Posts Tagged ‘shadism’

‘Does my bum look big in this?’ For years that was a question that when asked by a woman of a man, had only one acceptable answer – ‘no’. A small pert rear-end was desired, and any item of clothing that made it look any other way was to be avoided. At least that was the case among white women.
But in the parallel universe that is inhabited by Black folk a different aesthetic was in place. Back in 1992 West Coast rapper Sir Mix A Lot released the track Baby Got Back – a song and video in which he paid tribute to the ample posteriors of Black women.

Back then, infact throughout most of the latter half of the 20th century, the western ideal of beauty has been the skinny blonde: not a model that most Black women can fit into (or even aspire to without doing damage to their physical and mental well-being). Appropriately Black popular culture has always celebrated the fuller-figured woman. But traditionally the more robust phenotypes of Black women were looked down upon, or even scorned and mocked by the mainstream.
Remember Caroline Wozniaki – the tennis player who made fun of Serena Williams by stuffing her clothes with towels to mimic Williams’ curves?

Caroline Wozniaki
Caroline Wozniaki

But despite the disrespect from the mainstream, the Black camp maintained their campaign, mainly through rappers who’s videos consistently gave prominence to curvaceous hip-hop honies.
Now it seems that this centuary the two camps are meeting. I don’t know if it was down to J-Lo, or Beyonce or Kim Kardashian, but it’s clear now that even in the mainstream, bigger booties are in vogue. (Interestingly, whilst J-Lo tried to play down the interest in her butt as she attempted to be taken seriously as an actress, Kim K (in the absence of any discernable talent other than her body and self-promotion) seems to be accentuating her butt more the more famous she gets!)

The Kardashian sisters dazzle fans at their Nordstroms jewelry opening and then fly out together, Orange County.
… showing their behinds
Both J Lo and Kim Kardashian got ahead ………

There was a time when white women would sheepishly cover their backsides with long shirts or jumpers tied around the waist. Not any more. Now they display them proudly for all to see, sometimes even encasing them in figure-hugging lycra for greater effect.
The mainstream’s new fascination with a fuller behind has even reached the highest echelons of British society. (Remember at the last Royal wedding all the fuss made about Pippa Middleton’s bum?)
Women of ALL races are now sweating in the gym, or even going under the knife in order to get a more shapely posterior. According to a new American Society of Plastic Surgeons report, last year, a staggering 10,000 buttock augmentation procedures were performed in the United States, up 16 percent from 2012.

And thanks to Miley Cyrus you can now enjoy the spectacle of white women with virtually no booty trying to twerk.

Miley twerking_2655244b
In 2013 Miley Cyrus and the ‘mainstream media’ discovered twerking

Apparently the new fitness craze is twerk-azize, or twerk-aerobics or something like that, though how you can achieve those moves if your back-side is best regarded as a flat expanse of flesh that connects your back to your legs, is beyond me.

When Lily Allen wanted to feature twerking in the controversial video for her last single and couldn’t deliver it herself , she recruited some Black girls to do the ‘booty shaking’ for her.

Lily Allen thinks,…… ‘if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em’

Not only this, but white women are risking skin cancer in order to maintain a year round tan and even injecting collagen into their lips for a fuller pout.
So is this good news for Black women? Will they now move from being figures of scorn and derision to the ultimate symbols of female desirability?
Well unfortunately it’s not that simple.

beyonce booty
Miss booty-licious herself Queen B. Recognise!

While the ideal of female beauty may no longer be Kate Moss, neither is it Serena Williams.
While Beyonce is celebrated for her curves,

she works famously hard to make sure

she doesn’t deviate too wide of the size 10 ideal.

And while she’s happy to display her booty,

we have yet to see her natural hair.

I’ve no idea what Beyonce’s hair looks like in its natural state,

but I’m pretty sure it’s not straight and blonde!

When the super-producer of the moment Pharrell released a new album this year entitled Girl, he chose to adorn its cover with three models. When he faced criticism for not featuring a Black model amongst them, he was at pains to point out that in fact, one of the featured models was indeed Black. But you’d have to look hard to realise, as typically she was of the lighter-skinned variety. It seems that in Pharrell’s version of the United Colours of Benetton of female beauty, Crème Caramel is as dark as it gets.


Rather than the Black female archetype, the new beauty ideal in America is Latino (fittingly since they are that country’s fastest growing ethnic group) and in the UK the new ideal is something resembling mixed-race (appropriate since they are this country’s fastest growing ethnic group). Lightly tanned women of mixed heritage like Nicole Scherzinger, Paula Patton, and Zoe Saldana. Progress, yes, but we have not yet reached the promised land!

Lupita got a lot of love this year, but how much impact will she have?

There has been much fuss made of new Oscar-winning actress Lupita N’Yongo,   who for the last few months has not only  set the movie world alight, but the fashion world too. It as though the fashion and movie  industries have just discovered that African women exist.

Dark skinned AND overweight? No chance!

But for those hoping that Lupita will change the perception and desirableness of dark-skinned women, I fear that Lupita will have as much impact for dark-skinned women as previously Oscar nominated Gabourey Sidibe did for the image of obese women.

So Black women can now flaunt their curves with pride, but it will be a while before they are invited to the mainstream’s fashion and media party.

Lee Pinkerton

I don’t watch X-Factor, or Britain’s Got Talent, or The Voice, or any of these TV talent shows.  But such a controversy was caused when X-Factor contestant Hannah Barrett complained of the racist/shadist abuse that she suffered on social media, that it reached even my radar.   According to Barrett, Black people were tweeting saying that she was ‘too dark’ to be a pop star.

Hannah Barret - too dark for showbiz?

Hannah Barret – too dark for showbiz?

For those outside of the Black community, this story may seem strange. If there are two areas that Black people have been allowed to thrive in this country, it is in sports and music. Infact many of the biggest pop stars of the last few decades have been Black. But the sad truth is that when it comes to women in entertainment, you can be Black, just not TOO Black.

All of the many successful Black female performers in the music industry, such as Beyonce, Rihanna, Alicia Keyes, Nicki Minaj etc, have something in common besides their Platinum discs – they are all light-skinned.  The fact is that women in entertainment – be that music, movies, fashion or TV – are judged first and foremost on their appearance.  Regardless of their talent, any woman who wants to succeed in this business must be considered as attractive – an attractiveness defined with very narrow tightly defined parameters.  They must be slim, light-skinned, with European features, and long straight hair. If you are a dark-skinned Black woman, or even a fuller figured white woman you can work in these industries, but you will have to play the background. You can be a backing singer, but you can never be the star upfront.  You can be a supporting actress, but you can never be a screen goddess.

Alicia Keys - just right?

Alicia Keys – just right?

The many Black actresses who’s success we celebrate  – Halle Berry, Thandie Newton, Zoe Saldana, Paula Patton, Naomi Harris etc – all fit within these narrow parameters, and all come in a lighter shade of Black.

I’m not wanting to detract from the undoubted talent of all of these stars, but the sad truth is that they wouldn’t have reached where they are today, were they a few shades darker, or in possession of  more African features. And what’s so worrying about this fact, is that little Black girls growing up today, may NEVER see themselves positively represented on screen. This has been the case for as long as we’ve had cinema.

From Josephine Baker in the 1930s, to Lena Horne in the 40s, and Dorothy Dandridge in the 50s, to Pam Grier in the 70s, to Vanessa Williams and Lisa Bonet in the 80s, to Tyra Banks and Halle Berry in the 90s, to Beyonce today, when it comes to our Black beauties, it seems the lighter the better. In this Eurocentric world in which we live in, mixed race is the acceptable face of Blackness. Those sisters who are dark, try in vain to aspire to these European standards by modifying their appearance with hair weaves, colour contacts, and even toxic skin bleaching creams.

Pam Grier

Pam Grier

josephine baker

Josephine Baker

dorothy dandridge

Dorothy Dandridge


Interestingly the same standards don’t seem to apply to men.  Black men can be dark and still considered attractive. Consider old favourite Tyson Beckford, or new favourite Idris Elba – their dark complexion seems to enhance their desirability. Whilst the essence of feminine beauty is slim and pale, the essence of virile masculinity is tall and dark.

But it is an oversimplification to simply blame this phenomenon on the racism of white people imposing their narrow Euro-centric perspectives on the rest of us.  Remember that Hannah Barrett was complaining of racist comments from fellow Black people.

In music videos dark skinned women are conspicuous by their absence.  It has been de-rigueur for some time now that the eye candy in rap promos will be mixed or Latino, and it seems in UK music videos, even lighter sisters can’t get a look-in these days.  Notice recent videos from grime artists Wiley and Dizzie Rascal, that depict their idea of a perfect pool party, as them and a few male friends surrounded by a harem of skinny white girls.

By way of defence Wiley and Dizzie have both stated that they are not responsible for the selection of the models in their videos, but for such outspoken and independently-minded artists, I would expect them to take more of a role in how they are being visually represented. (If the video stylists asked them to wear a dress for the shoot, I’m sure they would have had something to say!)

Wiley - and friends!

Wiley – and friends!

But to me, even worse than the rap videos (who could ever look to Lil Wayne for guidance?) is the fact that the hosts on BET and so many African cable TV channels replicate this trend, having exclusively dark brothers accompanied by mixed or light-skinned sisters in front of the camera. So why are we as a race perpetuating the dissing of our darker skinned sisters? How and why have we inculcated such self-hatred?

It all goes back to the doctrine of white supremacy that was so successfully spread throughout the African diaspora through slavery and colonialism. For centuries white Europeans have drummed into their darker skinned subjects, that Europe was the pinnacle of civilisation, and that the rest of the world were primitive heathens without a culture of any worth. That God was white, Jesus was white, that white women were the epitome of beauty, that Black is ugly, and the closer to white you were, the higher you could rise. A racial hierarchy neatly encapsulated in the catchy phrase ‘If you’re white you’re alright, if you’re brown stick around, but if you’re Black get back.’

White Jesus

White Jesus

Malcolm Gladwell explains the Jamaican plantation experience in his book ‘Outliers’

“whites saw mulattoes – the children of those (mixed) relationships – as potential allies, a buffer between them and the enormous numbers of slaves on the island.  Mulatto women were prized as mistresses, and their children, one shade lighter in turn, moved still further up the social and economic ladder. ”

Gladwell further outlines how the victims of this hierarchy of shade absorbed the racist doctrine that still operates to this day.

 “Mulattoes rarely worked in the fields.  They lived a much easier life of working in the ‘house’.  They were the ones most likely to be freed. It’s not surprising then, that the brown-skinned classes of Jamaica came to fetishize their lightness.  It was their great advantage.  They scrutinized the shade of one another’s skin and played the colour game as ruthlessly in the end as the whites did.”

Sadly today such shadism is not confined to the descendants of slaves.  Skin lightening creams are as popular in Asia as they are in Africa and the Caribbean. But in the 21st century isn’t it time we stopped perpetuating it?  Please be aware, I am not promoting one shade over another.  I am saying we should celebrate Blackness in ALL of its shades, not just the ones that fit in with Eurocentric values. Realise that it’s not possible to be a conscious Black person whilst perpetuating shadism/colourism.  We need to re-programme ourselves, to counteract the centuries of white supremacist brain-washing.  Let’s not pass on these negative messages to another generation. Let’s stop using racially loaded concepts like ‘good hair/bad hair’.  Let’s stop this ‘Team Light-skin vs Team Dark-skin’ foolishness. If you’re buying a doll/action figure or books for Black/Brown children make sure that the heroes/heroines look like they do. Let’s see more music artists including some dark-skinned sisters in their videos. And let’s see a dark skinned sister win X-Factor!

De-programming material

If you’re down for the cause and want to stop the rot, here are some resources you may find useful to share with the children in your life, or less enlightened peers.

Video/film –Beauty Is

Chris Rock’s Good Hair good hair

Dark Girls

Yellow Fever: TRAILER from Ng’endo Mukii on Vimeo.

black beauty bookBooks  Black Beauty by ben arogundade

Greetings cards

On-line –  visit

Twitter–  follow @EndColourism

Dolls Rooti Dolls – dolls

“EmancipateYourself  from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds.”                                                            Bob Marley – Redemption Songs

I’ve just recently seen the new documentary film on Bob Marley.  Usually when I see these kind of conscious docs, I put a review of it up on my blog, but since this film has had so much exposure in the mainstream media, I don’t think it’s necessary – after all the Blakwatch is supposed to offer an alternative to the mainstream, not follow it.

Never-the-less, it was a revealing film which I’d recommend.  Even for the long-time Marley fan like myself, there were plenty of tasty tit-bits of trivia.  Like the fact that when his white English father met his Black Jamaican mother she was just 16 and he was in his 60s! Or the fact that when he married Rita, he moved to Delaware the very next day, to work in a factory as a fork-lift driver.  Or the details of the time he spent in an exclusive clinic in Bavaria at the end of his fight with cancer.

But my favourite anecdote was about when he performed at the Independence Day celebration in Zimbabwe in1980. When the throngs outside the stadium forced their way in, tear-gas was let off and Marley’s band fled the stage.  But Bob remained, defiant and alone.  When the melee died down and the band returned, Marley apparently turned to them and said “now we see who the real revolutionaries are.” This nicely shows that Marley, like those other 70s musical icons James Brown and Fela Kuti, did not just regard himself as a pop star or an entertainer, but more a Black revolutionary.

But this film got me thinking on a deeper level (as all good art should do).  The early part of the film makes much of Bob’s mixed parentage, his white absentee father, and the stigmatisation, discrimination and ostracism he suffered for being the only ‘red-skinned bwoy’ in the district.  The suggestion of the film was that the ostracism that he felt, pushed him on a search for identity that eventually led him to embrace the philosophy of Rastafari.  But anyone who is familiar with Jamaican society knows that, far from being a handicap, being light-skinned or of mixed racial heritage offers immense advantages. As Malcolm Gladwell reveals in the epilogue to his excellent book ‘Outliers’.

Malcolm Gladwell – author of ‘Outliers’

“whites saw mulattoes – the children of those (mixed) relationships – as potential allies, a buffer between them and the enormous numbers of slaves on the island.  Mulatto women were prized as mistresses, and their children, one shade lighter in turn, moved still further up the social and economic ladder. ”

The same is still true today. You’ll be watching MTV Base a long time if you’re waiting to see a dark-skinned girl in a hip-hop video. From Josephine Baker in the 30s, to Lena Horne in the 40s, and Dorothy Dandridge in the 50s, to Pam Grier in the 70s, to Vanessa Williams and Lisa Bonet in the 80s, to Tyra Banks and Halle Berry in the 90s, to Beyonce today, when it comes to our Black beauties,  it seems the lighter the better. In this Eurocentric world in which we live in, mixed race is the acceptable face of Blackness.

Josephine Baker – toast of Paris in the 30s

Lisa Bonet – 80’s TV icon

Pam Grier – 70’s Queen of Blaxploitation

Those who are dark try their hardest to look as European as possible with hair weave and colour contacts. Black models with strongly African features like Alex Wek get no love.

Alex Wek – too Black?

Gladwell continues ……….

 “Mulattoes rarely worked in the fields.  They lived a much easier life of working in the ‘house’.  They were the ones most likely to be freed. It’s not surprising then, that the brown-skinned classes of Jamaica came to fetishize their lightness.  It was their great advantage.  They scrutinized the shade of one another’s skin and played the colour game as ruthlessly in the end as the whites did.”

It is a direct result of this process of racial hierarchy that, despite gaining independence in 1962, it was not until 1992 that Jamaica had its first dark skinned Prime Minister in the shape of P.J.Paterson.

P.J. Patterson – J.A.’s first ‘Black’ Prime Minister

And African-Americans are no better. Have you noticed that their leaders, no matter how radical and pro-Black they may be, from Elijah Muhammed, to Malcolm X, to Louis Farrakhan, to Martin Luther King, to Jesse Jackson, to Obama today, tend to be light-skinned?  It seems that African-Americans are unwilling to follow anyone darker than themselves.

Farrakhan – light enough to lead?

Such shadism occurs across the diaspora.  Wherever white slave masters plied their evil trade and propagated their wicked doctrine, the descendants of those slaves still carry the mental scars.

“Every time I hear the crack of a whip, my blood runs in me cold.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               I remember on the slave ship, how they brutalised our very souls.”            Bob Marley – Slave Driver

Laws entrenching the separation of the races have been long repealed, and slavery long abolished, but sadly many in the diaspora still carry the shackles of slavery in their heads.

When the white boss of Island Records Chris Blackwell got white musicians to over-dub more instrumentation on the Wailers ‘Catch A Fire’ album and wanted to promote them like a Black rock act, founding members Bunny Wailer and Peter Tosh weren’t as willing as Bob to compromise.  They eventually left the group, stayed in J.A. and joined the long list of roots reggae artists, while Bob toured the world and became an international superstar.

Bob with Bunny Wailer & Peter Tosh – The Original Wailers.

We see that same willingness to compromise from that other modern day, international superstar of dual heritage Barack Obama.  Recall that after a bitter campaign to be the Democratic Presidential nominee, Obama was quick to strike a deal with Hilary Clinton, offering her a top job as Secretary of State in his future government, in return for her endorsement.  And since becoming President, he has bent over backwards to compromise with his right wing opponents.

Barack & Hillary – enemies can become friends if you’re willing to compromise.

Was Bob’s international success due to Chris Blackwell favouring him over the other Wailers, or was their own relative lack of success down to their unwillingness to compromise?

Is it due to the advantages conferred on the light-skinned, or simply not being weighed down by the mental shackles, that has allowed bi-racial sporting heroes like Tiger Woods in golf, and Lewis Hamilton in F1, to break through barriers into sports previously the exclusive preserve of whites?

Do so many Black men in this country struggle to progress because of outright discrimination, or is it down to an unwillingness to do what is required to advance?

I really don’t know, but as a sign on the wall of the office of my old tele-sales job put it, “maybe the thing that’s holding you back is you?

Lee Pinkerton