Colourism in Africa

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In today’s world, there are countless social issues which need particular attention and time in order to be resolved. Needless to say, different forms of social discrimination have become more prominent with the evolution of media. One in particular is colourism.

Colourism is a is a form of discrimination based on skin colour (tone) in which human beings are treated differently based on the social meanings attached to skin colour.

Different to racism, colourism if often observed amongst people of the same racial and/or ethnic groups. Movements against colourism in North America, Latin America and Asia have become quite popular and people have begun to be more vocal about the issue and its dangers.

Contrary to popular belief, colourism is also a serious problem in Africa and this is what I want to focus on today.

In 2014, I began an online campaign against colourism called #NoToColourism. I am currently busy conducting a desk and field study on colourism and it has occurred to me that Africans are oddly “silent” about the matter.

I read a few articles in which Africans indicate that colourism doesn’t exist in Africa and that the issue between dark skin and light skin is simply a matter of preference. Unfortunately, this isn’t true.

In fact, as mentioned before, colourism in Africa is very much existent and serious. Whether you blame in on colonization, the media or even slavery, one thing remains certain: colourism in Africa is real!

In a recent article I posted on my blog, I illustrated the distinct difference between colourism and preference. A preference is the selection of someone or something over another or others, whereas colourism is a form of prejudice or discrimination.

Hence, if you say that colourism is just a matter of preference, you are saying that discrimination and preference are synonymous, which isn’t true. It is safe to say that there is a fine line between preference and discrimination, a line which is crossed time and time again.

As you may know, social studies have shown that people of darker skin tone are often placed at the bottom of the social hierarchy and are victims of social injustices and sometimes even physical violence as a result of their “dark” complexion.

It is sad to see that this is also the case in Africa. I grew up in South Africa, but I am originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo where I spent 6 of my teenage years, and I have to admit that I have seen mild to extreme colourism in both countries, I myself being a victim of colourism on countless occasions.

It is also important to mention that colourism “goes both ways” and sometimes it is those who are lighter in complexion who are discriminated against. Regardless, colourism in Africa is a form of social discrimination which needs specific attention.

There are countless practices of colourism in Africa, practices which shouldn’t be taken lightly. Colourism goes far beyond the “dark skin vs light skin” debate, which is, quite frankly, superficial and doesn’t look at the root of colourism.

Colourism has far-reaching repercussions which many people are unfortunately still unaware of despite the ease of access to information which today’s technology offers us. In Africa, colourism often leads to rape, social marginalization, complex of inferiority, social injustice, the destruction of mores, illnesses and even suicide and homicide.

These are only a few examples of the consequences of colourism in Africa and I strongly believe that more attention should be focused on the matter for people cannot change what they are unaware of.

This being said, it is paramount for me to mention that in many African societies, colourism has become a norm and hence it is not seen as something negative.

To conclude, colourism goes beyond the superficial definitions people, particularly the youth, attach to it these days. I don’t remember where, but I read somewhere that colourism in Africa, in its deepest truth, is a silent form of slavery and the sad thing about it is that we are not even aware that we are “enslaved”.

What then are we willing to do about it? Should we just let it fester and enroot itself even deeper within our mentalities? Colourism, my dear brothers and sisters, is real in Africa and I for one think it is high time we take a step forward towards change! #NoToColourism

Bio: Stella Mpisi, a Congolese-born (Democratic Republic of Congo) South African woman, is a writer, poet, blogger, songwriter, motivational speaker and colourism activist. At the young age of ten years old, both her parents were killed in a motor vehicle accident after which her life turned upside-down. In 2012, Stella self-published her first book, an autobiography entitled “Sweet Memories: Tears of a Melody”.

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