By Sally Ann Moyer
Baylor students discussed how perceptions of skin color have created dissension within the African-American community Wednesday. Baylor’s collegiate chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People hosted the first Light Skin vs. Dark Skin forum in Morrison Hall.
The inspiration for the event stemmed from a similar forum held at Texas Southern University by its NAACP chapter. Approximately 200 people attended Texas Southern University’s forum. Baylor’s forum filled Morrison 100, leaving standing room only for attendees.
Houston sophomore Taylor Felton, Baylor NAACP health chair, led an activity where participants closed their eyes and raised their hands if they had ever discriminated or been discriminated against by other African-Americans because of their skin color.
“A lot of the dark-skinned people raised their hands for discriminating and a lot of light-skin people felt like they were victimized, so this is definitely a big issue in our community,” Felton said.
She said she has struggled with these perceptions in her own life because of her lighter skin.
“Darker-skinned people look at you and they look down upon you,” Felton said.
Houston sophomore Michelle Singleton traced the bias back to the days of slavery, citing a letter written by slaveholder Willie Lynch. The letter’s purpose was to encourage dissension among slaves by creating conflict between the dark-skinned slaves and the light-skinned slaves.
“That’s where it started. From there to now we have this humongous problem,” she said.
Participants in the forum were divided over the real root of the issue. Slavery, media portrayals and family perceptions were all cited as possible sources.
The event hosts said the media tends to have a more positive portrayal of light-skinned African-Americans while within the community itself, light-skinned members face more discrimination.
“It’s not just the media. I think the problem is when we come from our families. I know I’ve heard before from my grandmother, ‘You’re too dark,’” Houston sophomore Trikeah Henry, Baylor NAACP education chair, said. “I’m the only black person in a lot of my classes. I feel like I have to go above and beyond. I’m getting it from three ways. It’s not just the media,” Henry said.
Lake Charles, La., sophomore Joe Guillory shared his experiences.
“I don’t want my kids to have to struggle with identity issues,” Guillory said. “I think it’s a matter of realizing we’re all black, and black is black. If we’re unified through our skin color, then we should rise up through that.”
The discussion emphasized dating preferences. Even though some members of the audience said showing a preference was shallow, other members voiced an adamant preference for one skin tone over another.
One participant expressed a preference for dark-skinned men, but said she does not completely rule out light-skinned suitors.
“But he might be the best candidate for my husband, and just because he’s light-skinned, I won’t necessarily rule him out,” she said.
The forum concluded with possibilities of how to solve the issue on Baylor’s campus. In the search for love and tolerance, one text has much advice.
“Being a Christian campus, we can go straight to the Bible to get it,” one participant said.
Baylor’s NAACP chapter meets every other Wednesday at 6 p.m. in the Cowden Room of the Bill Daniel Student Center.