“I also resented black people in general, to be honest, because I thought I didn’t have a place. As I was growing up, I didn’t want to be told I am black, I am a black woman,” Coates said. “I am not black! I’m a mix.”
Coates joined six other panelists and about 50 students Wednesday at “Fifty Shades of Black,” an event addressing the prevalence of colorism — a type of discrimination in which people with lighter skin are treated better than people with darker skin, in the black community.
Coates said she tried to detach herself from the black community at first but changed her attitude during college, where she met people of different skin colors and races.
“I felt a lot more comfortable of being just who I was,” Coates said. “Now I am proud of being a black woman.”
Senior Alyssa Townsend said she first thought about her skin color at about 11 years old.
When Townsend was in middle school, she said she thought she could not be sexy because of her dark skin.
“I always thought, ‘I am cute, but I can’t be sexy because you have to be a lighter skin to be sexy,’” she said.
In college, Townsend once referred to herself as being dark-skinned, but said she was corrected the moment she said it.
“I was like — ‘OK’ — that’s just how I see myself. It’s kind of catching ourselves in our own mindsets,” Townsend said.
Junior Shadai McMillan said a lot of men criticize women with darker skin, but this issue is rarely talked about. She pointed out that plenty of black women criticize black men as well.
“Even before we say, overall, black men are all in this together, we need to look at each other because each gender is doing its fair share of taking each other down,” she said. “We have to realize what we’re doing. It’s not only joking.”
McMillan said colorism is becoming integrated into people’s daily lives, including jokes or stereotypes that are associated with colorism in the media.
Coates suggested the black community unite to address colorism.
“Colorism stems from racism. If we want to fight the bigger challenge, the bigger issues, we have to decide for ourselves, decide our differences, and work on the real problem on hand. Light skin, or dark skin, we’re all black. We’re a community, so we need to come together in that sense,” Coates said.
Senior Tyshawn Sutton said he came to this event to see how other members in the black community, specifically at UNC, view colorism.
“I found that the black community is very united, and they would like to see the end of colorism,” he said.
Sutton is biracial, a Puerto Rican American. He said he was sometimes called “yellow.”
“I don’t know if I have a tough skin, but I never thought that I was affected by color jokes. But then again, I am lighter than some of the panelists, so a darker-skin male might experience something different,” Sutton said.