What I Learnt From Being At Our Colourism and Beauty Standards Panel Event

What I Learnt From Being At Our Colourism and Beauty Standards Panel Event

Thursday 10th July. WAH Nails, Soho.

Colourism: prejudice or discrimination against individuals with a dark skin tone.

In a shop-front in Soho, workbenches were pushed to the walls. Inside stood a packed crowd, fresh from work, from home, from all walks of life. All eyes were on four panelists and our host and Editor-in-Chief, Tahmina Begum.

With a venue capacity of 30, our event site got 100 RSVPs in 48 hours. Our social media was flooded with requests for a ticket, even after RSVPs had closed. As the panel discussion began, any surprise conjured by this overwhelming response was answered by a realisation: colourism is a topic that many Londoners were grappling with. This was a topic that many people needed to talk about.

Has colourism come to play in your life?’ – was the first question Tahmina put to the panel. Immediately conversation delved into the panellists intimate experiences with how colourism has affected their day-to-day lives. Chidera Eggerue, who blogs as The SlumFlower, and who recently spoke about colourism in the Houses of Parliament, talked about how a family member of hers had used skin whitening cream to make her feel more valuable. Each panellist had a varied, but similarly powerful story of colourism’s harrowing effects.

Tahmina guided the conversation through tough terrain. Do you feel there is a tension between Asian and black communities because of colourism? Are you aware of battling colourism in your work? How do you feel about the term People of Colour? Does it suggest that being ‘white’ is the comparison standard, which means it’s a problematic term? What does self-love mean to you? – these were some of the questions Tahmina put to the panelists.

Conversation roared. The panelists didn’t always agree. Tahlia Gray, founder and CEO of Sheer Chemistry, found solace in identifying as a “person of colour”. Eggerue didn’t. In her words, she was black first and foremost. On one topic, our panelists all concurred: colourism is alive and well, and needs to be combatted.

Most of the XXY team stood at the back of the room. From this perspective, it was clear that a number of audience members had confronted similar experiences of colourism to those of  the panellists: “my auntie does that”, “that happened to me this morning”, “yes me too” – were some phrases you could hear resonating through the crowd.

I stood at the back of the room as a white male. I was honestly shocked and ashamed. It was quintessential that I heard these stories. It was quintessential that I realise that negative experiences of colourism are happening today. It’s happening to people I love and care about.

I also realised something else. That out of this sharing was emerging something beautiful. Emerging was a sense of solidarity between those who that had experienced similar moments. As the panel made clear, colourism and its instantiations come in innumerable forms and degrees. Minorities, people of colour, individuals never come in homogenous groups. In theoretical discussions of oppression and dominance, there’s a tendency to speak in compartmentalising terms e.g. ‘The working class ‘, ‘Black’, ‘Middle-Eastern’. This can be simplistic. Each individual – through the intersections of class, nationality, gender and sexuality,- experiences colourism differently.  Each individual has their own story to tell. Nevertheless, from these individualised experiences can emerge a solidarity based on mutual understanding. As the panel discussion showed, this solidarity emerges when experiences are shared.

In that packed shop-front in Soho, the conversation flared for two hours. The crowd began to share their own experiences. The panel discussion formally ended but the conversation roared on afterwards. I felt truly fortunate to hear stories and struggles I hadn’t heard before. With my last sentence: I encourage all to participate in conversations like those that resonated inside that packed shop-front, last Thursday night, outside in less liberal circles. I felt truly fortunate to have done so.


Thank you to all our panelists: Chidera Eggerue, Kay Montano, Faiyaz Kolia, Tahlia Gray

Thank you to our sponsors: WAH Nails, Karma Cola, Eléngé, Propercorn

Written by George Newman

Print Assistant

Visuals by XXY Magazine