‘Color-ism’ encourages attendees to step outside the box

Marshall University students on Thursday, with the help of speaker Nigel Wallace, took a look at the concept of color-ism in the United States.

“If we don’t want to address the elephant in the room, how do we ensure the elephant gets out of the room,” Wallace said.

Leadership in the 21st Century, a series of talks at Marshall University started by graduate student Meena Elango, challenges students to look critically at the social constructs of gender and race and to lead society past them. Elango and Wallace hosted “Color-Ism” to give students an outlet to discuss why people put themselves into figurative boxes.

“Breaking stereotypes is important and I believe you do that by coming from a place of understanding and having an open mind,” Wallace said.

Wallace started the event with a slideshow presentation with photos of Michael Jackson, Sammy Sosa and other famous black celebrities who Wallace said he perceives as having altered their features over time to obtain a more white-washed appearance. Wallace said this is because white features are considered more desirable to the mass public.

One of Wallace’s main points was that color-ism and its binds are present in all races and cultures, despite the fact that melanin, a dark color pigment, is natural and present in many different things, such as hair, skin, eyes and animals.

To help jump-start discussions amongst the students in attendance, Elango shared her own experiences with color-ism within her own culture.

“In my culture, the more fair-skinned you are, the more beautiful you are,” Elango said. “My skin tone right now if I were to go India they would ask ‘who’s going to marry you?’”

Other students opened up about their experiences with color-ism within their own communities and cultures. Students then spoke about how the event opened their eyes to the effects of color-ism.

“I didn’t realize how many people actually changed their appearance to fit what society sees rather than who you are as a person,” junior wellness education major Taylor Foster said.

Wallace and Elango said that while they know racial barriers will not be vanishing any time soon, they hope to help break them down by inspiring students to take a stand and lead other students in the same direction.

“These stereotypes and barriers really hurt peoples’ feelings and I think it can really affect a person’s growth in their college years,” Elango said.

Elango said she plans to continue the series with more socially driven topics as they gain more recognition.

Ryan Murphy can be contacted at [email protected]