Growing up and being a few shades darker than my sister, my dad used to call me the K-word. I was undoubtedly his favourite child, yet ignorance led him to call me a name that’s hurtful, derogatory and a racial slur towards black people. He would often introduce me as his little K*ffir, the apple of his eye. Being young I had no clue what it meant except I heard the affection in his tone so assumed it was an endearment as it sounded like that.
I grew up being told not to stay in the sun too long, to wear a hat so I don’t get darker and be known as “the dark sister.”
In black and brown families we need to acknowledge our prejudice or colourism towards our darker siblings. I discovered to my horror that a close friend of mine had virtually grown up the same way as she was also the darker sister. Having been socialized as “coloured” I never knew this happened in black families too until I spoke to her.
It would seem that some black and brown people, especially brown people in the Western Cape are still clinging to the notion that being “fair of face” is still sought after. The desire for proximity to whiteness or white people is unquestionably at play here.
Yes, there are changes and I see more black and brown people embracing their beautiful skin colour and rich tones but for me, it’s not happening fast enough. I am from a generation that grew up in Apartheid so I could maybe forgive the ignorance of my generation, (though I am loathed to), but I can’t get this generations continued obsession with the fairer child simply because the fairer child often receives more love and attention, is given the benefit of the doubt when they are accused of doing wrong alongside their darker sibling. The darker one is known as “the difficult child” and though it may not have started out that way eventually we become or act out people’s expectations of us.
In my case it was the assumption that I am the sibling who was the “bad influence” or instigator” and though my sister and I laugh about it now, I could never understand why teachers or neighbours would always tell me to be more like her.
The feeling of not being “good enough” or always “guilty” is damaging to a child’s emotional and mental wellbeing. Those feelings don’t magically disappear simply because we grow a bit of confidence once we enter adulthood.
It’s second-guessing yourself, your decisions and your very existence and it takes lots of self-love and self-care to finally accept yourself for who you are or rather what shade of black your skin is. It’s bad enough when black and brown children have to deal with racism and prejudice from white people but when the prejudice is inside your home, it is hurtful, confusing and demeaning and negatively affects your entire existence including your place within the family.
Colourism is wrong in whichever way you look at it. Focussing on someone especially a child’s darker skin tone only means that you have placed a label on the child.
Our default setting of white being better than brown and black and brown being better than black is due to our socialization and the racism that remains a part of society.
A colour code that’s consciously or subconsciously stamped on a “darker” child makes the child feel unwanted and unloved and children soon get to understand from a young age that “dark” does not mean good.