Colorism & Black Male Pain

19 Feb
Courtesy of

Courtesy of

Tonight I attended an NYU-DC sponsored event, Color without Complex, a conversation between writer Michaela angela Davis and Dr. Yaba Blay author of (1)ne Drop Rule:  Shifting the Lens on Race.  The two women discussed definitions of blackness, the affects of colorism, and identity empowerment irrespective of skin tone. Colorism (discrimination based on skin color) resonates as strongly today as in days past. Just last week former America’s Next Top Model contestant Yaya Alafia mentioned that as a child she was warned not to get too dark.  The event was well attended primarily by black women, estimated age range: 20-50. There were a few men sprinkled in the crowd but it was mostly women. No surprise there. (I don’t know if my lack of astonishment was a good or a bad thing.)

During the discussion it was stated that although colorism is often depicted as a woman’s issue, it affects black men as well. I was reminded of some comments recently made by a male friend. He shared that he was taunted as a child because of his dark skin. He was called a tar baby and someone else claimed that he sweated soy sauce. Cruel-ass kids. He also mentioned that women in the area he grew up (south of the Mason-Dixon line) seemed to prefer lighter-skinned men. Black women are often at the forefront of colorism matters. Jiggaboos and Wannabees 2014 edition, for sure.

But where are the men? Are they silent? And if so, why? I’m sure it harkens back to men internalizing their emotions (generally speaking, of course).

Here’s what bell hooks had to say on male emotional isolation. It’s an excerpt from her book The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love.

When females are in emotional pain, the sexist thinking that says that emotions should and can matter to women makes it possible for most of us to at least voice our heart, to speak it to someone, whether a close friend, a therapist, or the stranger sitting next to us on a plane or bus. Patriarchal mores teach a form of emotional stoicism to men that says they are more manly if they do not feel, but if by chance they should feel and the the feelings hurt, the manly response is to stuff them down, to forget about them, to hope they go away. George Weinberg explains in Why Men Won’t Commit:  “Most men are on a quest for the ready-made perfect woman because they basically feel that problems in a relationship can’t be worked out. When the slightest thing goes wrong, it seems easier to bolt than talk.” The masculine pretense is that real men feel no pain.

The reality is that men are hurting and that the whole culture responds to them by saying, “Please don’t tell us what you feel.”

I long for a space where emotional sharing is encouraged and embraced for all. We all need the opportunity to name our pain.

And to heal.


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