Revisiting the colourism and pretty privilege conversation amid Pearl Thusi Twitter controversy

Pearl Thusi captured by New-York-based photographer Aaron - @underground_nyc
Pearl Thusi captured by New-York-based photographer Aaron - @underground_nyc

In case you needed a reminder from a previous W24 article about colourism; "the term colourism describes prejudice or discrimination among people of the same ethnicity against individuals with a dark skin tone. It is a problem that has been going on for decades, if not centuries and it is evident across the globe."

READ MORE: Dear Indian people, we need to talk about your unhealthy obsession with fair skin 

And then another reminder (once again); "usually we are unaware of our [relative] privileges. They are such a normal part of our daily lives that we don't even consider them privileges. So much so that when someone calls us out on any of them we feel attacked". 

This week, we saw a collision happening at the intersection of the two points above when local TV personality, Pearl Thusi, expressed her discontent at having been overlooked for certain roles because of her skin tone. 

Of course, this was not received well on social media, and a warranted wave of backlash washed through Twitter for the rest of the week. More than the usual banter South Africans usually employ as a coping mechanism on Twitter in the midst of a furor, this particular one came with a lot of education and critical discussions, where award-winning artist Sho Madjozi even engaged.

As a result, the parallels between the two local stars' contributions to the colourism and pretty privilege conversation were drawn, highlighting how two people who benefit from the same system can use their privilege to either be an apologist or an ally.

Ultimately, the crux of the 3-day-long debate was not to discount the fact that Pearl Thusi is a hardworking actress and presenter who has earned her gigs, but it was to shed light on an ongoing issue in the entertainment industry - that being the favour lighter skin grants you over your dark-skinned industry peers. 

This is not be misconstrued as an observation that implies that light-skinned, conventionally attractive women are not genuinely talented, but rather to bring to the fore awareness about how the goal posts are shifted to the disadvantage of equally gifted people who just happen to have darker skin. 

READ MORE: When pretty privilege gives your opinion more value 

And this privilege isn't just confined to the entertainment industry - we see it play out in everyday situations too. I am personally aware of the fact that there are certain things my light skin has afforded me that I may not have otherwise been exposed to had I been a dark-skinned woman. 

And if a dark-skinned person draws my attention to this, I'm in no position to be defensive about that because it would be dismissive of their experiences. 

This is why I thought it appropriate to bring up former W24 writer's personal experiences of colourism as a dark-skinned woman. 

It was two years ago when she wrote the below, and it still rings true today:

Almost every dark-skinned woman has at one point, hated herself

I wouldn’t say that I have hated myself for being dark skinned, but there have been times that I wished I had a lighter complexion. And I'm not the only one. We were taught that lighter equalled prettier, smarter and more desirable and like any young person, I had my insecurities.

Colour was the main one.  

I once watched a video of a psychologist doing a doll test on children. In the video, two dolls of different skin colours are put on the table and children of different races are asked different questions about the dolls. 

One of the questions was "which doll is prettier?"

Without fail they all pointed at the lighter one. When asked why they chose that doll again they all answered with: “It's white.”

The fact that children grow up with these misconceptions and hating their skin tones makes me ache in the deepest part of my soul. You can watch the video here

READ MORE: Why the comments about Thando Thabethe's Cosmo cover expose colourism in SA

Social media reflects our colourist attitudes

Social media has become a platform where people practice colourism. “ When girls are dark, boys are few,”  “ Dark skinned girls be like...”

People post these on social media, and we laugh and entertain these posts without realising that the younger generation will grow up believing that beauty is measured by the colour of one’s skin.

There was even a time when we even used to divide ourselves in groups with hashtags like #TeamLightSkin or #TeamDarkSkin.

We need to evaluate why we lighten our selfies, why skin-lightening is a thing and why we ascribe certain behaviours to certain complexions. Saying things like “she’s pretty for someone so dark” or “she thinks she’s pretty because she is light-skinned” needs to stop. 

The only way to end this is to start by evaluating ourselves. We need to quietly check ourselves.

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