The Truth About Color

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(From left to right) Moderator and Literary Manager, Cast: Penelope Walker, Diana Coates, Aneisa Hicks, Angela Alise, Jacqueline William, and Lizan Mitchell

Written by Hannah Greenspan, Literary & Public Programs Assistant

Color: light, dark, period.

Oxford English Dictionary defines colorism as prejudice or discrimination against individuals with a dark skin tone, typically among people of the same ethnic or racial group.

Colorism has a long history in the United States, with its roots tracing back to slavery. Slave owners typically gave preferential treatment to slaves with fairer complexions by allowing them to work in tasks that were far less grueling than darker skinned slaves.

“There is an attached value and status that comes with hue. All of these things have weight on the content of your character, which are all based on hue.” -Jacqueline Williams (Makeda)

Lizan Mitchell, who plays the matriarch, Beartrice in The House That Will Not Stand, discussed her upbringing in North Carolina and the struggles she saw and experienced within the community between having light or dark skin. It’s important that we try to find the root of it, so we can discuss it, heal from it, and move on.

“She’s pretty for a dark skinned girl”, is a comment that sums up colorism for Angela Alise, who portrays Maude Lynn.

How can we become more aware of colorism in our society? How can we become allies and help other people of color regarding colorism?

Colorism is something that is still unfortunately, very present in our society. It’s something that is closer than we think, and closer than we’d like to admit.

There’s a brief moment in the play where Agnes tells the youngest sister, Odette the truth and the reality about her value based on her skin tone, and that moment was particularly challenging to work on during the rehearsal process, according to the cast.

For the actress who portrays Odette, Aneisa Hicks explains that performing that scene every night is tough. When she first read the script, Aneisa knew that scene was going to be hard on her because colorism is something that she deals with everyday. She further elaborates on how she sometimes feels less than when she is with her lighter skinned friends. But by performing this scene every night, Aneisa is bringing this topic to the forefront.

Before the conversation came to an end, Isaac Gomez, our moderator and Literary Manager at Victory Gardens, asked the audience to just think about how we carry ourselves in a group setting.

Who are we addressing first? And why are we addressing this specific person first? Is it because they are just physically closer to me? Or is it because they have a lighter skin tone? In what ways do we see our own unconscious bias based on skin color?

We may not have been able to solve colorism today, but we all left with knowing that this was a conversation worth having and worth continuing.