“Colorism is harder to define and address precisely because there are no checkboxes for it. We don’t collect as much data on people based on their skin tones. So what happens is we have a group of people all categorized as the same race, but there’s less information or less data about the disparities or inequalities between those people.” — Dr. Sarah Webb, Colorism Healing
Colorism tends to be a loaded topic – poorly understood and not always well-received in communities of color and beyond. So how can we as DEI practitioners and champions give it the attention it needs and deserves? Dr. Sarah Webb, founder of Colorism Healing, joins us to answer this question and explain how colorism impacts cultures across the globe and what we can do to break the cycle. Tune in to learn about the incredible project Sarah is developing to elevate awareness of and healing from the pain of colorism.
Transformational Moments in this Episode:
- The difference between “color” and “race.”
- Why Dr. Sarah Webb doesn’t have “the luxury to prioritize racism.”
- Examples of colorism across the globe.
- How we can start the conversation about colorism at work.
Next week, Dr. Sarah Webb joins us for an Instagram Takeover. Follow us on Instagram for more details.
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About Dr. Sarah Webb
Dr. Sarah L. Webb is an Assistant Professor in the department of English and Modern Languages at the University of Illinois Springfield where she teaches creative writing, literature, and cultural studies. She launched the global initiative Colorism Healing in 2013 to raise awareness and foster individual and collective healing through creative and critical work. Dr. Webb’s myriad efforts to address colorism include designing a course on global colorism at UIS, hosting an international writing contest, publishing books, consulting, speaking, leading workshops on colorism, and mentoring youth and students across the world from Sacramento, California to Sydney, Australia. Dr. Webb has written and contributed to several academic and non-academic articles, presented at national conferences, and been featured as a guest on regional NPR stations, including WBEZ Chicago’s Afternoon Shift and BYU Radio’s Top of Mind. She has also been a guest on the national streaming network Fox Soul TV and has recently been featured in the Illinois Times and on the TEDx stage. One of Dr. Webb’s favorite pastimes is providing edutainment on social media, especially Instagram and TikTok. She relocated to Illinois from Baton Rouge, Louisiana in 2018, and is proud to have survived winter in the Midwest for three consecutive years. Dr. Webb is blessed with an amazing nephew and niece who always remind her of what’s most important in life.
Jason Rebello: Welcome everyone, and especially welcome to Dr. Webb. It’s an absolute honor to have you here as part of our podcast today. Part of our inspiration for this podcast is to be able to share some of the amazing insights we gained from some of the amazing people, right? Like yourself. With our larger audience, right? As we continue this work, realize that it has to go beyond just the companies that we work with. And so it’s an important conversation for everyone to be engaging in. So welcome. And thank you for joining us today.
Jason Rebello: I’m all about the journey. I’m all about kind of how amazing people find themselves doing the amazing work that they’re doing. And I know that there’s so much richness in your path and then the journey. So I’d love to give you an opportunity to share about your path to this work and what you find most meaningful about the work that you’re doing.
Dr. Webb: Thank you, Jason. So I’m really excited to be here. I’m excited for this conversation, and this is a big question and it’s one that I think about a lot, but I started an initiative called Colorism Healing back in 2013. And so I’ll kind of focus on that because it can go on and on and on, right? In terms of how I really got here. But I had just come back from a blogging conference in New York City. In 2011, I was teaching high school English, and I gotten my master’s degree in writing. And so I wanted to keep up my writing practice. So I was just doing random blogging, random topics. The title of the blog was SL Writes, which is my initials. And I went to this blogging conference with SL Writes in mind, right? Like how do I just become a blogger?
Dr. Webb: And I came back from that conference, it was the summer of 2013, and the Bill Duke, Channsin D. Berry documentary, Dark Girls, was coming out that year as well, right in 2011. And so I saw previews for it. And so I thought, “Well, maybe I should write a post about this on my blog?” My current blog and I was scared to write it. It took me about 30 minutes just to press publish, right? My mouse hovered over the publish button for like 30 minutes, like a half hour. Palms were sweating, heart was racing to actually speak about something called colorism. But I pressed published eventually and the reactions were very wide-ranging.
Dr. Webb: So people were curious like, “Oh, I never really thought about that. This is new to me just hearing this for the first time.” You also had a lot of people saying, “I know what you’re talking about. I experienced that as well. I have a similar story in my background.” And the really interesting responses were the ones where people got angry with me for talking about it. And even people I considered friends, right? Were upset because there were quote unquote “more important things in the world to focus on.” And when I realized that there was such a visceral reaction on either side of that equation, that there was something more there that needed to be explored, right?
Dr. Webb: I said, “Why would someone be so angry, have such a harsh reaction if this wasn’t indeed a very important thing to discuss and uncover?” And so a few other things happened, but what eventually I realized is that there needed to be a place just for colorism, right?
Dr. Webb: So on my other blog, I was writing about turning 25 and having a quarter-life crisis and all these other random things about my life and there was not a place that was focused solely on colorism, really diving deep into the nuances of colorism. And so I decided I would create that space.
Dr. Webb: And when you look around on the internet, even today, still, but especially back then in 2013, there were a couple of pieces, a couple of blog posts on colorism, but nothing that really went in-depth. And a lot of the research on colorism was kind of isolated in the academic journal articles, right? So they weren’t easily accessible to like a 16-year-old girl who wanted to learn about her experiences of being darker skin. And so a lot of my work was to bridge the gap between the research and all of the work that had been done, but that was not accessible because it was in academic textbooks or academic journal articles and presented and provided and translated for a broader general audience.
Dr. Webb: And so through Colorism Healing, I was doing the background work on the blog and seeing how people were searching for things like poetry, about colorism, and research on colorism. And that prompted me to start a writing contest because, again, there just was not a lot. And so I said, “Well, we can generate some of this content together by inviting people to write their stories and then publish them online.” And then that became an international thing.
Dr. Webb: It really surprised me how international my audience would become, but people were emailing me and messaging me from different countries and saying, “Hey, I live in this country? Can I also participate? Can I also share my story on colorism?” And I think I consider that like my flagship project, because that to me is… I get emotional, even when I talk about it. But seeing so many diverse people all come together around this issue is one of the most fulfilling things about the work that I do.
Dr. Webb: And people say, “I thought it was just me. I thought it was just my culture. And then I come to this contest and I read other writers who speak different languages, who are from different countries. And I see that I’m not alone, that I’m not alone in this, that there are other people who share my story.”
Dr. Webb: And I think I was also asked if there was a particular piece of writing that stood out over time. And my response was, “There’s not one individual piece of writing that stands out, but it’s the power of all of the stories collectively that really represents, I think, what colorism healing could be. And so it’s the chorus of diverse voices, all speaking to the pain that they felt as a result of colorism and the work that they do to heal that pain for themselves.”
Oana Amaria: I love this idea of you being the guardian of stories. When you shared all of that, it’s like you are a storyteller, but you’re also like the protector of stories and that gets me emotional just hearing you say that. So I shared earlier, I’ve been following you on IG. I would use the word stalking, but that may be the best way. It’s just, you’re brilliant. And the work that you do is just so powerful. You just put so much heart into what you do with your live stories, like with your Tuesdays, or everything that you put in there is just so incredible.
Oana Amaria: And for us at Firefly, we are the execution partners for a lot of organizations in basically doing what they committed to and becoming an anti-racist organization, which I often equate to signing up for the Olympics, right? You sign up for the Olympics and it’s really hard.
Oana Amaria: I think oftentimes organizations don’t really understand how much effort that would take, how much change that takes, what it means to get there. And it’s scary. And it’s really scary for people that look like me, right? For white people, because it’s like, “Oh my gosh, are you saying that this is about me, that I did this?” Right? And it goes down to a whole other spiral of fear and unmet needs and all the things that come through.
Oana Amaria: Something I saw on one of your posts that was just so profound to me is I think you had done an interview of some sort and you said, “I don’t have the luxury of prioritizing racism.” And to me, “I was like, dang.” And again, we know how hard racism is, right? Because we’re in those trenches every day. And Jason shared earlier that we talk about colorism. It’s very important to talk about colorism, but we haven’t even gotten there yet, right? Because we are overwhelmed in talking about racism, but obviously it’s such a huge part of the conversation.
Oana Amaria: And so I’d love for you to share with our listeners, what is colorism and how is that different than racism? Because oftentimes I think that the two are conflated in a way that maybe we don’t realize. A lot of it is more colorism than racism, because it does happen in places where people are the same color, so I would love to have you share.
Dr. Webb: Yes. So this is one of my favorite questions to answer. There’s also because it’s a really common question I get asked on social media and things like that. So I always acknowledged that race is a social construct, we’ve heard that lots and lots of times. Unfortunately, many people say that to dismiss conversations about racism. And they’re like, “Oh, well, race is a social construct anyway. So let’s just ignore it.”
Dr. Webb: But my skin tone, your skin tone, the amount of melanin in our skin is a biological fact, right? And so while race is the social construct, it’s a concept. It’s a category that people made up to suit their own purposes. But your skin tone, regardless of whatever framework you put around it, regardless of whatever category or label, or bucket and put it into your skin tone, your complexion is going to remain the same, right? Barring summer tans, our winter color, and that kind of thing.
Dr. Webb: And so a lot of times racism is seen as the more important issue, right? So I’ll talk about why I mentioned, “I don’t have the luxury to prioritize racism,” because I get a lot from other African-Americans other Black people, for example, that the conversation around colorism is a distraction from the quote “more important issue of racism.” So that’s where that quote came from.
Dr. Webb: And so people have seen or say that racism is a larger issue. And I know within the context of the United States, for example, that is based on the history of legalized racism, right? Legal racism, where the line on your birth certificates or the box that you checked on the census would indeed limit you from getting certain jobs. It was legal to say, “Well, you marked African-American on your job application I don’t have to hire you because I don’t want you to here,” right? And so I think, especially within the United States, that’s where the belief that racism is the bigger issue comes from is because of that legal structure around race.
Dr. Webb: Colorism is harder to define and address precisely because there are no check-boxes for it. So we don’t collect as much data on people based on their skin tones. And so what happens is we have a group of people all categorized as the same race, but there’s less information or less data about the disparities or inequalities between those people.
Dr. Webb: However, there are wonderful people who have done that hard work of finding ways to parse out what I call disaggregating the data and to show or illustrate that there actually are parallel inequalities. So if we look at the disparities between racial groups, there are parallel and sometimes equal and inequalities within a single racial group.
Dr. Webb: And such that if we did away with racism, if racism was taken off the table, if suddenly racial categories no longer existed, I as a dark-skinned woman would still earn less money than someone with lighter skin. I would still be more likely to be profiled by the cops than someone with lighter skin. I would still receive harsher prison sentences. Still be perceived as less intelligent because of the way I physically looked. Even there were no racial labels placed on us as humans.
Dr. Webb: And I think that’s the important difference is people can be the same race, but not look the same. And so often what we’re experienced in our day-to-day lives, going to the grocery store, going to school, just showing up at work, people don’t look at your birth certificate when you’re standing in line at the bank. They’re not asking you what you checked on the census, they’re going based solely off of visual cues. And so that’s why colorism is such a salient aspect of how we navigate the world. It’s such an important aspect of how we navigate the world.
Dr. Webb: And even if you think about something like police racial profiling individuals, right? Like stop and frisk type policies, the cops don’t know how people identify racially, what the cops know is what they see, right? And so that’s why I argue that colorism has to be, if not a priority, it has to be neck and neck or hand in hand with any conversation about racism. Because the only reason you identify me as Black in the first place is because of my physical appearance. So that’s how I distinguish it and how I think those things are related and why they have to be discussed simultaneously.
Jason Rebello: I think that’s fantastic because it reminds me of many conversations I have with friends when we’re talking about taking road trips and I’m like, “Well, it depends on where we’re going.” Right? And these are like my Latin American friends that are very Latino, that experience a lot of challenges and struggles. But when it comes to driving in a car and let’s take a trip down to their cabin in Tennessee, it’s like, it’s not a thing for them. And I’m like, “This is a thing for me,” like, “being in this car is saying it would be a thing for me.” And what I realized based on what you’re saying is that in my mind, just because of the context of my work and then the context of all of that, it’s the race issue, but it’s not really the race issue. It’s what you’re talking about.
Jason Rebello: It’s the fact that if you looked into this car and there’s four people in it, and three people are from Colombia and they look more like Oana than they do like me, their experience or the opportunities for drama challenges, encountering all types of issues, it’s just very different. And that’s based off of the colorism issue, not necessarily the race issue, which is it’s a fascinating way to kind of reframe even my own challenges and naming them.
Jason Rebello: And that leads me into my next question, because you referenced this aspect of healing with colorism, which I think is really important. I’ll share a little about one of my challenging stories growing up in my family. I mentioned that my father’s side of the family is from India, from Goa, which was actually colonized by the Portuguese. So my family members on my father’s side, despite my father and my aunts being born in East Africa, my father has my skin tone, but all my cousins, again, look more like Oana, right?
Jason Rebello: And when we were growing up, my mother and I received a lot of… We were disliked just to kind of put it clear by our family, to the point where my mother, when I was 14 years old literally said, “I’m not going to spend time with your father’s side of the family anymore, because I don’t like the way that they make me feel. And especially when the only time we get together as around family time, when we should be connected, when we should be feeling love, we get the exact opposite effect. So I’m going to spend time with my family, with the people that when I show up, I get embraced. I get love at those times.” And she gave me the option, she’s like Jason, “Feel free. I’m not pressuring you to do one or the other,” but I realized, I moment, she was kind of done fighting this fight just because of the color of her skin.
Jason Rebello: And I realized, again, now in these conversations, it was less about race, especially coming from this aspect of Indian culture, where colorism is the thing, more so than race. So all that to say on my own journey of kind of self-work and human revolution, as we call it, that’s really connected to the healing that I’ve done back to that memory, right? Back to that point in my life. So when I came across your work and I saw this aspect of colorism healing, it really resonated with me. So I wanted to give you an opportunity to share those two connecting points and why that’s a foundational element in the work you’re doing around colorism.
Dr. Webb: Yes. So thank you for highlighting that particular aspect of it. And it took me a long time to decide on that name, those words, that combination of words. I knew colorism was the obvious choice. And I thought, “But what am I trying to say about colorism? What about colorism am I doing here? Am I trying to do?” And I remember when I came up with the word, when I decided on that, I didn’t come up with the word healing, obviously. But when I chose that word, when I decided on that word, I remember my thought process at the time was, “I do want to address people who felt like me as a dark skin person and how they can feel better to literally just feel better about their experiences with colorism. But also there’s something about healing yourself so that you are then not spreading the pain to others,” right?
Dr. Webb: You’re not inflicting harm against others because of the saying, “Hurt people, hurt people.” But then as the work continued, as I dove into the research, listened to other people and continued to do my own work. I developed this concept of healing as having three parts or three concentric circles. And that is the individual healing, which is where it started. So feeling better about the pain you’ve experienced as a result of colorism. But then also for people to reprogram their unconscious bias. So do the inner work for yourself to acknowledge that you do, most likely, if you are in anywhere in the world, you have like a pro-light bias and an anti-dark bias. And so doing the work to question that, to challenge that within yourself and to reprogram. And then I really saw a need to look at an outer circle of interpersonal healing. So healing relationships between people.
Dr. Webb: And so Jason, your story with your family, those were relationships that were frayed, right? Potential relationships that were broken because of something like colorism. And so giving people the tools, the language, the opportunities, empowering people to create spaces and opportunities to heal those relationships from the past. It’s not always that we’re going to become best friends and everyone’s going to do away with their colorism, but at least starting those conversations.
Dr. Webb: And then I obviously saw the need for the macro scale of healing, right? If we think about the humanity, healing humanity from this bias, from this illness, really. And when I was teaching high school right around the time I started the blog, I was hearing my students say colorist things about themselves. Like, “I’m less proud of myself because I got dark over the summer.” Or, “I wish I’d had light-skinned like my mom.” Or, “I don’t like this picture because I looked too Black on here.” And so I realized that colorism was infecting.
Dr. Webb: It was like an infection that was spreading to another generation because really part of me thought, “Maybe it was just me. Certainly it’s not an issue now that I’m in my early twenties.” but then to see firsthand that “No, there’s another generation of people doing the exact same thing. And so how can we collectively come together as a society, as a community, to make change, create change?” And so I think a lot of people, the feedback that I get is that there are different aspects of my work and the work that could be healing.
Dr. Webb: And again, one of them is knowing that it’s not just you, right? Because a lot of times we get there’s gaslighting that happens when people say, “Oh you’re just being too sensitive.” And what I get a lot too is, “You’re just jealous and if you weren’t insecure, this wouldn’t be a problem for you.” And so a lot of people, they just feel healed just knowing that someone’s talking about it.
Dr. Webb: And it’s crazy because I could just say, “Oh, colorism is a thing.” And people would be like, “Oh yes, thank you for saying that.” Because so often they have experienced gaslighting, or it’s been dismissed, or trivialized, right? And so just having people acknowledge what you’ve gone through, having people validate that experience and tell you that, “No, your feeling was on point.” Like, “People really have this bias and they really can treat you like that based on this.”
Dr. Webb: And then other people, what I get a lot too is with people, once they have children, it triggers for them a lot of their colorism wounding from when they were kids. Especially if their children are not the same color as them, or if they have mixed-race children. And so that the dynamic, the interpersonal dynamic becomes really a parent and families.
Dr. Webb: Again, your example is a classic case of that. And I think we still have a long way to go in terms of conceptualizing or conceding, what colorism healing looks like in terms of across the society. But we know that there are, again, institutional and systemic outcomes of colorism. So it’s not just, “I was rejected by an individual person.” But, “It will impact my outcomes and my life chances in terms of career and the larger society.” And so being aware of that in terms of how we go about creating procedures and policies and practices, I think is really important.
Dr. Webb: So it’s all about the healing. I definitely agree that I didn’t want to just inform, put out factual information about what colorism is, but really empowering people to say, “Okay, now what can I do with that information?”
Jason Rebello: I love that. And I had the chance to peruse your blog. I love t-shirts, especially t-shirts that have statements that can be an opportunity to start a dialogue that might not have been there before, right? So one of them, and I actually, I’m going to buy one, because I’m going to start wearing it to some of our trainings if I can. Because one of them that I love is, “I see color and I love it.” I love that phrase, especially countering many of my white friends that have over the years said, “Jason, I love you. I don’t see color. I don’t see color at all. I don’t see you as Black.” And I’m like, “Really? Why not? It’s not a bad thing. The fact that it’s a big part of who I am and why you enjoy my company and engaging with me, it’s my experiences that come with the body and the identity and the skin color that, that I inhabit.”
Jason Rebello: I just wanted it to do that shout-out because I love the parallel game. And I think it’s a great kind of innocuous way to just have more of those conversations, right? Because I think it is really, really important. And think again, I can say given all the conversations I’ve had both within sessions and even around the topic of the work that I do, colorism is so rarely talked about, but I feel like it’s in some ways… And I’m curious about this, do you feel like it, for some people, it can be even more accessible based on the kind of reality or the lived experience without having to understand the definitions of the systemic aspects of racism and understand all the different nuances? Is it an easier entrée or do you feel like people to your point are still struggling with this concept? What have you found in your just regular conversations with people? Especially people that don’t consider themselves people of color for white people, what is their reaction to a colorism conversation versus a racism conversation? Right? I’m very curious about that.
Dr. Webb: Yeah. So I find that non-POCs people do not consider themselves people of color, otherwise known as white people in some circles, they actually have a hard time wrapping their heads around colorism, often. And of course, it depends on their cultural context or upbringing, but because we’ve used the terms, race and color synonymously, and interchangeably so often. I often talk about the famous Martin Luther King Jr. quote, that, “I have a dream that my children would be judged for the content of their character, not the color of their skin.” And so color of their skin or skin color, or I don’t see color, people are often equating that and making that a synonym for racial identity and even the way we label races, Black, white, Brown, it’s very much a collapsing of color with race. And so I think a lot of people have a hard time realizing that you can be the same race, but have a different color. Not everyone who’s the same race has the same skin tone or complexion.
Dr. Webb: But I think once they get it, it is easy to see it. So it’s kind of not in their awareness, but I don’t see it being a really difficult leap or hurdle for them to make, once they kind of. And it can be compared too because even amongst white people or even amongst people of European descent, there are gradations and skin tone, right? There are gradations and features, darker hair versus lighter hair, dark brown eyes versus blue eyes, right? So I’ve even had Eastern European people reach out to me and talk about how, “I was the olive person in the family. I was the darkest one in my family. Even though I’m white, I didn’t have the blonde hair and blue eyes like my cousins.” And so I think it’s accessible for them as well.
Jason Rebello: That’s great. Thank you.
Oana Amaria: I’m nodding so hard on that one. What it made me think of is you know, so I’m originally from Romania and people talk about the Roma, right? So if you’re the olive skin and there’s just so much going on and so much racism, discrimination, prejudice, still with the Roma community in Europe. There’s even, for example, I remember in my time in China, there was Yang Yu is a Chinese born artist, graphics artists in Berlin. And she does these beautiful kind of comparisons. And she said, “The comparison of beauty, the Germans are trying to get a tan, but the Chinese are trying to say white.” And so I think that is a really powerful, like you said, people don’t notice it until you pointed out and they’re all like, “Oh wow, that’s really interesting.”
Oana Amaria: So we deal with audiences from all over the globe with a spectrum of awareness. We often ask, “Where do you think we are?” And we get lots of zeros sometimes like zero to five. We get, I would say like the middle of the bell curve is two and their understanding of anti-racism. And so what do you say to someone in Latin America? Jason was talking about his Colombiano’s or someone in Asia or in Australia that says, “Oh, we don’t have those issues here. This is an American issue. Don’t bring these things here because that’s not what we’re going through.”
Dr. Webb: Well, I say a couple of things acknowledge, I’ll be transparent that I don’t, I actually don’t encounter that as much. And I think it’s because my work is explicitly on colorism. And so people from different countries and ethnic groups are very much, “Oh my gosh, can we actually talk about this now? Because no one wants to talk about this.” but I think it makes me think of a couple of things.
Dr. Webb: The first thing is, especially if we’re talking about former colonies, British colonies, Spanish colonies, colonized by Portugal and whatever these colonies were, the US, the racism and the colorism that exist in the US it was very much tied to that legacy of colonialism. And so if you’re living in a place that was also colonized by similar people or people from similar places, that their values were also brought to your area of the world, to your region of the world as well.
Dr. Webb: And so you have to wonder, “Well, how is it that America got indoctrinated with these values?” Right? It’s very much rooted in our founding of the country itself and so there likely is something similar going on in your country, right? As well, your region of the world, where whatever the values were brought with them, whatever the colonizers brought with them, in terms of their values and the way they structured society, the social hierarchies that they brought with them from Europe often continue to exist and are continually perpetuated.
Dr. Webb: And then the other thing it makes me question or wonder is, to the degree that you’re able to say that is, I think possibly an indication of how aware you are in the hierarchy. So oftentimes people can say, “Oh, we don’t have that problem. We don’t see that problem.” And I think that could be a result of it not directly affecting you. And so I think that’s the question I would ask is, how have you been buffered or shielded from these problems? What privileges or circumstances have afforded you the privilege of being oblivious to what’s going on? And so it’s not that it doesn’t exist, but asking you to reflect on and unpack why you don’t recognize it? And letting that guide you into an exploration of the kinds of privileges you have as a person.
Oana Amaria: I love that. And it just makes me think of even historically in the context of colonialism and what that looked like in India, but also even back to the piece around Australia and how there was white Australia policy that people, I think don’t connect it to this work. And that didn’t mean the Greeks. And it didn’t mean the Italians and similar to kind of like the Anglo value stuff that’s happening right now in this country, right?
Oana Amaria: To me, I just, I think that’s very fascinating and I love the prompt that you gave, right? What is it about your experience that is protecting you? Because I think that’s such a powerful place to start. And I think oftentimes I would argue that most people in our sessions actually do want to learn more and their heart is there. The passion is there. And oftentimes they’re just like, “But I don’t know what to do.” And then they get a little taste of something and they feel very scared and then the guilt takes over and then the shame and the blame, and then you go down the rabbit hole.
Oana Amaria: What would you say is the most challenging for you in doing this work? Because we know we’re very challenged. We can talk about how challenging it is. What has been the most challenging for you?
Dr. Webb: So I really liked this question Oana, and there are two things I’m going to mention, and they’re both personal problems if you think about it. Once I start talking about it, maybe you’ll see. But the very first challenge, one of the most challenging things about this work was doing it. With having the courage to actually do it. It continued to be a challenge, but it’s about a decade now that I wrote that very first blog post that took me 30 minutes to press the publish button. And so over the years, it just felt like every time I would put something on Instagram that I knew would be controversial or that I knew people would get upset about, the internal resistance to that and overcoming that and feeling the fear and doing it anyway was I think life lesson number one.
Dr. Webb: And I think for me, the other piece is doing it alone has been really challenging. And so I am still in the process, honestly, of learning how to cultivate and curate support and teams around me. And not even just in terms of the practical side of getting things done, but also for example, I opened up a space to invite other people in for healing or for coaching and being more intentional about what spaces can I then go to, right? To be poured back into. And so finding a community of people.
Dr. Webb: And that’s one of the reasons why I say yes to interviews and podcasts so much is because when people reach out to me and I’m like, “Oh, you’re doing this work too, or you’re interested in colorism too, or you’re doing that too? I want to connect with you. I want to exchange this energy here.” Because when I am actually executing on the work, it really is just me. I don’t work in an office with other people. I don’t really have a team with me.
Dr. Webb: So I’m writing the blog posts or I’m designing the Instagram posts on Canva. And I’m in my own head about what I’m saying and these ideas that I’m having. And so for me, one of the challenges is creating a community. And I’ve relied, I think I’ve over-relied, on my mom and my sister, before the past year or so, where I’ve made more connections with other people who are doing the work in a professional sense, or like starting organizations and initiatives. And even when I wrote that first blog post, I was texting my mom, “I think I’m going to say it. I wrote this thing and I don’t know if I should put it out there.” And so I still do that today, honestly, when I’m like, “Okay, I have to say this, and I’m just going to run it by you and you can give me the extra push that I need.”
Dr. Webb: And I think part of that is not unjustified because I mentioned before about we really do get personal attacks, especially as dark-skinned, Black women who talk about colorism, the attacks are all about you, right? “You are the problem.” “You are the reason we’re having this conversation.” And so a lot of people are afraid to speak about colorism more so than they are about racism even.
Dr. Webb: I find a lot of people of color and Black people, African-Americans very, very vocal and very much willing to say, “This was racist.” Or, “This is racism.” Or, “We need to solve this racism problem.” And so few people have similar courage around colorism specifically. So few people have the courage to speak up about colorism in the same ways that they do about racism at large. And it is because you’re made to feel like you are less than because if you just pulled yourself up by the self-love bootstraps, this would all go away.
Dr. Webb: What motivates me to push through the fear is that, hopefully, it’s an example. Hopefully, it blazes a trail, so that it’s easier for other people. I say, “I’m willing to be the lightning rod and receive some of these personal attacks. If it means someone else doesn’t have to experience that, or someone else has a platform or is able to see themselves represented in some way.”
Jason Rebello: I think that’s a perfect segue given… First of all, thank you for putting yourself out there and the willingness to be that lightning rod. Especially in today’s age where the attacks can come so swiftly and it’s different than 15 years ago where people have to really seek out this information to read about it, to then think about it and figure out a way to share their opinion with you about what you read versus now.
Jason Rebello: Every human being that has access to a phone can throw whatever they want in comments or comment on things. So I think now, I’m not going to say it’s worse than it was before, but it’s different. It’s a unique type of challenge and always in the desire to support and create a community that can pour into each other.
Jason Rebello: What is a request that you have for inclusion champions or practitioners like us? You’ve poured so much into us on this call, right? This is our opportunity to ask, if you could shout out to all the inclusion champions and practitioners out there and say, “This is my ask of the community.” This is your opportunity to do so and we’d be happy to amplify that message.
Dr. Webb: Yay. So that feels so huge, I’m just saying, it’s like, “Wow.” The way you worded it, it’s like shout-out to all the inclusion champions out there. It’s like a sign-off on a radio show, so pretty cool question. But what I was thinking though, as you were in the process of asking that question is the one thing I would ask or a one thing, because honestly, there would be a lot. But one thing is to get serious about colorism.
Dr. Webb: Because I feel like in a lot of the conversations around diversity, equity, and inclusion, it’s still not on the table and far too many of those conversations and far too many of that work, it’s not even on the docket. It’s not even part of the agenda is to address colorism specifically. And so that’s my big ask is to see it as equally important as racism, as sexism, as issues around sexual identity, or ability, and disability colorism has to be elevated to the status of all the other issues that are taken seriously and that people focus on, more readily focused on, in their work around inclusion and diversity.
Jason Rebello: Here’s to that.
Oana Amaria: Wow, yeah.
Jason Rebello: I think. Yeah, absolutely. Well, I can speak for us. I know that after this call, Oana and I will over the next few days or weeks as we’re constantly shifting and updating our own curriculum, it makes sense to have a longer conversation around how to fit in colorism. And maybe we’ll connect with you offline to pick your genius or share your genius as much as we can because I think it’s really relevant. And I think it plays a huge role and needs to be included in the work that we do. So thank you for that ask.
Oana Amaria: Yeah. And I can say very confidently Dr. Webb, that we definitely do take it very seriously. And there is an opportunity, I think, in the global context and maybe with your coaching and your support is to continue to do this in a very powerful way, especially across cultures, which is I think the greatest opportunity. So thank you for that reminder. And we’re so grateful for you joining us today.
Dr. Webb: This was awesome. I’m really happy that you were stalking my Instagram page.
Oana Amaria: So I wanted to say something that I think is super important and one, we want to be in your corner, it broke my heart to hear you say that, like you’re you’re finding and cultivating community. And I would love for us to be a part of that community with you, because it’s just too hard to do this alone. And I mean that for all of us in our own, with all our different projects.
Oana Amaria: The other thing is we have an opportunity that’s coming up where we are literally retooling a lot of the conversation from racism. So we do this piece and we do the slow boil, right? So the slow boil is, “Bias, and what do you know about bias?” And then, “Okay, how does bias different than racism?” And the next level is, “Okay, what about racism versus colorism?” Hence my question and what I see as like a great opportunity for partnership and collaboration, if you’re interested, is help us do that properly.
Oana Amaria: And then we will accredit obviously the work to you and we’ll quote whatever we need to quote. But this piece that you have around the guardian of these stories, how do we get that out there? Seriously, I’m not kidding. Because we’re about to touch some very powerful leaders in organizations and people need to know about these stories. And I want them to experience them instead of Jason and I, “Oh, and here’s why.” but just, it doesn’t work the same way. I love to engage you in some of that work if you’re up for it?
Dr. Webb: Yes. Definitely. Talking to you Oana and Jason, I like y’all. Y’all are good people. Y’all are good folks. So I’m happy to continue working with all of you. And I’ll say this too, the writing contest where all the channel, the primary conduit, where a lot of these stories come through, it just closed for this year, last week. But we’re going to be publishing a book.
Dr. Webb: We usually publish anthologies with these stories in them. And then we have live launches on YouTube where people come, read their stories, talk about why it was important for them to participate and share their stories, what they’re doing next.
Dr. Webb: I started a series called, Where are they now? So looking back at people who’ve participated over the past, seeing how their lives have flourished and blossomed since the contest. And it’s really touching because I’ve had twice now, I’ve had young women who live in India participate. And so one year the young woman stayed up till midnight to participate in the call. And the other year someone woke up at 5:00 AM to participate in the call. And so just illustrating how important it was to them to be in this conversation with other people who are working through and processing and healing from colorism and trying to make a difference in their worlds and in the world at large.
Oana Amaria: Yeah. Do you do anything in the context of India and the class and caste system in correlation with colorism?
Dr. Webb: Yeah. So I’d love it piloted anything specific to that, but in conversations with people, it comes up as part of the conversation around colorism and the relationship between caste and color and how there are parallel patterns across castes when it comes to color. And interestingly enough too, is the conversation when someone is a member of what is a higher caste in India, but they are darker skin and how that brings out a lot of the colorism right within that system.
Dr. Webb: But a lot of people that I follow on Instagram that I’ve met by was on a panel in the UK for South Asian Heritage Month in the UK. And so there are people of Indian, South Indian descent, in particular, talking about why they don’t identify with other people who are saying, “Oh yes, we’re all Indian.” And they kind of reject that notion. We’re going to champion us all being Indians because of the rejection they felt because of the stark reality between my India and your India. And so there are a lot of conversations around that, but nothing formal as of yet.
Dr. Webb: I also will say that I’m in the very, very early stages of imagining a world workshop series and international workshop series. And I want to travel to these places in person, and actually meet up with the many folks I’ve met from around the world that have these conversations in certain places.
Oana Amaria: That’s amazing, whatever you’re up for. What’s big for me and my vision for Firefly is there is abundance and we’re going to need all of us and we don’t all have to be experts on the same thing. So for me, I’m all about, like, “Here, come talk to Dr. Webb.” Or, “Here let’s promote…” Whether it’s a t-shirt or a series or a book, I’m all for it and whatever you’re comfortable sharing. And so to me, I think it’s just one more way to continue to have authentic voices and have authentic stories and get people exposed because the metastatic before fear is comfort, right? They’re comfortable in their privilege and then how they’re benefiting and how it’s working? And so it’s pretty hard to get from that to action, right?
Dr. Webb: Yeah. And what I find so interesting is the people who are not privileged, but still comfortable with the status quo and with colorism that comes up a lot. Is that you are being actively harmed, or limited, or marginalized by the system, but it’s comfortable. It’s more comfortable to accept it than to try and rock the boat or to try to create change and then elicit backlash from that. And so it’s like a lot of inertia within the entire system because those who are benefiting and have privileges, they’re comfortable, but then others are comfortable with not being a target of backlash.
Oana Amaria: And it’s predictable. That’s the other reason, right? They know what’s coming. If you do something different, you won’t know what’s coming or how it impacts you, so. Amazing. I feel like we can keep going we’re over time.
Dr. Webb: This was great. Thank you so, so much.
Jason Rebello: Thank you. This was a fantastic conversation.