Editorial & Opinion, Featured

Shades of Melanin: COLORISM in the Caribbean

written by Shani Issac

Shortly before Hurricane Maria struck us in 2017, I placed an order for a 23andme DNA testing kit. To my surprise, I wound up acquiring it before I thought I would, and so my journey to better understand my racial identity began.

It is an inescapable fact that many of our women were forced to become the concubines and mistresses of white men, and so I expected to find a sliver of European blood. To my surprise, I found that I am nearly a quarter white.

A 23andme DNA testing kit… found that I am nearly a quarter white.

In some facets of society, I might be viewed as mixed, if this factor were considered. That will never be the case. I present as a black woman, with black features and therefore I shall always be regarded as a black woman, for better or for worse.

I present as a black woman, with black features and therefore I shall always be regarded as a black woman

Discrimination and racism in the Caribbean are a tale as old as any fortress or plantation. It can be assumed that because we are the majority in the population of the Caribbean that naturally we wouldn’t experience such issues but to assume so is naivety and foolishness on the highest degree.

We are taught in our schools about many great men and women who are considered heroes in European culture but are little better than monsters to us.

Think of the importance heaped upon *Horatio Nelson, the great Lord Admiral, whose statue stands in Barbados’ capital as described in the July 20th article by Melissa Noel, The Fight Against Racial Injustice Is A Caribbean Fight Too.

A supporter and defender of slavery sitting smack dab in the center of what is now an independent black nation, formerly a colony whose economy was built on the back of slavery. It’s the equivalent of a statute of Hitler standing in an Israeli city.

*A supporter and defender of slavery sitting smack dab in the center of what is now an independent black nation…It’s the equivalent of a statute of Hitler standing in an Israeli city.

As Nelson Downs says, “The Black Lives Matter movement is not just about Black lives in the United States; it’s not just about Black lives in the UK, it’s Black lives period.” Due to the egocentric and individualistic approach to news and life in the USA it can be difficult to look beyond the lens of what is going on within our borders.

It is exhausting to keep up with a news cycle that runs 24 hours thanks to advanced technology and social media. But I would argue that the issue in the Caribbean is less racism and more colorism and classism.

I would argue that the issue in the Caribbean is less racism and more colorism and classism.

I am fortunate to come from a background where both of my parents were college-educated and settled within respectable professions by the time that I was born. Young girls are told not to go in the sun or else they will become darker, and to straighten our hair because ‘natural hair is bad hair.’

Over fifty-nine years ago when my grandmother decided to marry my grandfather, a dark-skinned black man, she was told that their kids would come out ‘ugly’ on account of him. I imagine my grandmother had choice words for whoever was foolish enough to suggest such a thing.

Little has changed regarding what is appealing and what is not.

I have been informed by black men multiple times that I am too dark/too ugly on account of my black feature for their tastes. They prefer ‘light-skins’ or Hispanic/white women. One particularly vile human being I had the displeasure of knowing outright vilified black women while fetishizing Asian women.

I wish I could say such issues of colorism and favoritism for features were isolated incidents alas, this is common. Social media has exposed this.

But to return to the exact topic at hand, the Noel’s article examines the idea that black populations must band together to fight the rampant discrimination that has plagued us for generations through no fault of our own.

“The movement ignited across the Caribbean by the uprisings in the United States reflects the interconnected history of the two regions.” Melissa Noel

The writer says “The movement ignited across the Caribbean by the uprisings in the United States reflects the interconnected history of the two regions. It also speaks to the sensibilities to systemic racism, colonialism and white supremacy that have always been there, but are now finding a renewed sense of purpose in solidarity.”

Racism never went away, but we buried the ugly realities under the veneer of progress.

Racism never went away, but we buried the ugly realities under the veneer of progress, our white allies patting themselves on the back and heading home to congratulate themselves on a job well done where there was in fact more work to be done. The George Floyd situation, as unsavory and unwanted as it was, has exposed these inadequacies to the sunlight.

The George Floyd situation, as unsavory and unwanted as it was, has exposed these inadequacies to the sunlight.

*UVIVOICE reports that the Horatio Nelson statue will be removed according to reports at the time of this publishing. Hopefully, public 0pinion, in the form of articles like this, was instrumental in changing this issue within our current social climate. 

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7 Comments

  1. Cheryl Thomas says:

    Shani, this was intimately written. You touched on these topics with your knowledge, experiences and sound emotions. Great article and excellent writing!

  2. Shari Lewis says:

    This was a well needed and written article. Sadly, colorism will not go away until the rejection through discrimination does not negatively impact the dark skin individual because they’ve already love and accepted their color. We’ve been saying “I’m Black and I’m Beautiful” for far too long. When I see the blackest of black persons in the forefront of our popular media outlets or platforms, I’ll know that colorism is truly a thing of the past.

  3. Cheryl Thomas says:

    Shani, this was passionately written through your own experiences, emotions, and thoughts. Indeed, racism never went away. Great read and excellent article

  4. This was an excellent article! We struggle so dearly with skin tones all over the US, especially from within our own cultures! Keep putting out great content!! IG: @LawrenceLaBee

  5. Dr. H says:

    Interesting perspectives. Insightful.

  6. George says:

    Very nice article, the writer presented some good points. We are taught in society to favor lighter complexions over darker complexions and many of us obliviously favor lighter colors over darker ones. Good work!

  7. Hello there! This is my first comment here so I just wanted to give a quick shout out and tell you I genuinely enjoy reading through your articles. Can you suggest any other blogs/websites/forums that go over the same subjects? Thank you so much! Dayna York Reinaldos

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