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African-American Educator Provides Alternative to Colorism Trend

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Aim is to “Break Cycle of Self-Hate” in Communities of Color

First Published as “African-American Educator Provides Alternative to Colorism Trend” on http://ireport.cnn.com/docs/DOC-1076894 CNN iReport

“Who taught you to hate the texture of your hair? Who taught you to hate the color of your skin? .. Who taught you to hate yourself?”
Malcolm X

If you grew up a person of color in America or in many other parts of the world, you know all to well that the number one prejudice that you typically must overcome is that of skin color. As a result of colonization and slavery, many people of color continue to carry the remnants of these evil periods in history by embracing self hate and continuing to refer to one another as light skinned or dark skinned as though a preference of either would elevate them to some safe place or level of superiority.

The brown paper bag test and the brown paper bag party where created and used by Creoles or High-Yellow Negroes in New Orleans, Louisiana, and was further adopted by upper class Black American Societies, Black Institutions and families in the 1900’s. The intent of this type of discrimination was to determine if you were white enough to merit inclusion in various professional and social organizations. Any person darker than the bag attached to the door was denied entrance.

The doll experiments continue to illustrate that the stigma of self-hate and doubt continues to influence kids even today. In May of 2010 CNN did a version of the doll experiment on Anderson Cooper 360. When asked the question which skin color most children don’t like, 61% of the youngest black children chose the two darkest shades. The test is a reminder of how the separation of children and adults of similar age or qualifications based on race results in the individual or group generating a sense of inferiority as it relates to their status within the community.

Skin discrimination operates as an insidious never-ending curse among people of color throughout the world. A tremendous amount of self-awareness and education is still needed, not just for black youth, but also for many of the adults who still struggle with their self-esteem. It is as though a virus has infected the psyche of black and brown people everywhere.

That’s one of the main reasons that entrepreneur and educator, Jocelyn Mills, created “The Brownness Series.” Mills says her company, which is based in Louisville, Kentucky, acknowledges the variation of colors within African-American culture and other ethnic communities globally. When considering the beauty, diversity and experiences of what “Black” means in her family, Mills puts it into context this way: “My mother Janet Russaw is chocolate, my grandmother Inez Dunwoody refers to me as caramel, my aunt Claudia Haskins is cinnamon. Every woman in my family that I would see growing up, represented this beautiful mosaic. It was our way of authentically addressing our differences in a positive nurturing manner. This is how “The Brownness Series Concept” was derived. When you saw us, you were reminded of the range of beautiful hues of our people.”

Mills remembers stories her mother told her regarding the elder’s darker shade and the inability of society to understand the diversity of skin tones. In an effort to address the issue of stereotypes and negative connotations directly she created a simple t-shirt which encourages women and girls of color to embrace the uniqueness of their hue, resulting in a positive and lasting impression of acceptance, confidence, happiness and fulfillment with anyone they encounter.

She understands that globally pigmentocracies have used social status to reward people of color throughout history as follows; light skinned people get the highest recognition, followed by brown skinned people, and black skinned people at the bottom. Alice Walker coined the term Colorism in the early 1980’s.

Mills adds, “Light skinned vs. Dark skinned is a phrase that is meant to continue to be divisive within our culture. You have those who use it in an effort to gain some type of advantage, and you have others that group everyone as just black. Both of these negate the unique and individual stories each person has relative to their color.

For example, Halle Berry has had a different experience in Hollywood versus that of Viola Davis. So when you put them both in one category of just being black, you don’t get the true depth of their individual yet personal journeys. Both are beautiful and their stories matter to all of us. It’s a representation where someone will be able to relate both to Halle Berry and Viola Davis. That way we can embrace both their stories because they reflect who we are culturally; remembering that color has been used to divide us since slavery.”

Mills grew up fighting deafness as a young child. In the process, she learned to face and overcome various challenges. Through her T-Shirt line she motivates women to do the same while celebrating their various skin shades regardless of how light, medium or dark their tone. Mills’ creed is a simple one that she shares with women everywhere: “We are Brown.. I am Brown. and Beautiful!”

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