Honey, caramel, hazelnut and mocha. This may sound like the latte menu at Starbuck’s Coffee, but it is actually a sampler of the assorted skin colors on FAMU’s campus.
A journalism class recently conducted a survey of 80 people on the issue of skin color at FAMU. The unscientific poll, which was conducted in connection with Black History month and included students and non-students, revealed that 61 percent believe light or dark skin color is an issue on campus.
“When I was a little girl, I would pray every night to wake up the same color as my Barbie doll,” said Leslie Sumner, 20, a junior political science major from Hammond, La.
Sumner said she struggled with low self-esteem growing up because of her coffee-brown complexion. She said that her environment suggested favoritism toward those of a lighter skin tone.
The subconscious complex of skin color can be traced back to slavery. Mulattos, quadroons and those who had a lighter complexion received better treatment from their masters during slavery. The slaves who did not fit this description felt inadequate and inferior.
“My mother used to call me her chocolate kiss and tell me I was beautiful,” Sumner recalled, “but when I looked at her honey-brown skin, and all the other females in my family, I felt like the oddball.”
Some students allow stereotypes of the past to drift in and out of their consciousness when it comes to issues of shades of brown in the black community. Twenty-four percent of those surveyed confessed that skin color is a key element in selecting a companion, while others claimed it’s not on their checklist of qualities.
“Black men are naturally attracted to light-skinned females,” said Miguel Lewis, 19, a sophomore biology major from Miami.
Lewis said his preference is honey-colored females only because his mother is a light-skinned woman.
The afrikan.com Web site featured an excerpt written by M.G. Little, “What Color Is Black Love?” In the article, Little examined studies conducted by the Center on Blacks and the Media. The studies revealed that black music video makers cast female lead characters whose skin is lighter than the male lead. Little concluded that this is a psychological blow to young, dark-skinned females watching these videos, and an influential factor on how young men chose which females to date. Parallel to Little’s article, the FAMU survey overwhelmingly revealed that 77 percent of those questioned agreed that women are more subjected to discrimination than men.
Dr. James Anderson, practicing psychologist at Baylor College of medicine in Houston, Texas, said the color complex of blacks in America stretches far beyond the boundaries of the U.S. to the continent of Africa.
“It is ironic that Africa is the continent where natives are born with mahogany skin tones, yet quietly they continue a chapter of fading to white,” Anderson said. According to an African tour guide interviewed by “Village Voice” writer Junious Ricardo Stanton, the practice of skin bleaching has prevailed since the Europeans arrived in the 1500’s. Ghanaians have been trying to lighten their skin using various home recipes and commercial creams. Kenya and Uganda had to ban the sale of several skin bleaching regiments. Just as many blacks in America, these Africans seek increased self-esteem in a lighter, brighter self.
“This goes to show that blacks all over the world have been tremendously influenced by European standards of beauty,” Anderson said.
But Shellie Garrett, 21, a business administration student from Baton Rouge, La., continues to keep a positive outlook. She said change is possible.
“I believe that if we stick together and start loving and appreciating our history and African heritage, our color issues can be resolved.”