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DUSTY, CRUSTY COLORISM


I just finished reading Wallace Thurman’s novel, “The Blacker The Berry,” and was astonished at how deeply the book affected me. The book is an unapologetic portrayal of colorism in Black culture. Colorism is not a problem solely found within the African American race; it is prevalent in every race. I was initially drawn to the book because of its title. I had heard the saying, “The blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice,” when I was a girl. The saying was said to defend the blackness of the speaker’s skin. But when I heard it, it resonated and made me proud to be as dark as I was. That saying was embedded into my psyche that day and would arise when people or the media told me otherwise.

Growing up in America, where Eurocentric standards of beauty are promoted in magazines, books, and on TV, obviously skewed how I saw myself. Not only was my concept of what was beautiful distorted, but negative values were also placed on racial features and color. That was my experience growing up in the 1960s and 70s. 1967 was the first year that the big toy companies made Black dolls, and that was the first Christmas I received a Black baby doll. As a little girl, I didn’t care much for them, maybe because they never looked like me. So, when I received my first Black one, I was seven years old, and I don’t remember playing with it. I think that doll meant more to my mother than to me. She knew I wasn’t a girlie girl, but I think she bought the doll for me as a way of fighting back. She was telling me without uttering a word that I, too, was beautiful, valued, and loved.

In the book “The Blacker The Berry,” the protagonist laments that her life would have been easier if she was a boy because dark skin was more acceptable on boys. The book was first published in 1929, and by 1934, the author would be dead. Wallace Henry Thurman's life was short. He only had thirty-two years on this earth, and it is a wonder to me that at such a young age, he could write a book so full of pain.

Ninety-four years later, this book is still relatable. Colorism, the by-product of racism, would not exist if not for the need of one race to exalt itself over another did not exist. I hope in the next ninety-four years, colorism will have become an ineffective weapon. That it no longer divides us. I hope that we will be able to look in the mirror and no longer need to look like someone other than ourselves.

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