves are better that than the slaves out in the field. From Calleas comments about beauty contests it appears that similar to black American society, many Jamaicans are still stuck in the s lave mentality. Overall, the majority of Jamaican and Haitian respondents construct colorism as a more complex and exaggerated phenomenon in the Caribbean compared to the U.S. Their beliefs of course are connected to their social locations as first and second-genera tion Afro-Caribbeans. Wh at is ironic though is that these same women simultaneously report signif icant (and at times ne gative) experiences of colorism here. Despite these experiences of colorism, the Caribbean nations of Haiti and Jamaica are believed to have a larger color comp lex. Undoubtedly, more research is needed to further illuminate this debate. Not This Generation Talking to the young wom en in this study uncover that colorism is indeed part of their everyday lives, yet it is important to note that this current generation views their experiences as radically different from previous generations of black Americans. The second counter-narrative surfacing in this projectthat th is cohort of black women is not as color conscious as earlier black womendevelops through three factors participants cite as reasons for the overall decline in colorism. The first idea related to this counter-narrative is that colorism is gradually weakening in presence. This belief supports predictions made by scholars researching the issue of colorism shortly after the Civil Rights and Black Power m ovements. Several empirical studies (see for instance, Anderson & Cromwell, 1971; Holtzman, 1973; Jones, 1973) examine the effect of the Black Is Beautiful ideology upon the generation coming of age dur ing this era. These scholars
166 observe a definite shift in the at titudes surrounding skin color, and point to future generations of black Americans who will potentially be unscathed by colorism. As Ransford (1970) suggests, Indeed, one meaning of black is beautiful is that color no longer makes a difference. In fact, for some segments of the black community (i.e. young college students), the traditional evaluations appear to be reverseddark skin is now admired and light skin is not. A provocative question is whether the black pride movement has been powerful enough to override completely the traditional stigma of dark color. One can speculate that dark color will not lose its negative evaluation until a new generation of black children has been exposed to black is beautiful values and has replaced the current generation in power and status. As postulated, these forecasts are supported by some of the respondents, typically toward the end of focus group sessions when I ask how participants view skin tone bias in relation to their parents or grandparents generation. Twenty-one year-old Fiona observes, Definitely, definitely its di fferent [...] its pretty much 100 percent that if I talk to somebody in my mothers generation about this issue, Im going to hear the very same thing  that light is right, a nd dark is not. But I feel like in this generation  its a lot more common to hear opinions like the one s were hearing today  you understand that its present in our society, but we dont agree with it and were not going to really go along with it. Its fading out, I think. Fionas comments are particularly interesting. At several points during the focus group, Fiona talks about areas in her life where colorism is insi gnificant, yet also offers clues to the contrary. Fiona begins the focus group by indicating that because she falls within the middle of the spectrum, she has escaped the negativity attached to being too light or too dark. However, when the subject of family comes up, she notes, I guess my family has had a huge impact on wh at I think about colo r. And you know my mom uses bleach cream, Ive used it at one poi nt in the past, and you know youll just hear them make certain comments. My brother, hes pretty light-skinned, but his fathers very dark, so my mom [would say] oh you know tha nk God he didnt come out like his father, things like that. From this remark there is evidence that runs counter to Fionas overall perception that colorism is fading out. Yet, her previous comments a bout her own experiences speak to the contrary.
167 Similar to Fiona, Maxinea participant from a different focus groupunderstands colorism to be an issue plaguing previous generations, but not hers. On the question of where the current generation of black Americans stan ds, Maxine answers, My grandmother  was very prejudice. My mother isnt and I turned out not to be. Maxine further explains that her lack of colorist beliefs stems from how and where she grew up: It depends on how you raise your children and where you raise your children. Thats exactly where the division came from where in the North you dont really see that, in the South you do. Present within this young womans narratives are both counter-beliefs that she is not affected by colorism because of her age, and because of he r upbringing. A particular ly quiet participant, Maxine openly admits to having limited knowledge on colorism and asked for clarification from other focus group members when the brown pape r bag test was brought up in conversation. Rather than developing a normative or opposit ional knowledge about colorism, Maxines understanding of skin tone bias represents a c ounter-narrative that sp eaks to the absence of colorism in her everyday life. The second reason given for the decline in colori sm is that the current generation is more color conscious and aware compared to their ol der counterparts. This idea is reinforced by several participants who note that younger black Americans are more critical of colorism, and are therefore more willing to discuss and confront the issue:  the new generation now is definitely more open to everyone. However, we all have that underlying thing in the back of our heads,  I just think that everyones idea is maybe the same, however its just more spoken in our generation. (Amy) I also believe [colorism is] changing, simply b ecause of discussions like this. They didnt talk about colorism in my moms generation an d she didnt talk about this and they didnt gather to say, you know that this is an issue, because to them it wasnt an issue, it just made sense, thats just how it was. If you were lighter then you were good, if you were darker, youre bad.  So because of discu ssions like this and  because youre able to talk about it more now, I guess its better. (Michelle)
168 These statements illustrate that younger generations have learned to openly challenge colorism, indicating a belief that there has been a largescale shift to an oppositio nal color consciousness. During one particular session, Tonia twenty -two year old participantdescribes in great detail exactly how she thinks the current generation compares to older African-Americans. Telling the story of how colorism devolved within her own family, Toni explains how history has shaped this progression: [My parents] were in college in the late 60s, early 70s and it was great to be Black. It was great to have an afro and it was great to you kno w wear dashikis and kari beads, and things like that. And both of my parent s are  my dad is darker th an I am, my mom is probably about my complexion and so I think that because of the times, I think a lot of perceptions are shaped by the times, and during that ti me, it was acceptable, it was beautiful, it was great, it was a resurgence of appreciation of Africa and African culture.  during my grandparents era, I know that my grandmothe r is very  light, her mother was mixed,  my grandfather was very dark. And it wa s a whole ordeal that they were getting married. Her parents did not want her to marry him, under any circumstances, [because he] was so dark. And her parents said to her, What about your children? What are your children going to do?  theyre going to be dark  theyre going to have more obstacles. From Tonis narrative, it is appa rent that her grandmothers deci sion to marry across color lines, combined with the widespread celebration of blackness during her parent s generation, resulted in a better experience for her own generation. As she notes, when my grandparents were getting marri ed it was Jim Crow South you know, it was a very different time than it is now and so I de finitely think that our generation has more awareness, more ways to gain awareness, more venues for talking about the issue, like this one. The mere fact that this research project is bei ng conducted is a signal for T oni that the nature of colorism has improved since her grandmothers generation. Nevertheless this idea remains a counter-narrative in that it contradicts the majori ty of the other stories Toni shares during her group session. The following statemen t is illustrative of this point: I definitely think that [colorism] exists, I th ink that it is perpetuate d on a day to day basis by the media and, in our communities and in businesses. People that you see that are very wealthy and successful majority of the time they are light, unless theyre maybe a
169 basketball player or something  the only way to I guess deal with the issue is for people to first realize that the issue exists a nd no one wants to believe [it], no one wants to think that were still back in that house slave field slave kind of mentality. Tonis beliefs, along with the viewpoints ex pressed by many other women in this study, undeniably show that colorism is at times inc onsistent and paradoxical in the everyday lives of these women. While in one breath respondents are confident that todays young women have transcended colorism, another moment quickly refl ects that there in fact has been no change. Although these young women are not comparing thei r experiences with older black women, it was quite apparent that the idea of colorism being different today than it was in previous decades is a counter-narrative that is symptomatic of the denial that characterizes the contemporary nature of colorism. The last factor associated with this count er-narrative deals with the perception that colorism is better now because African-Americans today ar e no longer deliberate and obvious in their intentions; colorism is much more muted in contemporary society. Consider the parallel statements of Vivica and Chanel, young women w ho illustrate in a previous section of this chapter the presence of colorism in Haiti. They also share a belief that colorism operates on a more subtle basis for their generation:  at least were not doing the brown bag te st any longer and we have moved from that. You know,  we might be doing it might [but ] its not as prominent.  I will say that for my generation (Vivica)  in terms of generational differences,  I would say [that] people just arent as blatant as they used to be and say you are ugly because I think you are ugly because youre dark skinned. You know, they do it in different ways (Chanel). This commonly-held idea appeared across focu s group sessions. In comparing old and new generations of black Americans, the majority of women in this project agree that colorism has reached a point of progression. Of course, what makes this idea a c ounter-narrative is that
170 similar to the other beliefs expressed in this chap ter, they prove to be quite contradictory to the majority of the narratives shared. Summary In this chapter we see respondents talk about colorism as a phenomenon that is worse in the South, stronger in the Caribbean, and improve d compared to earlier generations. However, their larger narratives, stories, a nd experiences show that colorism is a vital force in their daily lives. In the previous chapters we learn th at the ideas offered by the young women interviewed are shockingly similar to the ways in wh ich black Americans talked about colorism before the Civil Rights Movement. Yet simultaneously these counter-narratives repr esent ideas that are distinctly different from previous points in history. To be sure, these young womens experiences speaking for and against colorism ar e equally legitimate and valid. Perhaps this underscores that this generation of young black women battle more with the two competing ideologies of colorism. In this day and age th at is marked with a color-blind racist ideology a discourse of attitudes that minimize and downpl ay discrimination and racismcolorism, too has become minimized and downplayed. The matte r of skin tone bias and hierarchy then becomes abstracted as something that fluctu ates depending upon where you live and how old you are. This leads to the greater inquiry of this research: Has colorism improved or degraded? Do modern-day forms of colorism look like the co lorism of yesterday? The concluding chapter attempts to shed light on this discussion.
171 CHAPTER 7 DISCUSSION: IF THE PRESENT LOOKS LI KE THE PAST, WHAT DOES T HE FUTURE LOOK LIKE? I would say that the problem of the twenty-first century will still be the problem of the color line, not only the relation of the darker to the lighter races of men in Asia and Africa, in America and the islands of the sea, but the relations between the darker and the lighter people of the same races, and of the women who represent both dark and light within each race. --Alice Walker In Alice Walkers 1983 book, In Search of Our Mothers Gardens, she devotes a chapter to the topic of colorism that is so aptly titled, If the Present Looks like the Past, What Does the Future Look Like? In many ways, Walker (198 3) reminds us of the survival of the color hierarchy within black society, and challenges black women to recognize the limitations of a (future) black sisterhood that co ntinually pits the light-and wh ite-skinned black women against the black black women (p. 311). The focus groups narratives of the 58 women participating in this study provide interesti ng and enlightening answers to the inquiry Alice Walker posed over twenty-five years ago. Although the findings from th is research project are not generalizeable to an entire generation of young black women, they are nonetheless quite usef ul in assessing where young black women today stand on the issue of colorism. Does the Present Look Like the Past? This dissertation began with a story about a three-m ont h old baby girl, and how the turning of her skin tone from light to dark created confusion and anxiety for the infants mother and close friend. Attached to their concer n was the fear that this baby girls dark skin color would negatively impact her future, that perhaps her life would be more challenging compared to other black girls with lighter skin. What we learn from this incident is that colorism remains a legitimate force in the lives of many bl ack women, even in the twenty-first century. Part of what prompted this research journey was my own experience growing up. Fortunate enough to be raised by a mother who rarely menti oned skin tone differences (other than to say
172 that it was wrong), I grew up with a less common knowledge of colorism, learning not to think better or worse of myself because of my skin colo r. It was only until I entered college that I really began to see colorism at work on a regul ar basis. From the competition for men to the membership in exclusive organizations, skin color appeared to be an important factor, even at the predominately white college that I attended. Since that time I have encountered many young women who have been constrained by the si lent, yet commanding nature of colorism. Based upon my personal and academic experience, I embarked upon this dissertation project to explore how young black women between the ages of 18 and 25 are affected by their skin complexion, examining how colo rism manifests itself in the age after the Civil Rights Movement, and during this period of a color-blind soci ety. Central to this study is an exploration of how young black women talk about colorism reflect s a shift in color consciousness, or if there has been no change compared to previous research and documented accounts of skin-tone bias with in African-American culture. Developing a theoretical framework of colorism grounded within the expe riences of young black women, with an ultimate goal for empowerment and social change, was also of chief concern to this project. Predictions from scholars studying colorism in the 1960s and 1970s show an overwhelming optimism about future generations of black Americans (Drake and Cayton, 1962; Goering, 1972; Jones, 1973). They forecast a gene ral shift in attitudes about skin colorthat people born after this time will no longer embr ace the anti-black attitudes and ideals of generations past. Researchers en visioned that for future cohorts of African-Americans, skin color will lessen in importance and no longer func tion to structure experi ence and opportunity. What we learn from these narratives is that in sp ite of these predictions, in the face of the twentyfirst century, beyond race, class, and gendercolor plays an integral role in shaping the life
173 experiences of these young women who have bare ly reached adulthood. This finding many not appear that remarkable considering the growi ng body of literature examining the endurance of colorism in the post-Civil Rights era. Yet, what is noteworthy is how this form of internalized racism impacts the attitudes, beliefs, and beha vior of young black women in much of the same way that studies illustrated colorism before the Civil Rights movement. This is rather significant considering the large-scale disapp earance of blatant colorist pract ices such as the brown paper bag test and the apparent integr ation of black organizations and institutions that once excluded members based upon their phenotypic features. Based upon the focus groups, young black women ar ticulate their ever yday experiences of colorism through language, internal scripts, and external practices. A lthough respondents talk mainly about their daily interactions, there is a broader, macro-level connection to these occurrences as these individual experiences ar e oftentimes embedded, created and reproduced via such institutions as the family, school, and th e media. Given this, I am suggesting the term everyday colorism to capture how these women unders tand and acquire knowledge about colorism in their lives. In employing this fr amework, I borrow from Philomena Esseds idea of everyday racism. Similar to Esse d, I highlight the everyday as wa y to discuss the interconnected nature of micro and macro-level processes. Everyday colorism then is a starting point for a theoretical foundation of the dail y occurrences of colorism operating through structural and interpersonal domains of power. Recall from Chapter 3 that everyday colorism is comprised of three elements. The first element, language refers to the color names that participants hear and/or use on a regular basis relating to the various categories of skin tones. Pointing to a somewhat seamless transmission of color terms across generations, the analysis in Chapter 4 reveals that there is an extensive
174 vocabulary of color present in th e lives of these women. In keep ing with the traditional language of light skin, the majority of re spondents recognize that the labels used to refer to light skin are rather positive, while the majority of the term s for dark skin are lo aded with negative and derogatory connotations. There are fewer names fo r medium skin tones, and these terms appear to be rather neutral. The persistence of such terms as yellow caramel and tar baby indicates a survival of a color terminology orig inating in the nineteenth century. In addition, we learn that the language of skin color influe nces the second component of everyday colorism, internal scripts. Si milar to Bordieus (1983) concept of habitus, or even Bonilla-Silvas interpretation of white habitus the internalized scripts constitute the socially constructed ideas and expectations of various skin tones. Based upon the common color names, young women develop a mental sky about what it means to be light, dark, or brown-skin, regardless of their own skin tone. While the partic ipants in this study repr esent a variety of skin tones and experiences, they do sh are a somewhat colle ctive color habitus about certain skin tones. Many of the stories shared suggest th at the predominant stereotypes and perceptions about light and dark skin (i.e. all light skinned-girls are pretty all dark-skinned girls are ghetto) signify an inheritance of simila r attitudes documented in earlier generations of black Americans. A cursory glance at classic studies such as Black Metropolis and Black Bourgeoisie show parallel internalized scripts held by black Americans prior to the Black Is Beautiful movement. What is new, however, is the perceived sanctuary of brown skin. Young women in this study articulate the experiences of being brown-sk inned distinctly different from the experiences of women who are light and dark-skinned. Previ ous literature suggests that future cohorts of African-Americans would embrace brown skin over light and dark co mplexions. Although this is not proven within
175 the analysis, it does appear that the current gene ration talks differently (and in a neutral manner) about medium skin tones. The findings from Chapter 4 also highlight how the internalizati on of color scripts influences behavior. The final component of everyday colorismexterna l practicesappears in several forms: ritualistic, compensatory, and discriminatory practices. Young women learn to execute certain rules of colorism, from avoidi ng the sun to bleaching their skin. At times respondents note engaging in certain practices (such a getting a ha ir weave or dating outside the race) in order to level the playing field in the color hierarchy. Furt her, respondents more commonly note that their inner-viewpoints about skin color limits and prevents their interaction with other black women. Some mention avoiding friendships with certain women based on ideas that they will either not relate to women with differing skin tones or that friendships across color lines could potentially bring them down. Often times the practices of everyday colorism are carried out with very little thought, while other actions and quite deliberate and planned. In addition to the three elements of everyday colorism, we also gain knowledge about the distinctive features of colori sm. Although it can be argued th at these characteristics have typified the nature of colorism throughout hi story, based on how these young women talk about their experiences, I am suggesting the following ke y features describing the contemporary nature of colorism. First, it is important to underscore that colori sm is a byproduct of racism. As stated earlier, colorism is a form of internalized racism, a nd as such colorism mirrors many of the same qualities of racism. The analysis shows the reif ication of racism through various aspects of the language, internal scripts, and exte rnal practices of colorism. To that end, it remains crucial to situate colorism within the larger context and discussion of racism.
176 Second, it is imperative to note th at although colorism is a derivative of racism, colorism exists as its own structure operating at the indivi dual, interactional, and institutional levels. The women in this study understand and experience colorism apart from racism. Yet colorism functions as a structure that inte racts and co-exists with the larger structures of race, gender and class; colorism therefore must be understood within the context of these othe r societal structures. Within the structure of everyday colorism th ere exist two competing ideologies: normative and oppositional. This aspect represents the third feature of contemporary colorism. The normative ideology characterizes the dominant discourse of colorism that privileges light skin over dark skin1. Alternatively, the oppositional discourse of colorism represents an ideology of skin color that equalizes all the various shad es and hues of blackness. Many of the women interviewed note shifting back and forth be tween both ideologies, causing on numerous occasions an inner-conflict and struggle. A recurr ing point of contention lies in the reality that while many participants have acquired the knowledge to challe nge colorism, they still find themselves in positions of prejudice and discrimi nation. As illustrated in Chapter 5, points of origin, stabilizing agents, and transformative ag ents function to mediate movement between the normative and oppositional forms of colorism. We also see this displayed through the counternarratives of colorism highlighted in Chapter 6. Fourth, colorism operates as a three-tiered stru cture, rather than a binary one. The vast majority of scholarly research (past and present) has situated colorism within an opposing, twofold hierarchy: light skin versus dark skin, good hair versus bad hair, etc. Correspondingly, our knowledge of colorism has been informed by those women who fall into either one of these categories; oftentimes light and brown-skin gets conflated into one categor y (light). Yet, what 1 Although the majority of this discussion has been devoted to skin tone, it is important to highlight that colorism also extends to hair texture and facial features.
177 we discover from this project is that placing colorism w ithin a binary frame leaves out the unique experiences of women who are ne ither light nor dark. The anal ysis shows three groups of women: those who are red, brown, and black. As we learn in Chapter 4, while the majority of language and internal scri pts relate to light and dark skin, th ere is a separate experience offered by women who fall in the middl e of the color spectrum. The next feature of colorism is concerned with the classification of the structure as a onedimensional hierarchy. The framing of colorism as a hierarchy assumes that the interactions and experiences of colorism are one di rectional. In clarif ication, oftentimes the literature on colorism suggests that although light-skinned women occupy the highest rung of the color ladder, they are simultaneously victimized for their position (s ee for example, Hunter, 2005 or Zook, 1990). Dark-skinned women are always noted as the victim izers, partly because of their lower place in the color hierarchy. The results of this research points to a different pattern of colorism where victimization occurs at all levels (we even see br own-skinned women talk of victimization, too). Although the young women concur that the ability to move within the hierarchy is fixed, the experiences however, of light and dark-skinned wo men are quite similar. The findings illustrate that light and dark-skinned women find themselves in the position of proving, disproving, legitimizing and de-legitimizing the socially c onstructed perceptions of who and what they should (or should not) be because of their skin tone This points to variab le relations of control within the system of colorism.2 At the structural level the lang uage and scripts of colorism are institutionalized, and all women become casualties of bias and discrimination. However, we also learn from this study that women have dual roles of victims and victimizers. There are 2 It is important to underscore that in the larger racial and gender structure, black womenregardless of skin tone have traditionally occupied the bottom rungs of social status an d position. I understand this is different in relation to the smaller structure of colorism, and am careful not to point out or assume that black women possess power and control in these larger forces of domination.
178 many narratives that show women of various skin tones perpetuating and reinforcing colorism at the individual level. As bell hooks (1989) points out, women can and do participate in politics of domination, as perpetuators as well as victimsthat we dominate, that we are dominated (p.20). To that end, colorism is a multi-directional (and perhaps, multi-positional) hierarchy that exhibits unsteady relations of domination. Finally, the analysis shows that colorism is a strong, yet covert phenomenon. Throughout the process of conducting the focus groups, it was surprising to learn that many young women do not even recognize the term colori sm or initially believe that this issue shapes their daily experience. But as the group discussions progresse d, participants realized just how much they are in fact impacted by the various forces of co lorism. Overall, the young women in this study note that colorismlike racismis much better in their generation because overt expressions of skin tone bias are now just a piece of black history. The findings s uggest that old-school colorism has been replaced with more quiet manifestations appearing through casual namecalling, subtle comments, carefully-hidden st ereotypes, and subconscious avoidance and exclusion. These same findings reveal that colorism continues to produce pain, bias, discrimination and disappointment. So, th e present indeed looks like the past. What Does the Future Look Like? On July 9, 2007, the National Association for the Advancem ent of Colored People (NAACP) held a public burial in De troit, Michigan for the contr oversial and politically-charged term nigger. A formal and public funeral for th e N-word was deemed necessary as a first step in challenging the racism, hatre d, and internalized oppression accompanying the usage of the term. As Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick st ated on the day of the ceremony, Today we're not just burying the N-word, we're taking it out of our spirit. We gather burying all the things that go with the N-word" (Retreieved April 22, 2007 from www.washingtonpost.com). According to an
179 article written for the Washington Post, there was a similar funeral held in 1944 to symbolize the death of Jim Crow segregation and discrimination. To be sure, this recent event marks a sign of the times; although there are many black and non-b lack people alike who will not doubt continue to use the n-word in their day-to-day lives, there are similarly many people who will openly challenge and resist the use of such language. To a certain extent, it appears that a growing population of everyday citizens is beginning to develop a level of cri tical consciousness and awareness that interrogates the traditionally-held stru ctures of inequality and injustice in society. In many ways, colorism mirrors some of the sa me qualities as the n-word. Skin-tone bias and discrimination is also rooted in racism and colonialist ideology. Despite having a much broader language base, like the n-word, colori sm has survived in the black community for generations, being interna lized in the mind and ex ternalized through practice. Given this, what does the future of colorism look like? A ccording to the young wo men interviewed, does colorism share the same fate as the n-word? As the women in this study candidly reveal, th ere is unfortunately no end in sight. When asked about whether there will ever be an e nd to colorism, the majority of women were overwhelmingly pessimistic about the future. As one woman pointed out, As long as racism is around, I think colorism will be around. Part icipants provide concrete reasons for the continuing significance of colorism. One su ch explanation is provided by Monica, who considers colorism an inherent part of human nature: I dont think [colorism is] something that can be fixed because as far as human beings are concerned, we always look at a way to differentiate ourselves. Whether it [is] where we live or neighborhoods or the schools we go to  we find a way to separate ourselves and I dont see why skin tone is going to be something differe nt. Im always going to look like at somebody and  form opinions [...] based on their skin tone.  I think thats something that cant be fixed,  I dont think thats something that people are going to easily let go.
180 For this young woman, a core f eature of society includes divi sion and separation. A similar reason is given by Yolanda, a nineteen-year old respondent who adopts a functionalist perspective of society: Even if [colorism] stops being an issue, there will be another issue to separate us. Because in the wonderful world of America and everyw here across the world, we base ourselves on capitalism, and you have to have somebody on top and someone on the bottom. So that means you have to put somebody on the bottom, thats how it works. Yolanda blames the political and economic structures present within our society for the survival of colorism. This perspective was sh ared among many focus group participants. There were several women interviewed who cite d the common presence of colorism for all minority groups as another reason for maintaining a presence in the future. As Tessa explains, Im really not optimistic on colorism not being an issue.  its just so engrained in not just our society, but  tran s-nationally  Latinos, Asia ns, Indians, Blacks, its everywhere. Because theres always going to be a way to segregate people and I think the easiest way to do that is color. Its just th e easiest way to hurt people. And I just dont think it will stop bei ng an issue. There might be a da y when dark skinned people are on top and light skinned people are on bo ttom, but I dont see that happening. This young woman is alluding to the notion that skin color may one day hold a more important social value compared to race. She of course points to the various ranges of minority groups who internalize the privilege of light skin and the stigma of dark skin. More importantly, Tessas argument about the continued (and perhaps, more significant) existence of skin color reflects Eduardo Bonilla-Silvas framework for the Latin Americanization of the United States. A paradigm based on this scholars pr ojection of race in the future, Bonilla-Silva (2004) asserts that racial classification in the United States will move from a binary system to a three-tiered one: inclusive of whites, honorary whit es, and collective blacks. What is interesting to note in Bonilla-Silvas model is that classification into one of these three groups will not be based on race, but rather skin tone. The group at th e bottom includes dark-s kinned Asian-Americans, Latinos, Blacks, and Native-Americans. Those minority group members with lighter skin tones
181 are predicted to fill the middle category of honorary whites Bonilla-Silvas model, in conjunction with the voices of the women interviewed, point out that colorism will endure and could ultimately edge out the prevalence of r acism (Bonilla-Silva, 2004; Hunter, 2005; Keith & Herring, 1991). To that end, holding a funeral for colo rism would mean doing away with the structure of color, in addition to eradicating the interconnected structures of race, class, and gender. Further, abolishing colorism is particularly challenging given that many of the women in this study have never heard, used, or have a firm grasp of the terms meaning. Th e N-wordand its meaning are both infamous and undeniable in American cultu re. What we see from the analysis is that colorism is at times unwitting and elusive. A nd this makes it much more difficult to bury. Recommendations for Change: Towards A Collec tive Oppositional Knowledge The major finding of this study reveals that colo rism is a mainstay in the lives of young black women; the broader finding suggest s that despite the exterior hege monic structures that work to cripple black women as a whole, the divisions between black wo men are just as great. As Barbara Smith (1983) states, the gulfs between us hurt and they are deeply rooted in the facts of difference. Class and color differences between black women have divided us since slavery. We have yet to explore how riddled we are by this pain (xlvii). Contemporary scholars are continually looking fo r ways to bridge the gaps th at prevent black women from attaining a universal sisterhood in the twenty-first century. Sheila Radford-Hill (2000) writes about the crisis of black woma nhood, blaming divisions from with in (particularly class) and a lack of activism for this cris is. Similarly, sociologist Katrin a Bell McDonald (2007) highlights the contemporary state of black women through black sisterhood and step-sisterhood. Through her in-depth conversations with black women, she uncovers how differences in social class
182 impact the potential for unity and detachment among an ever-increasing diverse population of black women. While a large emphasis (and rightly so) has been placed on class divisions, it remains important to address how color differe nces between black women can be effectively challenged and transformed. Failing to challenge this particular gap also threatens the strength and potential of a universal black si sterhood in the twenty-first century. In searching for concrete solutions, I suggest that we look to the core features of black feminist theory. As earlier noted, standing at the foundation of this th eoretical framework is knowledge, empowerment, and reclamation. More importantly, black feminist theory looks to the lives and experiences of everyday wome n for the production of such knowledge and empowerment. Many women in this study admit struggling between the normative and oppositional forms of colorism. I argue that in order to conquer this struggle, a collective oppositional knowledge of colorism should be cr eated. The normative language, scripts, and practices that function to divi de black women need to be permanently replaced with language, scripts, and practices that f unction to unite. The young women participating in this study proved to be wealth of knowledge about the everyday, lived experiences of colorism. Included in this knowledge are concrete strategies for change and empowerment. Their suggestions, combined with my own recommendations for change, ha ve guided the following informal and formal methods for disempowering the dominant discourse of colorism. First, it remains important to debunk and de-ins titutionalize the myths about light skin, dark skin, and brown skin. Although this may appear to be a step that individuals alone are unable to accomplish, feminist scholars suggest that individuals hold the key to changing institutions. This achieved through personal politiciza tion and activism. Patricia Hill Collins (2006) notes the utility of the personal is polit ical platform particularly for young women of color in the hip-
183 hop generation. Hernandez & Rehman (2002) po int out that for young women, the road to change is reached through collectively stra tegizing via their own everyday transformative feminism. So many women in this study mention a va riety of people and events that served to redirect their ideas and behavior about colorismin both positive and negative directions. In order to challenge colorism at all levels, it is necessary for individual black women to work as everyday feminists and activists, beco ming the agent of transformation. In Chapter 3, I write about the importance of naming colorism. Because the term is not readily acknowledged among black Americans, the issue becomes even more difficult to recognize and address. The second strategy for cha nge lies in talking about colorism. Talking and naming go hand in hand. Just like naming, talking allows for empowerment. Bell hooks reminds us in Talking Back (1989) that true speaking is not solely an expression of creative power; it is an act of resistan ce, a political gesture that chal lenges politics of domination that would render us nameless and voiceless (p.8). My suggestion then is that black women not be afraid about openly confronting colorism in the moment. I personally fi nd this task at times quite difficult. Although I have been academically enthralled in this i ssue for over a decade, I still find myself in positions where I miss the oppor tunity to challenge colo rism in my own daily life. The story that opens this dissertation illustrates one such example. I watched and listened while two black women lamented over the dark skin tone of a three-month-old baby. I have even allowed colorism to impact my own friendships with black women. Yet, as one participant in this project suggests, talking is of chief importance in the fight against colorism: I think it all comes down to ta lking about it. I mean when you dont talk about something,  it and then it turns into a big boil, and its a lot more dramatic. So I think if you as a community, or as a race, if you voice these issues and you say, well you know this is whats going on, and you ask yourself why is th is, rather than just accepting it for  the situation that its always been. I thin k things can get a lot better. (Natalie)
184 At the end of many focus groups participants later told me that the dialogue and conversation about colorism changed their perspe ctives and level of consciousness. This of course was my initial motivation in developing a method for this project. Given the importance of talking, dialoguing about colori sm in small groups can function as a transformative moment in creating a collective, oppositional knowledge. As focus group member Natasha describes, these focus groups are very good if light skin ned people, or medium, dark skinned people [can] talk and share their views because  people always thought that [light-skinned people] had it easier, but if you let people know that you  still have struggles and you still go through stuff, if we share our views and put everything on the table, I think it would help. Continuing to cultivate small group discussions within everyday set tingsand not just the formal ones used to conduct academic research can serve as the starting point for a critical consciousness that dispels the divisi ve myths of colorism (hooks 1989). Several participants suggest a more formalized strategy of education to combat the normative discourse of colorism. Many of these women not e their exposure to black studies and womens studies courses in college exposes them to an oppositional knowledge that counters their initial socialization and mentality. To that end, focu s group members call for the education of children and the education of self as concrete strategies for change. The following remarks illustrate this idea: I think that its just important to educat e [and] teach kids and young people that we all come from different backgrounds and therefore were all going to be different and one of the most beautiful things about being Black is that we do have so many different complexions, we have such a range of colors and features and hair text ure and thats one of the things that makes being Black so beautiful And I think thats just something that needs to be ingrained in th e minds of young people. (Toni) You [should] try to prevent the stereotypes of those names [like] midnight, you cannot allow children to use that name and  let them know that theres not a difference between skin tones.  So like I think that if you teach children from a young agelike I was taughtthat there really is no difference between anyones skin color it would help. (Kira)
185 we need to reprioritize whats important to us, so that we can educate ourselves, so that we can know our history, so that we can know were worth something and so that we can realize that whats your problem is my probl em because we are all Black  You can be whatever you want to be, but at the end of the day, you are still a Black woman,  use all of your tools that you have for the bett erment of your people and to teach each and every person that you come across [about colorism] because knowledge is power, and thats the only were gonna ev er dismantle racism and colorism at the systemic level. (Trina) I would extend these suggestions by placing a form al emphasis of the education of young black women. Of course, colorism impacts black women more than men; therefore the public awareness and resistance of colorism must incl ude this special focus on young girls. Ironically, this is a suggestion provided by Anderson and Cromwell (1977). However, they note that specific attention be given to the darker-ski nned Negro, especially the black-skinned male (p.87). While the positive valuation of young black males was important at the time, in dealing with the issue of colorism, I argue that even though all black Americans should gain awarenessin light of this studys findings, young black females deserve attention. Lastly, the final strategy for change require s true coalition buil ding among black women. Individual empowerment, naming, talking, and edu cation can only go so far if there is not a concerted effort to unify black women across co lor lines. As focus group member Keesha so rightly observes, we are all African American. I think thats the problem because you assume that because you are light skinned you are different, but from societys point of view, if you are dark then you are Black, so regardless of your color, we still need to work together to get to where we need to be despite what shade we are. In the new millennium, this is an immediate nee d. It is imperative for young black women to first recognize colorism, admit that they actively participate in th is form of discrimination, and find ways to eradicate this issue in the twenty-first cen tury. Bell hooks (1989) writes, Black women must identify ways feminist t hought and practice can aid in our process of self-recovery and share that knowle dge with our sisters. This is the base on which to build
186 political solidarity. When that grounding ex ists, black women will be fully engaged in feminist movement that transforms self, community, and society. (182) In order to recover from the past and to prot ect the future, building an oppositional knowledge through individual politicization and collective action is essential. Limitations and Directions for Future Research This research contributes to the existing body of literature because it focuses specifically on the voices of young black wom en, addresses micro-macro linkages, and concentrates on whether colorism has changed or remained the sa me. Despite these contri butions, I would like to attend to the limitations of this study. The focus group participants were drawn from a convenience sample of young black women attending a large unive rsity in Northern Florida; this is perhaps the largest limitation of this project. Although the univers ity itself has a diverse student population with a fair amount of young black women, I did not include in my scope of recruitment young women who are residents of this college town but are not coll ege students. Despite the heterogeneity of focus group members, they are arguably part of a different social standing because they are in college. This of course creates in many ways a one-dimensional sample. Additionally, the majority of women interviewed fell into the middle three sk in tone categorieslig ht brown, medium, and darkwhile there were only five respondents who reported their skin tone in the very light and very dark categories. This unequal distribution of skin tone categories presents another limitation to the study. Further, it was assumed that the sexual identity of all participants was heterosexual. There were no questions directed toward same-sex relationships, nor did any respondents share stories related to their intimate-partne r relationships with other women. This points to a gap not only in this research project, but also in the broader realm of research on colorism. Further studies should consider the experiences of lesbians, as those voices would
187 surely illuminate how colorism is similar or different for this subgroup of black women. Ultimately, there is a definite need for more em pirical studies on the continuing significance of colorism among more diverse groups of young black women. I envision a number of directi ons for future research that builds upon the foundation of this current project. The analysis highlighted in Ch apter 6 point to several other areas for further exploration. Perhaps one of the most complex findings in this research is the perception that experiences of colorism are vari ed for people who live in different parts of the country. Many of the women interviewed shared a strong belief that colorism is not as prevalent in the Northern portion of the United States; im pending studies could benefit fr om a regional analysis of colorism. Further, the black Caribbean women in this study indicate that experiences of colorism are more significant in places like Jamaica a nd Haiti. Given the growing literature on the comparative experiences of African-Americans and blacks living in the United States with Caribbean heritage (see for e.g. Shaw-Taylor and Tuch, 2007), there is a demonstrated need for future research to address this othe r regional difference in colorism. The core of this research relies on the views and perspectives of young black women between the ages of 18 and 25. Although I am careful to point out that my goal is to contextualize the current day experience of young women, I am aware that this project could have been strengthened by the inclusion of the vo ices of older black women. This idea also becomes apparent in Chapter 6 as many of th e same women who note a clear presence of colorism in their own lives consider their experi ences to be not only better, but vastly different from their mothers or grandmothers generati on. Although not included in the data for this dissertation project, I conducted two focus groups with older black women (between the ages of 26 and 40), and their stories show parallel experi ences to the younger cohort of black women. In
188 order to draw more concrete conclusions on whet her or not there has been a definite shift in attitudes and beliefs, soliciting th e perspectives of black women w ho came of age for instance at the height of the Civil Rights movement would undoubtedly fill a gap in the current study, better informing our knowledge on this complex issue. Although they are mentioned far less within th is study, black men to so me extent influence the ways in which young black women interact with each other. To that end, I recommend that more research is needed to illuminate the pe rspectives of young black men as they relate to colorism. As scholars Margaret Hunter (2002) and Mark Hill (2000; 2002) remind us, colorism affects black men as well. It was my ambition several years ago at the onset of data collection for this research project to include the comp arative experiences of black men. In fact, I conducted a pilot focus group with college-age d black men to assess their viewpoints on colorism in their lives and in the lives of young black women. In terestingly, the results of the pilot data suggest that those young men are not impacted by skin tone bias and discrimination. Of course, this information is not generalizable to a larger group, yet there is a need to address the nature of gendered colorism in the lives of black men. When I graduated from college in 1997, I can vividly recall that the world wide web was gaining ground in popularity and importance. Just over a decade later, the internet has moved from a place of limited networking to the destination for all public information. In connecting the relevance of the internet to the su bject of colorism, I find it much easier to locate information about colorism online compared to schol arly information. With the advent of virtual communities and the growth of internet activity, th ere now exists a myriad of online resources in the form specialized websites (such as BlackAm ericaWeb, Black College Wire, and MySistahs), blogs, forums, and social networking sites (i ncluding MySpace and Facebook) that serve as
189 public outlets for discussing per tinent issues in black American society. Although we know that minorities have less access to the internet compar ed to whites, we are also aware that younger people engage in higher levels of internet activity versus older Americans (Madden, 2003 Pew Internet and American Life Project). Given th is significant shift in our culture and todays generation, I argue that scholarly research should c onsider embracing new and alternative means for collecting data that will keep pace with the current generation. Finally, it is imperative not to underestimate the value of this study as merely a onedimensional project addressing the contemporar y significance of colorism among young black women. Although this remains the focal point of th is study, this research also contributes to the broader body of knowledge currently examining the continuing significance of skin color in the lives other women of color. The recent work of Gomez (2000; 2008), Hunter (1998; 2005) and Rondilla & Spickard (2007) show analogous patt erns of colorism in Asian-American and Hispanic communities. Further research compari ng and contrasting the experiences of colorism across racial and ethnic lines co uld certainly help to explai n the contemporary nature of colorism, as well as advance our theoreti cal understandings of this inequality.
190 APPENDIX A RECRUITMENT FLYER Black Women Wanted to Discuss Issues of Light Skin, Dark Skin, Good Hair & Bad Hair Who Is Eligible? College-aged Black women (ages 18 -25) w ho want to express their experiences and views about colorism (issues of skin color, hair, and facial features) within the black community. What Is the Study About? This research will address the common att itudes and beliefs associated with having light skin or dark skin. Also, this pr oject aims to unders tand how black women understand colorism in their day-to day lives. Participants will be asked to participate in an interview or focus group. How to Sign up? If you are eligible and would like to participate, please call the study coordinator to get more information and to sign up for the intervie w. Please leav e your name, phone number, e-mail address a nd the best time to call you. Contact JeffriAnne Wilder via e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org OR at (440) 241-1444 All Participants Will Be Compensated!!
191 APPENDIX B DEMOGRAPHIC FACESHEET Pseudonym /Alias: How would you describe your skin tone? [ ] Very Light [ ] Light Brown [ ] Medium [ ] Dark [ ] Very Dark What is your birth date? (mm/dd/yyyy) Please indicate your ethnic background (i.e. Jamaican, Nigerian, or Afri can-American): How much is your YEARLY family income (Before taxes, including income from all sources and from all members who live in your household)? [ ] under $9,999 [ ] $10,000-$19,999 [ ] $20,000-$29,999 [ ] $30,000-$39,999 [ ] $40,000-$49,999 [ ] $50,000-$59,999 [ ] $60,000-$69,999 [ ] $70,000 or more In what city and state did you spend your childhood? What is the highest grade of school or years of college you have completed? What types of names, either positive or nega tive, have you used or heard when referring to people with light skin? (List as many as you can think of) What types of names, either positive or nega tive, have you used or heard when referring to people with a medium skin tone? (List as many as you can think of) What types of names, either positive or nega tive, have you used or heard when referring to people with dark skin? (List as many as you can think of)
192 APPENDIX C FOCUS GROUP IN TERVIEW GUIDE Lets first start by defining what colorism means to you : 1. How would you define colorism? What prompted you to decide to participate in this discussion? (ALL) 2. How is (has) your life shaped because of your sk in color? (i.e. What does it mean for you to be a X skinned Black woman?) 3. Following up on the demographic facesheet, wh at stereotypes do you think are associated with light-skinned women? Dark-skinned wo men? Women of medium skin tones? 4. If you could choose, would you be light, medium or dark? Why did you choose that skin color? What might have influenced your decision? Learning About Colorism 5. At what age did you become conscious of your skin color and the meaning/value of different skin tones? Can you tell me about any memorable experiences you had growing up when you first became aware of the differences associated with skin color? 6. Did your family play a role in emphasizing skin tone difference? How so? 7. Does your ethnicity play a role in how you l earn or understand the issue of skin tone? 8. Can you recall any sayings or a dvice that you may have receiv ed from friends, family, or your community regarding skin color? Friendships/Relationship 9. In reflecting on your everyday experiences, how are you made aware of colorism in your day-to-day interactions? 10. How significant is the issue of colorism among your peers? 11. In what ways does skin color affect your in teractions and relations hips with other black women? Black men? 12. What are the skin tones of the black women in your current friendship groups? In what ways (if any) have your view s/beliefs about skin tone impacted who you have developed friendships? 13. If you could choose the skin the skin tone of your spouse, what color would that be? Why?
193 14. If you could choose the skin tone of your baby/ children, what color w ould that be? Why? Other Issues 15. How do you think your generation views this issue, compared to other generations? (i.e. How are you a product of your genera tion in light of this issue?) 16. Participants from previous focus groups indica ted they felt that the issue of colorism was more prevalent in the South compared to the North or other regions of the country. What are your thoughts on the differences between the North and the South? Closing 17. What things do you personally think can be done to prevent colorism and to educate others about its consequences? (ALL) 18. Did I miss anything? Is there anythi ng else that you would like to say?
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205 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH JeffriAnne W ilder is originally from Clev eland, Ohio. She completed her undergraduate degree from Allegheny College in 1997, and later completed her master of arts degree in sociology from Cleveland State University in 2002. Upon completing her doctorate from the University of Florida in August 2008, she will begi n teaching in the Sociology Department at the University of North Florida.