Denzel Washington Says Colorism Isn’t a Thing: “Maybe You’re Not Good Enough”

In a recent interview with  BET (Watch the interview HERE about his new film, Fences, Actor, Denzel Washington shared this thoughts about colorism, a concept he didn’t seem to understand:

“Colorism, is that racism within the race?” 

He then went on to say:

You can say,‘Oh I didn’t get the part because they gave it to the light-skinned girl, or you can work, and one day, it might take twenty years, and you can be Viola…The easiest thing to do is to blame someone else, the system. Yeah, well, there’s a possibility, maybe,that you’re not good enough, but it’s easy to say it’s someone else’s fault. But there’s a possibility that you’re not ready and you can still blame it on someone else instead of getting ready.”

*Heavy Sigh*
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Here’s the problem with Mr.Washington’s rhetoric and old adages of hard work and perseverance:

1. He spoke on a topic that he didn’t know.

From the beginning of the interview, he awkwardly laughed and questioned the interviewer about the term colorism and then explained it back to her for approval. If you don’t know what it is, then why speak about it? Her initial question to him was if male actors face the same colorism as their Black female peers. The interviewer openly admitted the problem regarding colorism affecting Black women and this was his chance to acknowledge if this was a male issue.

He could have said something like, “No, I don’t experience this issue, maybe because I’m not a woman, whose roles are sexualized and beauty standards favor European feautures. No, Unfortunately,  I can’t eloquently speak on things I do not know.”

Instead, he freely shared his opinion about what’s wrong with us. Yup, yet again, another man ignoring our voice and pain and telling us we’re imagining how we feel.

2. Hollywood Says Otherwise

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There are too many instances that eradicate his point, ironically given by his Hollywood peers.  Case in point, Straight outta Compton’s Casting agency, Sande Allesi Casting, described their ideal “it girl” as:

A girls” as “the hottest of the hottest” who could be of any ethnicity. “B girls” as “light-skinned” and “D girls” as African-American women who were “poor,” in bad shape and with “medium to dark skin tone.”

3. The proof is in the pudding

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After the 2014 Oscars, a huge Hollywood agent spoke about Lupita Nyong’o’s inevitable challenges to land a role as a dark skin women even after her 2014 Oscar win,

“If she can find a franchise, a big crossover film, or if she’s cast by a significant filmmaker, then she’s golden…And there are so few roles for women of color; those roles are just not being written.”

The article continued with TCA Jed Root and talent agent Tracy Christian casually speaking about  Black women, their features, and colorism, invalidating Mr.Washington’s points:

“Further complicating Nyong’o’s prospects is the fact that her dark skin challenges an industry prejudice that traditionally has favored black actresses and performers with lighter complexions…Would Beyonce be who she is if she didn’t look like she does? Being lighter-skinned, more people can look at her image and see themselves in her. In Lupita’s case, I think she has two-and-half, three years…For someone who looks like her, with a distinctly black, African face, maybe she’s someone who can change the direction for darker-skin actresses, actresses who are definitely not European-looking, but it may require some forward-looking director to push for her.”

Colorism isn’t something we just made up to avoid working hard. Colorism doesn’t make us lazy and just want to run around pointing fingers. We continue to strive and work in spite of Colorism. It actually exists, and we need people in Washington’s position to engage in the conversation, not shut it down and pretend we’ve imagined the whole thing.

Share your thoughts below!

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  1. Seems like Spike Lee would have educated him on this. There is “school days” and…. Denzel played Malcolm X whom I’m sure was awate of colorism and internalized racism. So dissappointing that he is ignorant to these concepts and chooses to deny their existence. Maybe some one could tweet him and suggest some educational books to enlighten him on the generational affects of the divisiveness of slavery that continues to reverberate today. The cycle can only stop when we understand and acknowledge it, and unteach ourselves incorrect messages about our beauty that we were conditioned to believe based on European standards.

  2. Colorism, is not a synonym for racism. Racism lumps people together in socially-constructed groups and assigns relative levels of value to those groups. Instead, you can define colorism by understanding the division between lighter- and darker-skinned black women. Even within the African American community, lighter-skinned black people often have a higher social status, and treat darker-skinned black people as less attractive and less intelligent. This kind of colorism prejudice isn’t just restricted to one group or one country. In India, in Malaysia, in China, in Japan, in Brazil and in many other places around the world, the sale of skin-whitening creams has grown into a multi-billion dollar business. In many of those cultures, people with darker skin are seen as less accomplished, with fewer job and marital prospects. This preference for light-colored skin may have originated long ago in humanity’s agrarian age, when dark skin immediately identified someone who worked outside in the fields, and light skin meant the person could afford to stay indoors, implying wealth, education or nobility. Over time, though, that class-based bias became color-based. In many if not most cultures around the world today, lighter skin still conveys privilege, position and power; and dark skin conveys the opposite. Sadly, such pervasive colorism prejudice has now led many people to believe that skin color equates with relative human virtue or even intelligence—the darker the complexion, the lower the social status and therefore the lower the caliber of the person’s character. But the color or race is of no importance, whatever color we are, white, black, brown, yellow, red, we are all images of our creator. And color is not the standard and estimate of judgment and that it is of no importance, for color is accidental in nature. The spirit and intelligence of man is essential, and that is the manifestation of divine virtues. whether our color is white, black or brown; it doesn’t matter. Man is not man simply because of bodily attributes. The standard of divine measure and judgment is his intelligence and spirit.

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