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Colorism: Creating A Racial Divide In The African American Community

2440 words - 10 pages

During the mid-twentieth century African Americans were at the lowermost tier of society's hierarchy. However within the black race, there was a further social division between lighter-skinned and darker-skinned African Americans. A black individual with more Caucasian features signified high status and beauty which was sought after by members of the African American community (Dibleck). In Zora Neale Hurston's novel Their Eyes Were Watching God, the author uses Janie Crawford to depict how colorism affected African Americans on both sides of the skin color spectrum. By demonstrating the attitude society (mostly men) had towards skin color, the author displays the realities of being an African American in the early 1900s and the deep racial divide within the black race.
Their Eyes Were Watching God emphasizes the malevolent standards of beauty regarding skin color that society has set up for blacks. Hurston is trying to convey to readers the racial circumstances of the mid twentieth century and how African Americans were not compatible with the Western ideal of beauty (Ashe 581). During that time it was extremely common for African Americans to perceive themselves as unattractive individuals strictly due to their Afrocentric facial features. In the analytic paper “Why don’t he like My Hair” Bertram Ashe states that the concept of white being the pinnacle of beauty socially forced black Americans to conform to the Caucasian idea of beauty (Ashe 580). African American women who did not adjust their appearance to fit this concept of beauty was debased by black and white men. In order for a black woman to be considered desirable she must be born with
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Caucasoid features or change her natural appearance through the use of cosmetics in order fit the status quo of beauty (Ashe 580). Black men "devalue [black] women" who do not change their bodies to look more Caucasian; if a black woman does embrace her natural appearance she will ultimately be viewed as lazy and unattractive (Ferguson 186) by the men in her community. African Americans perceived dark skin as a symbol of manliness and labor which was a strictly masculine feature in their eyes. If a black woman had dark skin she would resemble a man, therefore making her ugly in society’s standards. This pressures black women to constantly be "compatible with the white female standard of beauty" (Ashe 580) in order to be socially accepted in society. Intuitively black women understood that in order to be considered desirable, the less black they had to look. This unfortunate perception of beauty stems from a long pattern of "sociohistorical racial injustices" (Bealer 312) towards darker skinned African Americans. Maria Racine states in her review that since slavery black people who approximated closer to whites were sexually sought after by black slave men and white plantation owners and were considered to live a somewhat "easy coexistence" because of their appearance (Racine 283). Since...

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