When people look at my chocolate-brown skin, broad nose, thick lips, and the long hair I locked
during my junior year at FAMU, around the time I retired my orange eyes for good, they do not see a
biracial man. They do not see my White great-great-grandfather.
Nothing has been passed down about this White man except that he impregnated my great-great-
grandmother, who bore him a Light child named Eliza in 1875. In the 1890s, Eliza married the Dark-
skinned Lewis, who had recently arrived in Guyton, Georgia, from Sylvania, West Virginia. In 1920,
they bore my grandfather Alvin. Eliza, Alvin, and Ma, all lighter-skinned, all married Dark people.
An ancestral pull toward Dark people? Wishful thinking to exonerate my anti-Light colorism. I had
antiracist intentions, unmindful that the car of racism can drive just as far with the right intentions. To
be an antiracist is not to reverse the beauty standard. To be an antiracist is to eliminate any beauty
standard based on skin and eye color, hair texture, facial and bodily features shared by groups. To be
an antiracist is to diversify our standards of beauty like our standards of culture or intelligence, to see
beauty equally in all skin colors, broad and thin noses, kinky and straight hair, light and dark eyes. To
be an antiracist is to build and live in a beauty culture that accentuates instead of erases our natural
OR IT IS
well known,” attested Anglican missionary Morgan Godwyn in an antislavery pamphlet in
1680, “that the Negro’s…do entertain as high thoughts of themselves and of their Complexion, as our
Europeans do.” Johann Joachim Winckelmann, the so-called “father” of Western art history,
endeavored, like his fellow Enlightenment intellectuals, to bring down my ancestors’ high thoughts.
African people must accept the “correct conception” of beauty, Winckelmann demanded in
the Art of Antiquity
in 1764. “A beautiful body will be all the more beautiful the whiter it is.”
The slaveholder’s philosophy extended this further: A body will be all the more superior the Whiter
it is—an enslaved body will be closer to the slaveholder the Whiter it is. Large slaveholders more
often worked Light people in the house and Dark people in the fields, reasoning that Light people
were suited for skilled tasks and Dark people for more physically demanding tasks. A body will be all
the more animalistic the darker it is. Slaveholders crafted a hierarchy that descended from the
intellectually strong White down to the Light, then to the Dark, and, finally, to the physically strong
Animal. “Ferocity and stupidity are the characteristics of those tribes in which the peculiar Negro
features are found most developed,” intoned one writer.
The U.S. father of colorism is Samuel Stanhope Smith, a longtime theologian who taught at and
then presided over Princeton University in early America. In early 1787, the young Princeton
professor gave the annual oration to the new nation’s most distinguished scholarly group, the