Lupita Nyong’o spoke to “BBC Newsnight” this week before releasing her children’s book “Sulwe,” which tells the story of a girl who has darker skin than the rest of her family.
During the interview, the Oscar winner talked about the issue of colorism and how it affected her upbringing in Kenya.
“[Colorism] is the daughter of racism [in] a world that rewards lighter skin over darker skin,” she explained.
Nyong’o — who revealed that someone once told her she was too dark for television — also said that she grew up with a younger sister who had a lighter complexion. And her sister was often called “pretty” and “beautiful” but not her.
“Self-consciously that translates into ‘I’m not worthy,'” the actress stated. “I definitely grew up feeling uncomfortable with my skin color, because I felt like the world around me awarded lighter skin.”
“We still ascribe to these notions of Eurocentric standards of beauty, that then affect how we see ourselves among ourselves,” she added.
The “Black Panther” star then talked about the difference between colorism and racism, and said she didn’t experience the latter until moving to the United States since she comes from a homogeneous area.
“Race is a very social construct, one that I didn’t have to ascribe to on a daily basis growing up,” she explained. “As much as I was experiencing colorism in Kenya, I wasn’t aware that I belonged to a race called black. … Because suddenly the term black was being ascribed to me and it meant certain things that I was not accustomed to.”
On Tuesday, the actress Tika Sumpter shared Nyong’o’s interview on Twitter, which sparked comments from those who had similar experiences with colorism. And Nyong’o’s interview seemed to really hit home for those living on the African continent.
“Growing up in a small country in Africa, Liberia to be exact, I didn’t experience racism, but colorism stuck out to me the most,” one person wrote. “I like the way she @Lupita_Nyongo breaks it down for folks who don’t get it.”
“Colourism is also a mechanism of racial capitalism,” wrote someone else. “Lighter skin is treated as a commodity to be exchanged for economic and social benefit.”