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Don't Play in the Sun: One Woman's Journey Through the Color Complex

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“Don’t play in the sun. You’re going to have to get a light-skinned husband for the sake of your children as it is.” In these words from her mother, novelist and memoirist Marita Golden learned as a girl that she was the wrong color. Her mother had absorbed “colorism” without thinking about it. But, as Golden shows in this provocative book, biases based on skin color persis “Don’t play in the sun. You’re going to have to get a light-skinned husband for the sake of your children as it is.” In these words from her mother, novelist and memoirist Marita Golden learned as a girl that she was the wrong color. Her mother had absorbed “colorism” without thinking about it. But, as Golden shows in this provocative book, biases based on skin color persist–and so do their long-lasting repercussions. Golden recalls deciding against a distinguished black university because she didn’t want to worry about whether she was light enough to be homecoming queen. A male friend bitterly remembers that he was teased about his girlfriend because she was too dark for him. Even now, when she attends a party full of accomplished black men and their wives, Golden wonders why those wives are all nearly white. From Halle Berry to Michael Jackson, from Nigeria to Cuba, from what she sees in the mirror to what she notices about the Grammys, Golden exposes the many facets of "colorism" and their effect on American culture. Part memoir, part cultural history, and part analysis, Don't Play in the Sun also dramatizes one accomplished black woman's inner journey from self-loathing to self-acceptance and pride.


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“Don’t play in the sun. You’re going to have to get a light-skinned husband for the sake of your children as it is.” In these words from her mother, novelist and memoirist Marita Golden learned as a girl that she was the wrong color. Her mother had absorbed “colorism” without thinking about it. But, as Golden shows in this provocative book, biases based on skin color persis “Don’t play in the sun. You’re going to have to get a light-skinned husband for the sake of your children as it is.” In these words from her mother, novelist and memoirist Marita Golden learned as a girl that she was the wrong color. Her mother had absorbed “colorism” without thinking about it. But, as Golden shows in this provocative book, biases based on skin color persist–and so do their long-lasting repercussions. Golden recalls deciding against a distinguished black university because she didn’t want to worry about whether she was light enough to be homecoming queen. A male friend bitterly remembers that he was teased about his girlfriend because she was too dark for him. Even now, when she attends a party full of accomplished black men and their wives, Golden wonders why those wives are all nearly white. From Halle Berry to Michael Jackson, from Nigeria to Cuba, from what she sees in the mirror to what she notices about the Grammys, Golden exposes the many facets of "colorism" and their effect on American culture. Part memoir, part cultural history, and part analysis, Don't Play in the Sun also dramatizes one accomplished black woman's inner journey from self-loathing to self-acceptance and pride.

30 review for Don't Play in the Sun: One Woman's Journey Through the Color Complex

  1. 5 out of 5

    Shannon

    Golden presented a lecture on this book at a local university. She opened asking, “How do we institutionalize healing?” We were able to think on that while Golden expounded on topics covered in the book. After much discussion, one attendee claimed that this concept of colorism is old news and asked what was the purpose of the book. Golden responded, “The book was written for healing; but when you write to heal you, you heal others in the process.” Sure enough, when I started reading I was in for Golden presented a lecture on this book at a local university. She opened asking, “How do we institutionalize healing?” We were able to think on that while Golden expounded on topics covered in the book. After much discussion, one attendee claimed that this concept of colorism is old news and asked what was the purpose of the book. Golden responded, “The book was written for healing; but when you write to heal you, you heal others in the process.” Sure enough, when I started reading I was in for a bit of healing that I didn’t know I needed. But as the book goes on, it becomes less relatable for me and starts to feel like a story that is Golden's own. She shares countless experiences when she was impacted by colorism. At times it feels like projecting, but in places, it is difficult to deny. She discusses how influential television has been in contributing to the problem. She even tackles the topic from a global view by discussing the experiences, that she viewed first hand, of Black people battling colorism in other countries. Just before the lecture ended, we attempted to answer the question posed to open the session. There was agreement that it starts in the home. Golden challenged everyone in attendance to start telling dark skinned girls that they are beautiful. They don’t hear it as much as light skinned, curly hair girls do. I started paying attention to Golden's work after reading, and loving, her autobiography Migrations of the Heart: An Autobiography. Full reviews of both books are on the blog: http://www.readinghaspurpose.com/2014...

  2. 4 out of 5

    Lori

    Great cover of a difficult and complex subject. I plan to give this book to one of my nieces, if only so she can read the essay entitled "Letter to a Young Black Girl I Know." A little less denial and a lot more conversation about this subject would go a long way. Great cover of a difficult and complex subject. I plan to give this book to one of my nieces, if only so she can read the essay entitled "Letter to a Young Black Girl I Know." A little less denial and a lot more conversation about this subject would go a long way.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Atiyah

    The title caught my eye in the library and so I picked up the audio book. Though the author is a generation older than I, I related so well with her internal experiences. If not me then a family member or friend. The color issues have run deep within the black community. It was a refreshing peer into the pschye of the author and her understanding of the topic. Her faults and issues are naked to the reader, as well as intellect and talent. Thanks for bringing it to surface, Marita.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Liz

    Very interesting book on "colorism" & prejudice among African Americans as well as whites toward darker-skinned people, especially women. The book was slightly repetitive, but also very informative, and full of the author's own perspective on her relationship to her dark skin and African hair, in the context of her family's and society's attitudes. A good listen. Very interesting book on "colorism" & prejudice among African Americans as well as whites toward darker-skinned people, especially women. The book was slightly repetitive, but also very informative, and full of the author's own perspective on her relationship to her dark skin and African hair, in the context of her family's and society's attitudes. A good listen.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Danita

    Having been told as a child to "getcho self outta that sun, girl. You gon' get blacker than you already are!" this book was a revelation. So much of what I've thought and felt about racism and colorism has been beautifully expressed, much to my mind's relief. Having been told as a child to "getcho self outta that sun, girl. You gon' get blacker than you already are!" this book was a revelation. So much of what I've thought and felt about racism and colorism has been beautifully expressed, much to my mind's relief.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Nazo

    sun

  7. 4 out of 5

    Cheryl Durham

    Marita did a fantastic job in speaking about the stigma, stereotypes, injustices centered around the color complex. She also gave a voice to the anger associated with the black woman. Is this a pro black reading or a anti white dissertation? To say it's one or the other would be a serious disservice to what she has penned. Historically, we have read, heard and understood how the majority sees us. She, like so many others, have helped us to pull the shade back and look at how we see ourselves.... Marita did a fantastic job in speaking about the stigma, stereotypes, injustices centered around the color complex. She also gave a voice to the anger associated with the black woman. Is this a pro black reading or a anti white dissertation? To say it's one or the other would be a serious disservice to what she has penned. Historically, we have read, heard and understood how the majority sees us. She, like so many others, have helped us to pull the shade back and look at how we see ourselves....how we have altered or attempted to alter our looks to fit in...to feel valued and accepted...thus denouncing who we are: beautiful people of color. This book gives clarity on the fact that our blackness...as varied as the rainbow....lifts some...and dismiss others. She chronicled the same views rendered in Brazil and elsewhere. She spoke about the three nose jobs and four chin surgeries of Michael Jackson...then the bleaching. She went into detail about the adaptation of blonde hair and the health hazards that accompany the efforts associated with skin lightening. She outlined the many resources that was once used in high numbers (Nadinola and Ambi bleaching agents) and how young women in Africa was also purchasing them. Is there any truth to the color complex? Is there a connection to the negative assumptions that come with the word black and the positives centered around white? Can you recall statements from your childhood/upbringing centered on the topic? Marita was able to relate many statements. I can also relate a multitude of statements around the color complex. the blacker the berry the sweeter the juice, light and bright....damned near white, if you are black get back but if brown...stick around. There were negative statements about brothers and sisters who had thick lips and women of color who had bodacious hips (and so much more). The book is a call to arms. It uncovers, recalls and informs us that we are fearfully and wonderfully made by the Creator. We are beautiful...not in spite of..but because of our varying hues, coarse hair and other identifying differences. Awesome work: 2 thumbs up!

  8. 4 out of 5

    Dawn

    Great book about the topic of colorism in the African American community and around the world.

  9. 4 out of 5

    David

    Marita Golden has written a passionate yet painful exploration of color prejudice not only in the United States but around the world. Colorism is the term that Alice Walker coined to describe the prejudice and preference for lighter complexioned blacks over those of darker hues. This prejudice is addressed in Charles W. Chesnutt's "The Wife of His Youth" and in Toni Morrison's "The Bluest Eye." It is a dirty little secret in African-American families and communities that is now out of the closet Marita Golden has written a passionate yet painful exploration of color prejudice not only in the United States but around the world. Colorism is the term that Alice Walker coined to describe the prejudice and preference for lighter complexioned blacks over those of darker hues. This prejudice is addressed in Charles W. Chesnutt's "The Wife of His Youth" and in Toni Morrison's "The Bluest Eye." It is a dirty little secret in African-American families and communities that is now out of the closet. Once some black churches were "blue-veined" churches which meant that only light blacks were welcome to worship there. Black fraternities and sororities often mirrored society's color prejudice: the AKAs were for light-skinned women; the Zetas were for dark-skinned women. Similar color divisions existed for black men as well. This is a well-written and informative book that ends on a positive note with a chapter on the amazing Zora Neale Hurston. By all means read this book. Literature and sociology faculty can draw from it and use it as supplemental reading.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Danielle

    Huge ambivalence towards this book. I was absorbed in it and finished it in the course of a day, so engrossing is a definite plus. Also, the subject of colorism is one that has fascinated me for years, before I read this book I didn't know there was a word for the acceptance of women of color on the condition of possessing keen white features and light skin. I've felt it, noticed it, experienced it, but couldn't name it. Four stars just for covering this topic. That being said, I found myself ar Huge ambivalence towards this book. I was absorbed in it and finished it in the course of a day, so engrossing is a definite plus. Also, the subject of colorism is one that has fascinated me for years, before I read this book I didn't know there was a word for the acceptance of women of color on the condition of possessing keen white features and light skin. I've felt it, noticed it, experienced it, but couldn't name it. Four stars just for covering this topic. That being said, I found myself arguing with gross assumptions and generalizations that the author consistently makes. She writes about the bias for light black women from the bias of a dark skinned black woman. She seem to have a dislike for Latina women (boo!), and explains how colorism affects light skinned women as an almost periphery experience. I have a lot of qualms with the book, but I also applaud aspects of it.

  11. 5 out of 5

    J

    A very personal and widely applicable insight. I had a very vague awareness of the issue but of course didn't want it to still be true. In the past at least, there was a very mild reversed version of this in the white community with the nicely tanned girls getting the attention. That version was never as serious an issue as the one Golden explores of course. I was not expecting the issue to be as cross-cultural as she related. The insights from her travels and varied experiences were important. A very personal and widely applicable insight. I had a very vague awareness of the issue but of course didn't want it to still be true. In the past at least, there was a very mild reversed version of this in the white community with the nicely tanned girls getting the attention. That version was never as serious an issue as the one Golden explores of course. I was not expecting the issue to be as cross-cultural as she related. The insights from her travels and varied experiences were important. I am glad I happened to find this book. I hope Golden's message resonates and encourages many young girls.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Telly Ree

    As a dark skin woman, this book truly spoke to me. Many dark skinned women, we try to over compensate with hairstyles, makeup, clothing, and over achieving in academics and work rather addressing our self esteem issues that society has created. For dark skinned women to grow and to know our true self worth, we must love our phenotype, regardless of the texture of our hair and the darkness of our skin. This book is very inspiring.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Lara

    I was intrigued by this book. As someone from the DC area, I have seen(as an outsider) some of the colorism issues that the author discusses, especially amongst teen girls I've worked with in DCPS. But, as an outsider, I have no real idea of all that occurs. Golden helped give me insight into this issue, through her own stories and those of colleagues and friends. Good read for anyone interested in sociology, identity, etc. I was intrigued by this book. As someone from the DC area, I have seen(as an outsider) some of the colorism issues that the author discusses, especially amongst teen girls I've worked with in DCPS. But, as an outsider, I have no real idea of all that occurs. Golden helped give me insight into this issue, through her own stories and those of colleagues and friends. Good read for anyone interested in sociology, identity, etc.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Diana Marie

    Interesting insights into colorism; her personal evolution. I do love how she embraced her physical beauty and independence at college and her decision to attend a university that was not a historically black college. Her writing asks questions, making you think. I learned a lot but also came away more puzzled by society.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Kelley

    After reading research material about colorism, the whys and hows and history, this personal perspective was extremely interesting and well-written. The author did not just offer her own experiences and feelings, but she also interviewed many others about the issue of colorism. A great, informative read.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Jacqueline

    At first I thought the author was overreacting a little bit, but after a couple chapters the book picks up and really explores the magnitude of colorism within the African American community and around the world.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Beverly J. Harris

    Colorism is still a hurdle to conquer. It is amazing that colorism is still part of conversations in the 21st century. Some wound run deep. Nicely explored.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Quinsheeda

    This was so powerful. I'm surprised that with all the tall of colorism and racism going on right now that this book isn't more widely revered. This was so powerful. I'm surprised that with all the tall of colorism and racism going on right now that this book isn't more widely revered.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Audrey

    The color taboo is global and centuries-old especially for women and group identities.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Jenn

    this book is DEEP!! her story is beautiful and sad at the same time. golden writes eloquently and personally about the tragedy of colorism in the u.s. and it's impacts on the lives of black women. this book is DEEP!! her story is beautiful and sad at the same time. golden writes eloquently and personally about the tragedy of colorism in the u.s. and it's impacts on the lives of black women.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Fatiyah El Frih

    Very well written.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Correna Dillon

    Even though I would be considered lighter, this book was very empowering to me! I think she did a good job of analyzing colorism intellectually and giving a very personal feel as well.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Tessa

    Informative. Intriguing. Educational.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Amrendra Srivastav

    great book

  25. 4 out of 5

    Tiffany

    We had a book club discussion about this book. I thought it was interesting to read what the author thought of skin color within the African American culture.

  26. 5 out of 5

    CKE387

    "The biggest misconception about the color complex among people of African descent is that it is about beauty. The color complex is about power, status, and privilege." - Dr Jamila Kizuwundu "The biggest misconception about the color complex among people of African descent is that it is about beauty. The color complex is about power, status, and privilege." - Dr Jamila Kizuwundu

  27. 4 out of 5

    Rose

    This is one of my favorites books of all time. It is a subject that is rarely discussed(at least academically) and this book lays one woman's views for all to understand. This is one of my favorites books of all time. It is a subject that is rarely discussed(at least academically) and this book lays one woman's views for all to understand.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Yolonda Richardson

    As a child, I would hear older women of color tell some children...girls mostly to, "Stay out of the sun because your skin will get dark". Often times this would be said in the presence of very young impressionable girls whose skin was already very dark. To see the looks on the faces of the young girls when they would hear such comments made me feel sad. I knew at the age of eight that sticks and stones may break your bones, but wrong used words really do harm you. It harms your self esteem and h As a child, I would hear older women of color tell some children...girls mostly to, "Stay out of the sun because your skin will get dark". Often times this would be said in the presence of very young impressionable girls whose skin was already very dark. To see the looks on the faces of the young girls when they would hear such comments made me feel sad. I knew at the age of eight that sticks and stones may break your bones, but wrong used words really do harm you. It harms your self esteem and hurts you to the core especially when said from someone you should feel safe with. I never was someone that was unkind to others, but I decided at age eight I would always uplift others instead of tearing someone down with words. Ms. Golden's book is a book that should be read by everyone because it will help to remind others that words really do matter. How you treat others really do matter and lastly, her book will help others to have good will/humanity toward others and to think about the words they say to others before the words are spoken. These small things can make a huge impact on someone's life.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Laura

    Golden is willing to examine all of her beliefs that relate to colorism no matter how uncomfortable the process is for her. I benefited from her vulnerability and learned so much about a subject that was largely unknown to me. Golden's writing is beautiful and enjoyable just like her skin. Thank you Marita Golden for writing this book. I see how colorism is related to the metanarrative of racism/white supremacy. Racism allows people like me to gloss over how a narrow view of beauty hurts everyon Golden is willing to examine all of her beliefs that relate to colorism no matter how uncomfortable the process is for her. I benefited from her vulnerability and learned so much about a subject that was largely unknown to me. Golden's writing is beautiful and enjoyable just like her skin. Thank you Marita Golden for writing this book. I see how colorism is related to the metanarrative of racism/white supremacy. Racism allows people like me to gloss over how a narrow view of beauty hurts everyone and actually keeps those who do and do not fit the normative definition enslaved. Racism hurts everyone.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Jay

    "This what we are here for", honestly this was a very enlightening book which highlights the experiences of colourism which affect black women. The book illustrated a black woman's experience of colourism and she made it very easy to understand her emotion, her frustration and the difficulties she had going through life. A great book by an amazing author. Would highly recommend! "This what we are here for", honestly this was a very enlightening book which highlights the experiences of colourism which affect black women. The book illustrated a black woman's experience of colourism and she made it very easy to understand her emotion, her frustration and the difficulties she had going through life. A great book by an amazing author. Would highly recommend!

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