I am a South Sudanese Canadian poet, writer, and blogger. I am also a PhD candidate in the school of social work at York University, Toronto, Ontario. My PhD dissertation, which I will be defending this September, looks at the historical and modern utility of ‘blackness’ as a human identity by focusing on where it gets its social and ethical currency today. Currently, I’m working on how African-Canadian youth are marginalized in Canadian institutions. My peer-reviewed works have appeared in Critical and Radical Social Work, Journal of Progressive Human Services, Child and Youth Services, Modern African: Politics, History and Society, and Intersectionalities: A Global Journal of Social Work Analysis, Research, Polity, and Practice.
Session 2-A. Colorism, Youth Marginality and Empowerment from An Afrocentric PerspectiveDescription
Colorism affects continental and diaspora Africans (CADA) in more pronounced and pervasive ways even though it is a global phenomenon affecting nearly all racial groups. Its harmfulness and marginalizing effects on CADA are typified by external imposition (inter-group) and internal operationalization (intra-group). These two impositions are consequences of slavery and colonialism (and colonization). In this presentation, I want to emphasize seeing beauty through ‘African’ eyes as an anti-colorism discourse. Existing anti-colorism strategies focus on changing society’s attitude (and institutional policies) toward CADA. While these are necessary, they omit an important component in anti-colorism discourse: historically grounded emotional empowerment and self-centeredness. For the youth, this is problematic. It places their emotional health in the hands of the very system professionals who discriminate against them based on the shades of their skin color. We may tell CADA youth that they are beautiful and that they should be proud of who they are – that ‘black is beautiful’. Without cultural and historical anchorage of this vital advice, however, young people will continue to have less confidence in themselves.
Using an Afrocentric perspective, I want to emphasize that continental Africans have not always admired European skin appearance in the way they do today (bleaching and preference for light-skinned partners, for instance). There are historical examples showing that Africans were, on first encounter with Europeans, horrified, an even terrified, by European appearance. It is therefore important, I believe, for the youth to understand that modern colorism—the valorization of European appearance, or appearances closer to Europeans’, was (and still is) a historical production meant to elevate European people, unrealistically, as the epitome of beauty. It is a function of power and solipsistic self-evaluation and elevation. This may help the youth centre themselves and challenge marginalizing colorist system professionals by undermining the very foundation of Eurocentric basis of modern colorism and standards of beauty.