I began to realize the importance of distinguishing between colorism as practiced by white power structures like courts, schools and businesses, and colorism as practiced within the black community, evidenced when we talk about marriage statistics and measurements of color. The way to begin to combat it is to try to speak about it. That dark skin was the most beautiful was the logic of my family. I think about these two women — the outspokenness of Burroughs and Dunbar Nelson, obsessed with color but self-aware enough to avoid talking about it in public. But I think the time has come to be explicit in our strategies, to have the difficult conversations, to acknowledge when they make us uncomfortable, or remind us of our own individual pain. In text chains that started as check-ins about how to navigate life as writers, we talked about the expectations of performing gratitude and overworking, and we each began to link this to our experiences as dark-skinned women in our respective communities.
Milena. Age: 20.
This system ensured that white male slave owners who had children with the black women they enslaved contributed to their own wealth.
Rosemary. Age: 30.
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The history of this denial was a driving question for me. My mother hated that picture, the erasure of her blackness. As more black people obtained freedom after the civil war, and began establishing newspapers — vibrant spaces to define and keep record of what it meant to be this new thing, a black citizen of the US — some of the African American newspapers struggled to call colorism exactly what it was.