“Black is beautiful. Which mix looks better?”
This is the caption that sat under a viral Facebook post that showed one child with dark skin and green eyes and another with curly hair and lighter skin. This is “shadism”.
It is a form of discrimination against certain skin complexions, and it has made its way to the internet. Shadism is a contributing factor in racism. Between all the sharing, favoriting, re-posting and liking, the question becomes, do memes give these social outlets a safe platform to allow shadism?
17-year-old Aaliyah Patterson relates to the common opinion in society which claims that lighter is better. Patterson says she’s aware of viral memes that are meant to be funny, such as poking fun at darker toned people and not being able to see them in the dark, hence wanting to stay out of the sun. However, she says the jokes can also promote shadism.
“It’s kind of something that we are taught as children. I saw a meme on Facebook that showed black people running from the sun so that they wouldn’t get any darker,” says Patterson.
Patterson says it’s also common to walk into stores specialized for black textured hair and skin, but the first thing seen are posters of black women with eurocentric features. She says she feels darker women in particular don’t get as much respect from society in such circumstances.
“I’ll walk in a store and I can’t really identify with what they promote because there is no diversity. Their Facebook page for the store doesn’t even have women with afros or darker skin, but ironically, that’s what we all come here for,” Patterson says.
Founder of BrAIDS for AIDS, Stachen Frederick, says that the underlying issues are sometimes overlooked by society. These issues can include shadism within the black and online communities. One main purpose of the BrAIDS for AIDS organization is to provide important hair information to young women while creating discussion on topics that may seem taboo or awkward. Discussions may include what is considered to be good hair and how it may relate to one’s skin colour, sex education and other big issues not only in the black community, but in society.
“People might not see the correlation between skin colour and hair texture, but it does relate to racism.” Society can send subtle, racist messages without realizing the implications, which might affect the relationships people have with one another due to shadism,” says Frederick Rita Avenbaun, former president of the Leading Ladies Association at Runnymede Collegiate High School.
The Leading Ladies Association was created to cover these topics that seem to be shelved time and time again. Avenbaun often visits schools addressing these issues as well as educating others. The former president adds that it has to do with black stereotypes being turned into jokes, where to draw the line and how it affects everyone in society. Avenbaun says racism is active and alive in technology.
“We already live in a world where Photoshop is heavily relied on to make our noses thinner, our hair straighter and our skin lighter. This is all we basically see online,” Avenbaun says.
These messages might seem funny when a comedian says it, so does it become okay when seen on social media? Avenbaun says it actually feeds our subconscious to see memes promoting shadism, even if a person identifies as warm-hearted.
“It’s being engraved in our brains because while we laugh now, it will make us think differently later. We just don’t realize it because technology is supposed to be fast, quick and friendly,” she says.