Here's How We Destroy the Color Complex

In an interview with Ebony's Chris Williams, Drexel University Africana-studies professor Yaba Blay suggests ways in which we can begin to do away with the mindset that's such a source of suffering within the black Diaspora.

EBONY: What are some of the discussions that can be conducted inside and outside of the classroom about the color complex to bring a greater understanding to why this continues to a problem in our society?

YB: Well, as an educator, what's important for me to do in the classroom is to facilitate critical thinking. So — the ways I do that when I talk about colorism is to situate it within a history. Before we can start talking about the contemporary realities, you've got to talk about where this idea comes from in a historical sense to make this issue even possible. You must begin with the context of enslavement, the ways in which light skin has been valued in this society, and give them the foundation so they can move forward. Once you've achieved that, you can get to a space where you can begin asking questions to help them connect the dots. For example, when I'm teaching, I'll put on a video and I'll ask them 'Why do you think the light skinned woman is positioned as the object of interest?' and getting them to connect it to a larger framework because often times students will say things like 'Oh, I don't see a problem because that's just someone's preference.' But it's getting them to see that there's a fine line between preference and pathology. So how did you come to formulate this is a preference?

On the one hand, we talk about this age old cliché that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but who is training that eye? You got that from somewhere. You get them to see that we're people of African descent and much of our culture is connected to African cultural ideas and evaluations. Showing them pictures of what beauty looks like in various African cultures whether it's dark skin, natural hair or women with particular body modifications and saying 'How do we go from this to this?' It's almost like that Malcolm X speech where he said, 'Who taught you to hate yourself?' It's getting them to see that you’ve been taught these things. They’ve been bombarded with these images from media sources that are so-called Black. This is just a start, but we have to start having honest conversations …


Read Chris Williams' entire interview with Yaba Blay at Ebony.

The Root aims to foster and advance conversations about issues relevant to the black Diaspora by presenting a variety of opinions from all perspectives, whether or not those opinions are shared by our editorial staff.

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