Updated: Oct 4, 2020
COLORISM AS WHAT WE KNOW
If you’re a lightskin Latinx like myself, you’ve probably heard it before: compliments at how beautiful your light skin is in comparison with other darker skin Latinx. I know I have for sure, especially since my grandparents are much darker than I am. Growing up, they would tell me how beautiful my skin was, and my grandmother would specifically mention how ugly she was. That didn’t make any sense to me, so all I could do was try my hardest to make her think otherwise. Of course, these thoughts have been ingrained in my grandmother’s mind for the longest time just like it has been in all of our minds.
Since the colonial period when the Spanish began colonizing Latin America and the Caribbean, light skin has been idolized. As the caste system was established in Mexico, there was an actual formulaic method that pushed lighter skin Latinx to the top of the social ladder. Even though today the caste system is no longer in place, it’s effects are still felt all over the world. From little things like my grandmother's self depreciation, to big things like the erasure of Black Latinx and Indigenous culture.
You can read more about the modern effects of colorism and the doll test here.
HOW TO PUSH BACK WHEN YOUR FAMILY COMPLIMENTS YOUR LIGHT SKIN
Of course, you should receive compliments, however there is no need for compliments aimed at your light skin to devalue those of darker skin. No one wants to dismiss a compliment, but as lightskin Latinx it is our job to push back against the narratives that favor our skin over others. And to be honest, that often starts at home. Here are some tips that you can employ if your family compliments how favorable your lighter skin is:
Define the term. Particularly if older family members who might not be on social media or keeping up with current world news compliment you, simply making them aware of the term colorism and it’s meaning can go a long way.
Educate them on the history of colorism and how it is still prevalent today. Describe the caste system and how it was based around the desirability of Spanish blood, Sangre Pura, and lighter skin tones. If you want to go further, you can detail exactly how colorism affects everything in the Latinx community today: from light skinned actors being cast in telenovelas, to the mental health and self image of dark skinned Latinx.
Question them. When people are forced to describe why they think a specific way, it might reveal to themselves that their thoughts are stemming from a racist ideology. Forcing them to explain why they favor lighter skin over darker skin will allow you to gently reveal why these thoughts and actions are harmful to the Latinx community.
Try to turn their words around, tell them how beautiful they are because of their skin color. When my grandmother would say how beautiful I was but how ugly she was, I would turn her words around so they applied to her as well. I’d tell her it doesn’t make sense that she’s my grandmother and I’m pretty but she’s not, I’d say that if she calls herself ugly, she’d by default be calling me ugly as well. Of course, this doesn’t address the underlying issues of why she believed I was prettier, but it did make her feel better about her own skin tone.
WHAT ELSE CAN WE DO?
Apart from starting the education at home and pushing against colorism in our family, there is a lot that we can do to dismantle the idea that our light skin is more favorable than that of our darker skinned Latinx counterparts. We can refuse to put money, time, and energy into companies, shows, movies, and products that perpetuate colorism. Particularly anti-Black companies that actively push for light skin to be at the forefront of Latinx representation. We can also acknowledge our own place in the colorist dynamic that exists. Before we can attempt to educate anyone else, we must work to educate ourselves on the advantages we’ve been afforded because of our skin color. We must be active in continually developing our understanding of any and all prejudices we may have and work to break them down.