How many of us have seen a white actor or actress in any Hollywood movie passionately kissing an actor of color? Instead, in most of those movies, they most definitely cast black people in any negative role – showing them as symbol of evil and thuggish nature. This certainly is a serious discrimination, which has been continuing in western film industries, including Hollywood for decades, despite the fact – by now, there are lots of producers and mighty actors in those film industries.
“Colorism,” the idea that light-skinned minorities are given more privilege than their darker-skinned peers, is a centuries-old concept that many insiders say remains pervasive in Hollywood and rest of the entertainment industry.
In the episode “Black Like Us,” parents Dre and Bow (played by Anthony Anderson and Tracee Ellis Ross) are appalled when they see that daughter Diane (Marsai Martin) appears darker in her poorly lit classroom photo. Their outrage sparks a tense conversation within the family.
Executive producer Peter Saji, who is light-skinned and of mixed-race, wrote the episode, drawing from his own experiences as well as research.
“There is a light-skinned privilege that I never really wanted to admit I felt or experienced. I sort of grew up: ‘Oh, we’re all black. We all experience the same struggle,'” he said.
In Hollywood, for African-Americans, bias toward lighter-skinned people dates back to slavery. Skin complexion sometimes determined what type of jobs slaves were assigned or if, post-slavery, they were worthy of receiving an education. In later decades, universities, fraternities and other institutions were known for using the “brown paper bag” test: Those with skin lighter than the bag were in.
Color of Change executive director Rashad Robinson said: “It’s part of white supremacy, or holding up whiteness over other backgrounds. It has deep implications, historical implications in the black community from beauty standards to professional opportunities to how families have treated one another”.
The problem also exists within the music industry. Mathew Knowles, who managed daughters Beyoncé and Solange and Destiny’s Child, said it’s no accident that most of the recent top-selling black artists are lighter-skinned like Mariah Carey and Rihanna. He said Beyoncé often got opportunities that darker-skinned artists probably wouldn’t.
“There’s another 400 that are of a darker complexion … that didn’t get a chance at Top 40 radio,” Knowles said. “They got pigeonholed that they were black and in the ‘black division,’ and they got pigeonholed in just R&B, black radio stations.”
Knowles, himself darker skinned, said his own mother instilled in him that darker skinned women were less desirable.
“We have to have social courage to speak up about this stuff and stop being quiet about it,” Knowles said.