AFR 202
Narrating Color: Black Women Sing and Write About Complexion Spring 2025
Division II
Cross-listed WGSS 206 / COMP 236

Class Details

Colorism, skin color discrimination where light skin is privileged over dark skin, is not a new phenomenon, but globally entrenched in our society and one of the many vestiges of white supremacy. For Black Americans of all backgrounds, colorism is a familiar and a living legacy concretized by the institution of slavery in the Americas. Although some believe that we are “post-color,” similarly to those that naively believe we are “post-race,” one can look to the recent example of misogynoir (misogyny directed at Black women) and skin color politics that Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex, has faced at the hands of the British Monarchy, that her light-skinned color, biraciality, and class privileges couldn’t protect her from. Alternatively, we can look at the numerous examples of colorism and anti-Black racism that tennis icon Serena Williams is subjected to because of her dark-brown skin complexion and body shape. One cannot fully understand the issue of colorism without understanding that it is an outgrowth or an extension of anti-Black racism firmly rooted in white supremacy, and so insidious that it impacts all aspects of Black life. Examining colorism through literary texts and music, provides a depth of understanding that both compliments and expands these empirical studies. Literature and music provide the narratives and rhythm that paint a vivid picture of the many ways that colorism impacts the lives of Black people. Through the methods of literary and rhetorical criticism we will examine the works of five Black women authors and music artists that take up issues around colorism and passing. We will explore, Toni Morrison’s, The Origins of Others (2017), Brit Bennett’s, The Vanishing Half (2020), Tressie McMillian Cottom’s, Thick (2019), Marita Golden’s, Don’t Play in the Sun (2004), Yaba Blay’s, One Drop: Shifting the Lens on Race (2021), Nina Simone’s, “Four Women” (1966) and “Young, Gifted and Black” (1958), Sara Martin’s, “Mean Tight Mama” (1927), India.Arie’s, “Brown Skin” (2001), Azealia Banks’ “Liquorice” (2012), and BeyoncĂ©’s “Creole” (2012), “Formation” (2016) and “Brown Skin Girl” (2020). By examining colorism in both literature and music, it will give first year students a foundational and nuanced understanding of skin tone bias and equip them with the tools to critically engage literary and music texts.
The Class: Format: tutorial
Limit: 10
Expected: 8-10
Class#: 3312
Grading: no pass/fail option, no fifth course option
Requirements/Evaluation: Three, short papers (4-5 pages) discussing aspects of the readings and songs; three response papers to tutorial partner's papers (2 pages long); two, video essays; two, Twitter threads explaining aspects of one of the books and one of the songs; and a curated playlist of songs that would serve as accompaniment to one of the texts from the class.
Prerequisites: N/A
Enrollment Preferences: This class is specifically designed for first year students. Sophomores can register only with advanced permission.
Distributions: Division II
Notes: This course is cross-listed and the prefixes carry the following divisional credit:
WGSS 206 Division II AFR 202 Division II COMP 236 Division I
Attributes: AFR Core Electives
AFR Culture, Performance, and Popular Technologies

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