L in the Southeast

L in the Southeast
Atlanta, Georgia, United States
November 04
Retired PR Director
I am a retired Public Relations professional who now writes purely for fun and catharsis. I covered most of my memoir-type pieces in the first three years here. Lately I have dabbled in politics, current affairs, pop culture and movie reviews. Life is my muse.


L in the Southeast's Links

OCTOBER 4, 2010 10:37AM

Color Me Redbone*

Rate: 42 Flag

Let me see a show of hands. If you are a Caucasian living anywhere in North America, how many of you have ever been told you are not white enough?  Yes, white – as in the shade of your skin.   Nobody?  Anybody?  How about “you are too white?”  If you have, it was probably said in connection with a suntan or lack thereof. 

Perhaps you thought Barack Obama is the first American of African descent who has been questioned about his relative blackness...or whiteness, for that matter.  Think again.

 While members of the U. S. Tea Party are running around stirring up bogus concerns about the whereabouts of one Stanley Ann Dunham Obama at the moment she gave birth to our 44th president; and while American liberals and progressives continue to wring their collective hands while struggling to find a way to combat the blatant attempts by conservatives to scatter racially-tinged accusations around like so many IEDs (improvised explosive devices), there is another, strictly intramural battle going on within our black communities. 

Colorism is a little-discussed phenomenon that every person who identifies as African American – make that African Anything—understands and wishes s/he didn’t.  Colorism is one of the dubious “gifts” that slavery in the Americas – make that in the western world -- keeps on giving. 

Colorism describes a concept to which the Reverend Joseph Lowery made a not-so-veiled reference at Obama’s inauguration when he said: 

"Lord, we ask you to help us work for that day when black will not be asked to get in back, when brown can stick around, when yellow will be mellow, when the red man can get ahead, man; and when white will embrace what is right. Let all those who do justice and love mercy say amen.”

I remember with clarity hearing my stepfather recite the real verse:  If you’re white, you’re alright.  If you’re brown, stick around.  If you’re black, get back.  And every other black kid growing up in the 1950s heard it, too.  Thus was the established and sadly shameful pecking order within black communities.  Director Spike Lee discussed colorism loudly in his movies “Jungle Fever” and "School Daze.”



Colorism is the basic premise that a black person’s probability of success in life is a direct function of how close to white his or her skin is. 

Now I know you will all want to tell me about the very dark-skinned people you know or know about who have become all manner of successful.  And others of you will want to scream at me for “bringing up” a subject that is close to taboo in the black community; nobody expects me, a black woman with light skin, to bring it up in “mixed company.”  It’s like one of those family secrets I’ve written about – what happens in the family is supposed to stay in the family.

It should not be difficult for any reader to understand how this unfortunate “ism” came about.  Slave women were frequently raped by their white masters or their masters’ friends.  Many, many children resulted from those attacks. 

As is human nature, some of those white fathers took a liking to their bastard progeny and treated them better (relatively) than they did the children of two slaves.  Over time, these mulatto offspring were allowed to take jobs inside the Big House.  They became known as house n****rs.

Human nature was also at work in the slave quarters.  If you were required to work from dawn until sunset in the blazing sun; if you were beaten within an inch of your life for allowing your eyeballs to wander in the wrong direction; if you were required to eat barely enough to keep you alive day after day; you just might develop a little resentment toward those accidents of birth that enjoyed (again, relative) a better existence.

Guess what?  Not too much has changed.  Slavery is long gone, but the racial self-hatred that has plagued the descendants of those slaves is alive and kicking.  It’s kicking our asses.

In the 1940s, Kenneth and Mamie Clark, married Kenneth and Mamie Clarkpsychologists, conducted a study with black children who were asked to choose, among other things, which doll was most like the child, which was nicer, which was smarter, which was prettier, etc.  The majority of those children correctly identified the “colored” doll as being most like him/herself.  The majority also identified the white doll as being nicer, smarter and prettier than the black doll.  When asked why they chose that doll, most answered “because it's white.”

But that was then.  This is now, you say?

Kiri Davis as she appeared on Oprah Kiri Davis, an 18-year-old student filmmaker in 2005, recreated that Clark experiment with 21 African American children at a daycare center in New York.  The result?  Identical.  As in the original test, Kiri found that most of the black children preferred the white dolls and identified the black dolls as "bad."     ( Photo from Oprah.com)



Colorism is also at work today when the probability for a black woman in America ever marrying in her lifetime is directly related to how close to white she looks.  Why?   Because there is such a shortage of available black men due to premature death and incarceration that those who are looking for wives tend to gravitate toward  what could be thought of as the trophy wife; i.e., black women with lighter skin, sharper noses and longer, straighter hair.   

Have I personally witnessed and/or felt colorism at work?  Oh, yeah.  Every day of my freakin’ life. 

·        I hated my textured hair.  I used to ask my mother over and over why she had “good hair,” meaning straight, and mine was “nappy.”  It drove her crazy enough to have my hair chemically straightened when that service was still in experimental stages.  Except for a period in the 70s when I felt the need to make my Black Power statement and wear an afro, my hair is always straightened.

·        I was despised by the African American girls in my hometown and sought after by the African American boys.  That came in handy in high school when the girls kept promising to kick my “yella ass” in the park after school. I would just assemble “my boys” to walk me home, and all was well.

·        I developed a preference for darker-skinned boys, probably as much to irritate my family members as anything else.  Once in college, I accepted a date with a guy who was the color of Taye Diggs, but “uglier than homemade sin” according to my mother.  I thought he was the nicest boy I’d ever dated.

·        Once I walked into a high school basketball game with my little posse of friends.  Out of the stands came a shout:  “Hey, Lezlie.  Come over here a minute.”  It was a group of those who wished to rearrange my butt.  Afraid of being thought afraid (hah!) I went.  The head bully said “Let me see your wrist.  No, turn it over.”  I did.  “See,” she said to anyone in listening range, “I told you she was a half-white bitch.”  She could see my blue veins through the pale skin on the underside of my wrist.

·        To this day, one of my favorite neighbors, who grew up on a farm in North Carolina and who is a natural beauty that turns heads with her fabulous bone structure and flawless figure, enjoys putting her chocolaty arm next to my suntanned (!) legs, and laughing.  “God, your legs are pale, Lezlie!”  If I didn’t love her so much, I’d probably slug her.       

·     My son, Stephen, went to a predominately white high school in northern California.  There was a girl in his class whose mother was black and her father white.  Given my background, and the fact that my second husband, his adoptive father, is white, Steve felt a kinship to her and asked her on a date.  She declined, saying she didn’t want to marry a black man because she didn’t want to have black children! 

·     Interestingly enough, even African nationals are not immune to colorism.  When I had a big house I had a cleaning crew.  The Nigerian crew leader often mentioned how beautiful she thinks my skin is.  One day I asked why she remarks about it so often.  “The color,” she answered.  I have read reports that colorism exists in India, Japan and other Asian countries.  I had a Filipina secretary in California who bragged endlessly about her lighter-than-usual color.  Again it is attributable to those countries’ colonization by European countries.


 Will Americans of African descent ever truly “get over” the effects of slavery?  There was a time I thought we would.  It seems to me if we are ever going to see anything even resembling an end to white racism, we are going to have to deal with our own self-loathing.  

 * A redbone is a light-skinned black person who is usually mixed with another race

This is a complicated and far-reaching issue with too many facets to discuss in one post.  For more information regarding the studies supporting my assertions, please follow the links below.

Washington Post: 7/10/09

Marriage and Skin Shade

N.Y. Times, As Racism Wanes Colorism Persists

Kiri Davis Recreation of Famous Doll Study

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I don't understand racism or colorism, never have. I can't take any credit for being "color-blind," I just was raised in a way that didn't recognize any differences between people based on color.

I was just reading an article about how reviled so-called "gingers" are in the UK. That's right, people with red hair are bullied and tormented, get held back in school and at work simply because of their hair color, which none of them chose.

The whole concept is irrational.
David, there is something in the human psyche that hasn't been eliminated via evolution which causes us to try to put each other in categories. Maybe it's part of the flight/fight instinct. Whatever it is, I have my doubts about whether it will ever completely vanish.
"She declined, saying she didn’t want to marry a black man because she didn’t want to have black children! "

Sheesh! Stupidity in her genes, I hope she didn't have ANY children!! EEK!!! :)

Tink, sometimes you say the wisest things! She really isn't very bright.
Humans are 99.9% identical. I've often wondered why so many people fail to realize the importance of cultural diversity.
For a thousand or more years the white man has told or beat into different colored people that they were inferior. While I see it changing, it's not changing fast enough. Out parents were also drilled with this nonsense. Maybe the next generation will change it but I think it will be a few more before it gets better. It will never go away, such is the nature of man.
I do not look at colour, gender or whatever..
We are all the same no matter what. Sad to say others need their heads straightened out.
What a sad world we live in.
Rated with hugs
I am so amazed at all the racism that come in new "politically correct" code words. If you watch FOX News you will hear it every 15 minutes or less. Willful ignorance in the face of a world of knowledge is a scary thing.
Belinda: people pay lip service to diversity, meaning it mostly as it pertains to other people. For themselves? Not so much.

Scanner: Oh it's going to change, but you and I probably won't live long enough to see it. Inter-breeding is on the rise, so eventually the majority of people will look like me. The white "man" will be a real minority.

Linda: It's sad enough when white people see color (colour) and allow it to make a difference. It's downright pathetic for it to continue within the African diaspora.
Romantic Poetess: Yes, the self-loathing among black Americans is being reinforced every day by those code words.
You fooled me. Red Bones was my favorite rib joint in Massachusetts, makes better ribs than anything you'll ever find in Memphis.

The number of slang expressions in the black community with respect to shades of color is all the support you need to prove your premise. I could list a hundred of them. Maybe I will, but not now.
Sagemerlin: You are so right. I would have listed them myself, but I don't know how to spell a lot of them (like mariny?)
When I was in high school, I remember seeing a documentary on PBS (ran across it on TV one night). I think you're onto something, though, with your comment that there is something in the human psyche that hasn't been eliminated via evolution which causes us to try to put each other in categories. The fight/flight seems to be triggered by the "unknown," and labels give the illusion of order among the chaos . . . this seems to be especially true with good/bad, as if it equates to safe/unsafe.

In any case, kudos for putting it out here. There are issues within the gay/lesbian community that we don't speak of "outside the family" for fear of giving the "enemy" more ammunition. Perhaps greater honesty in dialogue might yield more understanding. And Lezlie, you have my utmost respect for the ways in which you address topics such as this, fostering dialogue.
Owl: Thanks for a very insightful comment. Nothing can be resolved if it is hiding under the rug. And a discussion like this might help racists in training toward a better understanding of what goes on the lives of those they are fearing.
In Philly we called it color-struck, a variant. r.
Jonathan: That's what we called it in Chicagoland, too.
I first heard the term "Redbone" when I lived in Louisiana. Living there for five years was like an episode from the Twilight Zone.
It's the "Willie Lynch" syndrome...pit them against one another. When is the last time you saw a commercial or movie that mocked African Americans and the central character was light-skinned...Buckwheat, Step-n-fetch-it, Sambo, black face.
I'm reminded of a commercial I saw in Thailand for Oil of Olay (I've told this before). A dark skinned person gets into a cauldron of Oil of Olay and emerges a blue eyed blonde. I think it so very sad, but I understand it.
Someone in a paint store told me that colors are bases. Hues, shades, and tones are derivatives. Huh?
Belinda: Yes, Louisiana. I have often been asked if I am from there. The paint store guy was correct, just as white skin is arguably a derivative of black skin ( over thousands of years, allegely)
Fay: The thing is we need to stop buying into that crap. At the very least we should treat one another the way we demand to be treated by whites.
@Lezlie - And a discussion like this might help racists in training toward a better understanding of what goes on the lives of those they are fearing.

I hope so. As with "gay issues," I worry that the discussion might give budding racists more ammunition - could a budding racist make the case that "out of the mouths of babes" white is alright, etc.?

The thing is, I suppose, that a racist (or any dedicated "-ist") is going to make a "case" out of whatever they can . . . anything to support their viewpoint. NOT talking about reality only drives issues underground, and ultimately no change can happen. Plus the issues just fester.

Thanks for putting up with my musings . . . clearly, your post, including your provisos, got me to thinking - generally a good thing.
The word redbone, even after a lifetime in the deep south, had absolutely no racial connotation for me until I read this. Am I that naive? Perhaps it was skipped for the more hate-filled choices so prevalent there? I knew it vaguely as a jazz reference, and I knew it as an extremely expensive breed of hunting hound. I guess anything can be made ugly by ugliness.
I loved your piece, Lezlie. I too don't understand what it is that motivates human race to place each other into categories. I never saw the racist attitudes until I came to North America and grew up in a family where color or race was not an issue (but faith was - and I broke that rule). I come from a nation whose ancestry goes to the Ottoman Empire which is mixed with Europeans, Ethiopians, Persians, Arabs and Tartars; so perhaps that's why my background has been more accepting rather than divisive. ~R
Memeishere: In some of my research for this article I saw that one explanation for the origin of that term (redbone) was, in fact, that very expensive dog, which I guess is red and white in color. In some regions, it refers to African Americans mixed with Native Americans. It is used differently in Louisiana (Creoles).

Call it what you will, your naivete is precisely the reason I wrote this post. You really "aren't supposed" to know.
excellent post, lezlie. wish i had time to say more, but the comments are adding to the fascination here, too. that owl is good. ;
femme: I wish you had more time, too. Owl is a treasure.
Leslie, I agree with you completely. But the commercialization of such aspects has the same influence as a "Secret" or "Coca Cola" commercial. More importantly, the people who most need to participate in a conversation about race are never the people talking. Those of us who "get it" already know it's a bunch of irrational garbage.
jane: Thanks. It's true that some people should not be allowed to breed. lol
@Fay: I know. But all we can do is keep writing. Even if only one of those people you mentioned accidentally picks this up and reads it, it will have been worth all the time it took to write it. I'm just as frustrated as you are, my friend.
Oh, my GOD could I weigh in on this one! As a kid growing up in the inner city of Chicago with "naps," whose best friend was my color but had "good hair," it was so hard not to grow up hating myself. A lot of our girls especially still suffer from this syndrome, hence the need to do that Beyonce/Blige thing and get that "white" hair even if it costs thousands of dollars (did you see that Chris Rock film about that?) you can't afford.

And the color thing goes beyond black and white. Case in point, the heart breaking moment when my Hopi mother-in-law took her first adoring look at my daughter and said, "She's not that dark!" As if she were both stunned and relieved.

I smiled through my "morning after childbirth" and "oh no she didn't" pain and said, "Yeah, you know but with any luck she'll get darker as she grows up so she won't have to pay to be brown like us." It took a minute...but she realized then that she and her son were as dark as me, and that I was flipping the script on this issue with humor...sort of. But I can't tell you how many times I had to put my arm against an Indian child's arm to show them that they were actually darker than me, after they'd made some rude or unintentionally insulting remark about black people or dark skin.

It's so not over. My daughter came home from school one day and said, "Mom, why can't I just be white like everybody else?" As proud as her father and I are of our cultures and blood lines...she still felt the pressure.

Dunno what to say other than...right on, sistah. I'm with you as usual. And we used to use that doll study when we talked to African American parents about the self-loathing we saw in our kids, by the way, at our school district...
Wonderful piece here Lezlie. As others have said - it needs to be out there! It needs to be spoken about. it needs to stop.
You've put it out there Lezlie! my only comment is that blending of light and dark has occurred all over the planet throughout recorded time, as has the institution of slavery. It's not unique to our country's history.

People will always discriminate. Maybe based on skin tone, race, religious beliefs, nationality, education, hair or eye color, sex and sexual orientation, handicaps, I could go on and on... You've pointed out discrimination you feel you've experienced and seem to be attributing it to the effects of slavery, but I feel this is a little narrow. The children born into the union of Heidi Klum and Seal have an intermingling of strong Scandinavian and equally strong African traits and it's nothing to do with slavery. The same can be said of any inter-racial coupling that produces children who share genetic traits of each parent.

The idea of "good" hair was explored by Chris Rock who did a nice job presenting the big picture without falling back on slavery as the root of the distraction that exists within the community of people with "nappy" hair. You have done an excellent job of saying what may need to be said to get this out of the hair salon and into the open salon for discussion so that it eventually loses it's taboo through shared interest and expression, and positive interaction between people who face different challenges with hair, shape, skin coloring, at whatever else it is that makes us different from one another.
I didn't understand how pervasive colorism was until I dated an Armenian girl. Now, this girl was-- to my eyes--- your garden-variety brunette. She had olive skin-- just a few shades darker than mine-- and dark hair.

She told me part of the reason her parents moved to New York was because in eastern Europe, her family would be considered "black". This boggled my mind, because she seemed to be just as white as I am, but apparently, compared to blond-haired, blue-eyed Russians.....she was just not white enough.

Thank you for a fascinating post.

I just noticed the acceptable way for us to read a blog (book) is black words on white pages....making the words noticeably prominent. I guess it is all about how you perceive things. Wonderful words Lezlie.
Phew! So many comments, so little time! I love it.

Keka: Oh yeah! Babies are routinely scrutinized for signs of Negroid features and skin color ---EVEN when both parents are black. And it may come as a surprise to some that even native Americans, who were labeled savages, raped and plundered by the same Europeans who engaged in the slave trade with black Africans, perceive themselves as "red" rather than dark.
trilogy and kateasley: Thanks for reading. Stay tuned, 'cuz the discussion is getting interesting.
So that's where Leon Redbone's name derives? I'd never heard that expression associated with skin color.
The answer, of course, for our children's sake, is more sex. Well, breeding anyway. If we start having children with people who are opposite ourselves on the color wheel on a regular basis, given enough time we'll all even out to somewhere around Sanjay Gupta.

In the mean time, let's try teaching our kids to discriminate the right way. Not on the basis of skin, but on the basis of good and evil, right and wrong.
Abby: These are the times when I wish we were in the same room together so I could hear your intonations and see your non-verbals. With just your words on the page, I am not sure how to interpret some of the things you said:

1. Re the first paragraph: since I didn't say slavery or race mixing was unique to the U.S., are you somehow refuting what I stated as effects of slavery on Americans of African descent?
2. Paragraph 2: I am specifically discussing discrimination within one distinct group who are either descendants of American slaves or are perceived to be, regardless of their actual background. (A la Obama) Seal has undoubtedly suffered discrimination in Great Britain, but I contend for different underlying reasons. His children will, too, but for different underlying reasons. As I said in the notes following this post, this is an extremely complex subject, and I understand that. My personal experiences related here deal ONLY with how other black people responded to me.

Someone else might want to take on the post that discusses what appears to be a world-wide aversion to things black or dark. Even my white dog, is instinctively afraid of large black dogs, but not large white ones. (Shrug) Go figure.
L this is brilliant and thank you for bringing the issue forward. I long for just Americans. No Green,purple, or Orange American. We are all in the soup with fire. r>respestfully yours TG
nyctheaterqueen, Sarah, and Buffy: Thanks for reading this rather long post.

Matt: Yep, that's where it comes from. My nephew's "street name" was Red.

Doug: That's exactly what will happen --eventually, IF we don't destroy the planet first.
Man, you got a lot of comments fast! Good going.

It certainly isn't just African. When I was in college, my family hosted three AFS students for a couple of days while they met in DC until they all headed back overseas. President Ford actually spoke to the group.

One of the students was this gorgeous, vivacious girl from Sri Lanka. She was, if I remember correctly, the second best female table tennis player in her country, and she looked athletic. We were talking one day and she told me that her boyfriend's mother didn't like her because she was too dark. You could have knocked me over with a feather. She eventually got married and moved to England. God only knows what she ran into there.
Kosh: Yep. Why do YOU think that is?
This is awful, but I've also seen examples of it. Here in western Europe, the one we tend to hear about the most is colorism in the Indian community. Shops in the UK are often shut down for selling whitening creams that corrode the skin of Indian women. They're willing to undergo this dangerous treatment in the hopes that their skin will become lighter. Thank you for this, sadly, pertinent post. I wish people could just love themselves for what they looked like. The world would be a boring place if everyone was the same color.
Alysa: Before I visited Europe, I was under the impression that dark-skinned people were treated exactly the same as light-skinned people over there. I was very surprised when I tuned into CNN International while in Paris and watched a panel discussion about racism in Europe!
Color... here in Colombia we have indigenous, Blacks, Whites, Reds, Yellows, Browns and most of all kinds of people so... color is not really and issue here.... though I can say black race is more racist than the others... at least here in Colombia and at the Pacific Coast
This was a very good piece my dear L
Rated for enlightening
Interesting, Mauro! How do the blacks manifest racisim? Is there a majority race -- one that tends to be in charge?
This post actually struck pretty close to home for me because we ended up loosing a couple of friends over this subject.

When we were in college, my Suzy and I had a couple of friends that were black chicks. They were always calling this girl "red bone" and another one "high-yella".

As corn fed, Midwestern, white girls, we had no idea what these two terms meant and I finally asked them one day. It was like pulling teeth to finally get them to tell me and their reticence should have told me something right there.

Once they finally did, I told them that both those terms were pretty racist in my opinion. A major argument ensued. They ended up telling me that it was okay for THEM to use those terms because they were about their own people and that it was no difference than me calling another queer chick "butch". I told then that "butch" wasn't derogatory in the queer community (and it's not - just when used that way by heteros), but diss'ing someone for being not black enough was just as bad as a white person diss'ing them for not being white enough.

That ended up being the end of our friendship because I don't do prejudice and they were offended that I was butting into their "races" business.

If it's any consolation though, in the gay community, it isn't that unusually for people to be described as not being "real" queers, so we all have our own homegrown bigots.
Excellent, Lezlie! The self loathing is a very difficult concept to grasp. I have observed how it germinates the worst social ills in this particular context, and so many others. You could probably list several irrational concepts which are a form of self loathing for every letter in the alphabet. Africa, Birth(original sin), "Color", Christianity, Death (mortality), Etc...

The key to escaping that superstitious cycle is self awareness, personal responsibility, and an existential commitment to reason. We have great minds with which we can escape determinism, but we all return to it sooner or later. These superstitions rule us and will eventually doom us.
Amy, you have corroborated my premise and demonstrated it perfectly. This is exactly what I'm talking about. Those girls thought it was perfectly okay for THEM to say those things, to use those and other racial terms. But ask the girls they were calling those names how THEY felt. Thank you for sharing what must be a bit of a painful story.

If only we could get more people -- all kinds of people-- to use the brains they are given, to think for themselves and demand that their beliefs are based on well-studied, well-thought through concepts that make sense to their common sense. If only...
Fascinating, L. I particularly liked what Bill Beck and Amy (both of whose opinions I value highly) said, in addition, I must add, to your rather excellent analysis of what's obviously a huge, too-long-hidden problem.
It is so past time to put all of this behind us and grow up. -R-
This topic is so emotional for me. I've lived it and internalized it so completely that it is part of my cultural DNA. There's so much to say that it's hard to gather my thoughts. However, I will say this. I actively resist the tiny traces of self-loathing that still exist within me today. I grew up in an all white community and was called ugly often. Then when I was 16, I moved to a more diverse community, but was still passed over by black men for fairer skinned girls. So...I do know of what you speak. I resist by way of overcompensation. When my daughter returns home from her away summer camp. My true heart is a little disappointed that her brown skin has deepened, but instead of transferring those feelings to her, I make it a point to tell her how beautiful she looks with her 'tan'. "So pretty... you are mommy's little chocolate bunny, brown sugar...all of the sweetest things I can think of to make her feel beautiful. I do the same thing with her nappy hair. We wear natural locs, in part because I just got tired of fighting nature. It is my hope that she will continue with a natural style when she's old enough to choose for herself...we'll see.

Wow, Lezlie, you really put it out there.

Great work!
Sigh. All those children choosing the white doll... I don't know what to make of it. I overhear the African American kids in my class (5 and 6 year olds) comparing skin color. Arguing over whose skin is darker. One year in particular, no one wanted to be the *darkest* one.
I was surprised when my daughter turned out looking like me instead of her dad or a combination of the two of us. She always has to tell people that she is biracial. One of my favorite things my mother- in- law ever did was give her a dollhouse and fill it with an interracial family. She had to buy two separate families, a white family and a black family but she threw out two of the parents and presented it to her.~r
boanerges redux: Thank you. I'm a big fan of both Bill and Amy myself. :-)

Christine: Yes, it is.
bb: Thank you so much for finding the words to tell the other side of our story. As for the sun, I used to lie in the sun and cook myself to darken up. One year in college I got so dark that my mother drove right past me when she came to pick me up for the summer!
Well, yeah. Of course, none of this is news to me but I don't begrudge you for bringing it up (although I understand the "dirty laundry" accusations that are not atypical).

I'm 42 but this colorism is just as prevalent today as it's ever been. I actually grew up outside of DC with its large black population so colorism was a very major issue (along with class issues).

I don't believe we'll ever get past it, frankly. And this colorism is present in every corner of the world, not just with African-descended peoples but with many many others (as you said). No matter what group, the lighter the skin, the higher the positions of influence and power. The darker the skin, the less empowered. This is literally in EVERY country of the world and it's not going anywhere.

BTW you look just like my auntie Gayzelle. It's eerie.
I've had the "you're too white" -- living in Florida, with skim-milk skin, mocked and embarrassed (even, on occasion, as an adult) but I would never compare that experience with racism -- that goes so much deeper than actual skin tone. Although it did give me the barest taste of what others have experienced.
We humans have always hated and feared what we didn't understand, whether it's the color of skin, the cut of the hair or the style of dress. It's global. Whether it's an ancient clash between Burmese and Burman villages, or cultural genocide on the African Continent (That's right, Sarah...,) or between primitive Amazonian tribes, the penultimate poison is fear. Fear of being different; and the fear of seeing: 'difference.'
How to change it?
The answer is not found in sociology books or at great universities. What the atom is to science, the family is to society. That's where it begins. We need to lose the fear of differ-ence; within our country, our village or our tribe, and, most of all, within our families. We need to teach it in our families, so that the next child born may no longer fear 'differ-ence.'

Job well done, Lez.
Now let's all build a rainbow together.
Gosh, Lezlie, I must be either absolutely naive or living on another planet. I've never heard of the terms colo(u)rism or redbone before.

I have heard references to Australian Aboriginals as ‘half-caste’ and ‘full-blood’.

I just don't understand why anyone would feels the need to make any distinctions ... we're all human beings ...people. Period.
You asked me why I thought color was an issue with this Sri Lankan girl. In her case, I don't know. I'll speculate some, but this is pure speculation:

In the US, I think the clue may come from some of the history of New Orleans. In reading some historical fiction, I gather that when New Orleans belonged to France and just after, there was an elaborate social hierarchy based on racial mix proportions as in what percentage of one's parentage came from each race. One race was dominant and one wasn't (still true), and shade was a crude indicator of mix. They weren't really familiar with the complexities of genetics then.

In cases where racial mix is less likely to be a factor, like I'd guess about Sri Lanka, it could be that being sheltered from the sun might indicate wealth because being in the sun meant laboring. I think there's a little of the same phenomenon in Japan, where I've heard at least once of a shade/status connection.

That also may have something to do with the reverse color issue among caucasians: a tan can indicate leisure time, particularly in the winter.

All of this is pure speculation and is basically academic. I'm not sure that in this case understanding the roots help us address the issue all that much.

My personal attitude is a very simple one. From a purely aesthetic standpoint, I don't find a correlation between shade and beauty in that I've seen a whole lot of shades work on a whole lot of people. Lightness isn't the deciding factor for me when judging how pretty skin is. From an ethnic standpoint, it's even simpler:

If I don't like you, you can be 100% sure that it isn't racial; it's personal. Race is beside the point.
Well, interested in my two cents here? Humans seek out those who are similar in appearance. We do it because we are predisposed to group and the visual is a primary trigger for our own flocking instinct.
Now society is a different subject to me. My own experience has noted the seeming discrimination in groups of most races. The black, the White, the Asian, the Pacific islanders all seem to pick those friends who are the most similar and those who are in different groupings will generally pick skin color as the key factor in who they "like" and whom the don't. It takes a lot of conditioning to get us to that though, most of it unconsciously done.
Speaking for myself, I find that it takes conscious effort to not fall into that colorist trap. As an ethnic Irishman, I find it exists for us too. Since my skin is olive and my hair is dark I find that I sometimes get the "look" when pronouncing my Irish roots, particularly from the Celts of the red haired, blue/green eyed variety.
One more thing, around here, redbone is just another hound, or a pop band from the seventies or Leon's last name.
Kosh: The sun exposure theory is one I've heard before and I think there is merit to that one in countries/regions where the indiginous people are darker begin with.

Bobbot: Of course I want your two cents worth. Just for grins, try asking one of your black friends/neighbors if they know this definition of redbone.
Just jumped back over to see how this comment thread developed, these are the sorts of conversations I like to follow here. To try and address your question, you stated, "Interestingly enough, even African nationals are not immune to colorism", as though that was an unexpected finding. My point was that this issue has a broader scope, and color bias is not unique to black America, not by half.

Color bias has always existed within tribes of people the world over, and for many different reasons - none of them good - but as SBA said, home grown bigotry is present in all groups. I'm uncertain why this is being attributed exclusively to "the effects of slavery", but I may have misunderstood, and I'd love to be having this conversation in a room with everyone together as well.

I'm not certain why color bias is attributed to 'the effects of slavery', and perhaps I misunderstood your point here.
oops! I thought I had lost part of my comment, so it's redundant there at the end...damn, tricky fingers strikes again.
Oh, wow. I'm Gen-X and was raised, like a lot of people of my vintage, with the implicit assumption that race was irrelevant to personal merit. I figured that everyone felt the same for what is an embarrassingly long time, until...

When my son was a toddler, I struck up a "we'll take our kids to the playground together" mom-friendship with a woman who lived down the street. One day, another friend of hers came along with her own daughter. My neighbor and her friend were both very dark-skinned. Anyway, we were at the park, and my buddy remarked to her friend, "Your daughter is so beautiful -- such dark skin." That was it, just DARK SKIN. I didn't say anything, but I thought, "WTF??? Did we just rewind fifty years or something so that we need to do this kind of basic consciousness-raising? Or have I been MISSING something???" I kept my eyes and ears open after that, and decided that yes, the latter interpretation was correct. I'd been missing something. (While I am technically a very small part Cherokee and Creek if you go back like fifteen generations, I am so pale that I practically GLOW. I have gotten light sunburns INDOORS -- not kidding. So the issue just hadn't come up in my personal experience.)
Abby, it WAS unexpected by me. I thought that in a country like Nigeria, where the idigenous people are very dark to begin with and where, to my knowlege, Europeans hadn't colonized and/or enslaved the people there, that skin color would be the least of their "sorting" criteria.

I'm curious. Is anybody reading this comment thread aware of ANY ethnic group wherein darkness is preferred over lightness (of skin color)?
Hi, Kate! Welcome to my blog. You have added the perfect example of colorism. That woman was still playing the darkness game, unconsiously attempting to establish her own place above the other in the color pecking order. Very subtle. And very damaging. Thanks for sharing that story with us.

Hi Lezlie! Oh, crap, maybe I missed something else too, even after all this time. I didn't think my friend was trying to make anyone else feel WORSE, although unquestionably my son and I were TOTALLY left out of the "who's darkest" game, heh. I just took it for a kind of flat-footed "DARK IS GOOD, DAMMIT" rhetoric. Ah well, I have no idea. I shall keep looking and listening, and thanks!!!
Kate: Your friend may not have played the game f0r the purpose of making anything worse. That's why I said it was unconscious. This thing is buried deep down in the collective consciousness, which is why it is so insidious.
I'm shocked that this post wasn't chosen an EP. It's provocative about an issue that often stays hidden.

I can't speak first-hand about any of this, of course. But it does indicate the tangled racial DNA in America. This summer, Henry Louis Gates hosted a series about ancestry on PBS, and there were surprising revelations: that Gates and Malcolm Gladwell, who is half-Jamaican, were related through white ancestors; and that Elizabeth Alexander, the African-American poet who read at Obama's inauguration, was directly descended from Charlemagne. It seems that any split based on color, even miniscule ones, are based on ignorance and can have toxic effects.
Cranky: My guess is there are thousands of white Americans running around with African American ancestry, unbeknownst to them.
"If you are a Caucasian living anywhere in North America, how many of you have ever been told you are not white enough? "

Actually, Italians and Greeks were told that a lot. Armenians had to go to court to get themselves classified as "white." Hispanics have a history of being officially classified as "white" but treated as non-white, especially the darker ones. I suggest that you read WHITE BY LAW by Ian Haney Lopez.