“Don’t go out because you’ll get too dark” was the warning told to me every time I wanted to go outside and spend time with my friends.
The Girls Empowerment Movement (GEMS) Youth Action Research Team at Hope Community Inc. presents their research on the impact of colorism in the lives of Black women and girls in the Twin Cities.
Eleven young Black girls from high schools across the Twin Cities formed this year’s Youth Action Research Team. Led by Dr. Brittany Lewis, the program empowers young Black girls through purposeful community action informed by research questions that are relevant to their daily lives. This year’s Youth Action Research Team chose to research the impact of colorism in the lives of Black women and girls. The youth choose this topic, because they argued that it was an understudied research area that has grave impacts on the health and well-being of Black women and girls creating long lasting impacts on self-identity.
Their central research question asked; how does colorism, in and outside the Black community, impact the health and well-being of Black women and girls? To examine this question, they created a survey to understand how early experiences with colorism shaped a person’s self-identity and relationships. They included questions about respondents’ own definitions of colorism and how they observe colorism being perpetuated in their daily lives. The team collected survey data from 69 Black women and girls. The survey responses while enlightening had a major impact on the youth action researchers as they stated that it was challenging to get some of the respondents to open up as many of the stories told were quite personal in nature.
“It was difficult to get people to express their true, deep feelings because they didn’t want to be seen as a victim. They didn’t want to criminalize their own family, like ‘Oh yeah, my family hurt me,’” responded one youth researcher.
The survey data collected introduced the girls to different perspectives on the topic of colorism, including some that clashed with their own.
“We experienced disbelief, but we had to interpret them correctly,” stated one research team member. “It was a lesson in leading complex, but important conversations from a range of voices and perspectives in their community. We were surprised to hear some of the answers we got back. Maybe this is just the way they feel; there are different perspectives.”
At the start of every GEMS meeting, the girls facilitate and engage in lively Black Girls debate about issues in pop culture and politics. During these conversations, they would often raise points about the role colorism has played in topics such as racial identity, code-switching, relationships, and social media.
“We experience it daily, but we don’t really talk about it. Everyone experiences it, but everyone tries to avoid discussing it,” said one Youth Action Research team member. Another girl shared, “It’s considered a new term and the behavior/mindset finally has a name.” Nevertheless, the girls argued that colorism is still an understudied research area that has grave impacts on Black women and girls.
The Youth Action Research Team revealed that most Black women and girls they encountered navigate negative experiences of colorism in their lives and define colorism as a practice based on skin complexion used within Black communities or behavior by white people that discriminates against dark-skinned Black people and tokenizes light-skinned Black people. They hope that their research will create more awareness and motivate people, including parents and teachers, to challenge the language they use and hear that contributes to colorism. They especially want to inspire more research conducted on colorism with more data from young people to understand how they define it.
“A lot of Black girls want to be more open about advocating for themselves,” stated one research team member.