Every first Tuesday and third Friday of the month through November, the Office of Intercultural Engagement will be hosting their CommUNITY Dialogue Series. The program will have an assigned focus for each session, providing a space for any and all UNCG students to have honest discussions about matters affecting the Spartan community. On Sept. 5th, the focus was “50 Shades of Colorism.”
Students filled the EUC Maple room from 5:30-6:30 p.m. to share their thoughts and experiences regarding colorism. The discussion was facilitated by assistant directors at The Office of Intercultural Engagement, Carla Fullwood and Porshé Chiles, who helped to make the most of the hour the students had together.
Fullwood, responsible for the student dialogue initiatives, described the CommUNITY Dialogue Series as, “An opportunity for UNCG students to really come together and really connect and have authentic conversations across difference and around contemporary topics that affect all of us on this campus.”
As she began the discussion, she noted that, of course, it is not possible to resolve all of these heavy and extensive issues within one hour, but that the series is offering an important space to start having these conversation with each other on UNCG’s campus and to hopefully, “raise more questions.”
The discussion began with the question, “what is colorism?” Alice Walker, credited with first defining the term, described colorism as a “prejudicial or preferential treatment of same-race people based solely on their color.”
Student in attendance discussed their experiences of dealing with and witnessing colorism through seeing those with lighter skin get preferential treatment. The ways in which colorism was witnessed was spoken about in a variety of angles.
One example Chiles described was an experience in Thailand noticing creams on the market advertising to make the user’s skin lighter. Student’s confirmed that this prejudice trickled all the way down to something as seemingly innocent as snapchat filters. As they noted, snapchat has introduced more than a few filters that lighten one’s skin color, making the subject appear whiter.
As people of color navigate the repercussions of systemic racism in our country, it is also essential to recognize the effects of colorism. Individuals in the discussion described feeling as though they did not feel sufficiently stood up for in the media or by their peers in instances where they faced colorism.
Colorism can affect an individual’s confidence and self-concept, but it is a mistake to think that solving this problem is up to the individuals that face this prejudice. It begins with community — changing our own perceptions and becoming aware of our prejudices and how they affect others.
Colorismhealing.org, a website dedicated to this discussion, states, “No social problem can exist or cease to exist without community level action….would we solve racism by merely teaching black and brown people to love themselves? Would we solve sexism by merely telling women they just need to love themselves?” It is another reason why the Office of Intercultural Engagement is doing such important work and raising these questions to the community. Hopefully, it will grow more and more as a space for people to be heard and more importantly as a space to listen.
As Fullwood said, the CommUNITY Dialogue Series is, “An opportunity to learn some new things, an opportunity to reflect on some things that we may already know, but most importantly, to build community and to build community across difference.”
On Sept. 15th, the Office of Intercultural Engagement will host the next CommUNITY Dialogue Series, “Hispanic/Latino/Spanish: What’s the difference?” All students are welcome to join the discussion in the EUC’s Maple room from 1:30-2:30 p.m.
The series’ slogan, “Share your thoughts. Hear from others. Build CommUNITY.” is what brings students across a variety of backgrounds together to address such important topics of discussion.