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Dr. Yaba Blay on Skin Color’s Meaning and Bringing the Dialogue to CNN

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As a woman of color, how do you suggest combatting the white ideal that’s projected onto black Americans and black people abroad?
People often ask me what the solution is and I’m not a solution-oriented person when it comes to colorism. I never conceive colorism as something that can be resolved in total. My work is about asking different questions in the classroom, trying to get students to think more critically about the media that they’re consuming. In the media and gender class I teach, I try to get my students to a point where by the end of the semester, they can see without thinking about it, ‘Yes, that woman is there because she’s a particular model that society is saying is beautiful.’ How do we deal with that? You don’t want to walk around the world bitter, but I don’t ever tire of calling it out because it’s not a thing of the past.

How do you rectify colorism in a Pan-Africanism society or the Diaspora?
There’s a difference between Pan-Africanism and Diaspora in theory and actually seeing it, a lot of us need to get out of our comfort zones. The first time I met a Panamanian sister, I was completely thrown off because she was my complexion and speaking Spanish fluently. I wasn’t used to that in New Orleans, and I had to realize that colorism is not an American, or even a black, phenomenon. Colorism impacts people of color all over the world, and it’s connected to the idea of global white supremacy. You have skin bleaching all over the world and people of mixed raced in the positions of power in their countries because people presume that their European ancestry makes them somehow better. That’s a direct connection to the colonial mentality where African people were thought to be barbaric and Europeans were human. That whole thing is still alive, though it may be remixed. For example, in Cuba people who look like me work in the kitchen or they’re picking up the trash, people who are lighter and look like Castro are in positions of power, it’s that clear cut. It’s annoying that this exists all over the world but being able to talk about it in a global context is helpful.

Where can people view your (1)ne Drop Project?
People can experience the (1)ne Drop, which I describe as a photo-essay book and online exhibit, at 1nedrop.com. The book will be published by the year’s end, and readers will be able to read more personal narratives and see the photography as well.

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