Kheris Rogers knows what it’s like to be bullied.
At only 10 years old, Rogers said she’s been called names by her peers that made her feel upset, sad and made her feel different from other kids because of her skin tone.
There was even an incident where Rogers said her teacher once gave her a black crayon to draw herself, instead of a brown one.
“It made me very uncomfortable in my skin colour,” Rogers, who is black, told Global News.
Rogers transferred schools because of the bullying. But she still faces verbal abuse – even from other black students.
“It’s very sad that other kids are bullying their same race,” Rogers said.
What Rogers is referring to is “colourism,” which is the discrimination people face, usually within their own racial groups, where lighter skin tones/complexions are seen as more desirable than those with a darker skin tone.
It’s a privilege that people with lighter skin tones experience compared to those with darker complexions.
Latifah Damali, an English spoken-word artist who goes by the name Princess Latifah, said the idea that lighter skin is more beautiful, especially in the black community, is imprinted on children at a young age.
“Being dark skin was never really the best thing in the world. Especially in the area I grew up,” said Princess Latifah to Global News.
Princess Latifah said that her goddaughter once pointed to a light-skinned girl with her mother and said “’I want hair like that. I want to look like that.’”
“It’s very sad,” she said. “Dark skin is not good enough, blackness is not enough. But black is beautiful. Black is good enough. One [skin tone] is not better than the other.”
Princess Latifah created a video called “Pretty for a Darkskin?” that highlights the trouble that people with darker skin face, and how their complexions are perceived by others.
In the video, which has over 11,000 views, she delivered a spoken-word poem in which she described a man saying, “’Wow, you’re pretty for a dark skin.’”
“Even to dark guys, dark girls never win,” Princess Latifah said in the poem.
“Even if he’s blacker than the skin I’m in, to be with a black girl is this sin.”
One of the main reasons why people see lighter-skinned individuals as more desirable is because those are the kinds of faces they see in media – advertisements, music videos and much more, Princess Latifah said.
Recent examples include the casting of a light-skinned black model in the music video for Kendrick Lamar’s “Humble,” and the fallout between Sam and Coco in the Netflix series Dear White People. Another example includes rapper Azealia Banks’ 21-minute rant from last year, in which she talked about her decision to lighten her skin complexion.
“What’s the difference between getting a nose job and changing your skin colour? What’s the difference between getting a hair weave and changing your skin colour?” asked Banks in her video. “Because there really isn’t a difference.”
Banks went on to say that she believes there’s a stigma surrounding skin-lightening, or skin bleaching, even though it’s becoming more common.
She also said the decision to lighten her skin had nothing to do with her blackness.
“To say it negates anything I’ve said about the current situation of blackness in America – it’s ignorant and just stupid,” Banks said. “I don’t really think it’s important to discuss the cultural significance of skin bleaching anymore.”
But that’s not necessarily true, according to an article written by Gideon Lasco (MD, PhD), a physician and medical anthropologist from the Philippines.
As part of the “Chemical Youth” project, a research effort that looked at the effects of “pills, drinks, sprays, powders and lotions” on young people, Lasco examined why more Asian men are using skin-whitening products.
Lasco told Global News that people have “always sought to distinguish themselves through physical differences,” whether it be for cultural influences, such as beauty standards, or even peer influences.
“It becomes a social problem when people’s skins becomes a subject of discrimination. But at the same time, many people pursue white skin because it makes them more ‘attractive’; it can have social and economic benefits at the level of individuals,” he said in an email.
The skin lightening industry was expected to be worth $10 billion as of 2015, rising to $23 billion by 2020, according to a 2009 report by Global Industry Analysts (GIA).
In 2011, the World Health Organization (WHO) said that 77 per cent of women in Nigeria were reported to use skin-lightening products regularly. So were 40 per cent of women surveyed in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Malaysia, the Philippines, and the Republic of Korea.
In India, 61 per cent of the dermatological market was made up by skin-lightening products, the WHO added.
Chhaya Néné, an L.A.-based actress who was born in the U.S. but was raised in an Indian household, said she has seen many friends use skin-bleaching creams.
It upset her that people were using these products with the belief that having lighter skin means receiving better treatment by society.
“I’ve had friends – we joke about it now – where their parents would be like ‘don’t play around in the sun. You’ll get too dark,’” Néné told Global News. “I think it’s just crazy, ‘oh, we don’t want you getting too dark.’ What’s the problem with being too dark? I really don’t understand.”
Néné went on a reporting trip to India in 2013.
Even though she’s considered lighter-skinned within her community, she found that, as she checked into a hotel, she still wasn’t treated as well as Caucasian people were.
“I was really upset and called my dad and said, ‘this is not the India I know.’ My dad called the hotel and said, ‘How dare you treat our own so differently? This is the reason that we have problems within our country. She is one of your own [yet] she is treated differently.’”
Néné said she’s proud of who she is – and her skin complexion.
“I’ve always felt that we as individuals and as people are beautiful in our own skin,” she said.
It’s a message that resonates with darker-skinned people in many communities – including 10-year-old Rogers.
After Rogers was mocked for her skin tone, her sister Taylor Pollard took some pictures of her and put the photos on Instagram with the hashtag, “#FlexinInHerComplexion.”
“I told my mom that we should make shirts with ‘Flexin’ In My Complexion’ on it to inspire other people that their skin colour is beautiful no matter what.”
And just like that, Rogers created her own company – she has over 26,000 followers on Instagram – where, as CEO, she is spreading a positive message about love and confidence.
“I want other kids to know that they’re beautiful no matter what and they shouldn’t let anyone tell them otherwise,” said Rogers.
“I took a negative and made it into a positive.”
With files from Katie Scott.