By Sarah Webb
“Heartthrob never. Black and ugly as ever.” – Biggie Smalls
Several years ago, I taught high school English. One of my students was a fraternal twin, whom I will call Henry. Henry was tall, very dark-skinned, with a round nose, full lips, and “nappy” hair. Henry was also classified as an underperforming student and qualified for special education services. In my class, Henry displayed signs of self-doubt, low self-confidence, and low self-esteem. Henry’s twin brother, however, was an honor student and kind of a heartthrob. Henry’s twin also happened to be a few shades lighter than Henry, with thinner lips, a straighter nose, and low-cut waves. Coincidence? Twin brothers who share the same family genes and are raised simultaneously in the same home environment. Why such a difference?
In a CNN documentary on African Americans, Michael Eric Dyson talks about a similar dynamic between him and his darker skinned brother. Dyson, a university professor and public intellectual, was always perceived as the smart kid, while his brother, in prison at the time, had always been perceived as less intelligent.
As someone who has been studying colorism every day for the past several years, I’ve observed a noticeable pattern in discussions about colorism. That is, most discussions that include men tend to focus on their dating choices and perceptions of women. After a conversation with a friend about his past experiences with colorism, I became more aware of the lack of men’s stories about colorism, and I grew curious (more than usual) about what men have to say. How does colorism affect the way black men and black boys think about themselves? How does it affect the way they move through the world, their interactions with colleagues, with other men, with women, with authority figures like teachers, supervisors, or cops?
These are some of the questions I hope boys and men of all ages will address through essays, personal stories, or poetry/lyrics in the 2018 Colorism Healing Writing Contest (CHWC).
I launched the contest four years ago as a way to invite all people to the colorism conversation. In that time, I’ve received hundreds of diverse submissions from around the world. Some of the contestants have won cash prizes and many have been published. Although a writing contest merely seems like a competition to see who is the best writer (which is fine if you’re motivated by competition), the CHWC serves even those who don’t usually write very much or who don’t think of themselves as “writers.” Any guy who would tweet, update his Facebook status, or write an Instagram or SnapChat caption is just as qualified to submit to the CHWC as a guy who has already published five books.
In a series of recent conversations, I have listened to men speak smart, critical, and insightful things about colorism that go beyond discussing which women they find attractive, though that is also still relevant. And this year, I’ve chosen two of the dopest men I know to judge the writing contest: Donney Rose and Benjamin Washington. Both are talented brothers and leaders in their community who’ve penned pretty amazing work themselves. I’ve worked with each of these men for years, and I know they will bring immense value to the 2018 CHWC as judges.
The 2018 Colorism Healing Writing Contest (CHWC) runs January 1st – April 30th. You can submit online at colorismhealing.org. For more information, follow @ColorismHealing on Instagram or email Sarah@colorismhealing.org.