The Amazing Life & Death of Karyn Washington

I discovered Karyn Washington yesterday. I was surfing YouTube, and just happened to stumble across a video about Karyn’s suicide from April of last year (2014). The particular video I saw was all about how Karyn had killed herself because she was a dark-skinned black girl who suffered from the affects of colorism. For those of you unfamiliar with the term. Colorism is discrimination in the black community based on one’s skin tone. Here’s a old childhood rhyme that pretty much sums up how deep the problem with colorism runs in the black community:

If you’re black, stay back.

If you’re brown, stick around

If you’re yellow, you’re mellow

If you’re white, you’re all right

The seeds of colorism were originally planted in the days of slavery and the aftereffects of it are still being felt today, particularly amongst African-American women. Here’s what Denzel WashIngton told his daughter in preparation for her entering show biz. It’s from  a 2012 segment of The Hollywood Reporter “The Actors” series,”You’re black, you’re a woman, and you’re dark-skinned at that. So you have to be a triple/quadruple threat. I said: ‘You gotta learn how to act. You gotta learn how to dance, sing, move onstage.’

As a dark-skinned child growing up in the seventies, I experienced colorism all the time. I’ve been called by other black folk: darky, tar-baby, blackie. Sometimes the words were said in jest and sometimes so as to hurt my feelings. Regardless, they always hurt. For dark-skinned black males, the tide started changing in the eighties with the emergence of several superstar athletes and performers like Michael Jordan, Eddie Murphy, Denzel Washington, Bobby Brown, and Big Daddy Kane. Suddenly it came became quite fashionable to be a dark-skinned black male. Society, particularly black society, okay the females, began seeing us in a different light.  All was now right in the world, right? Wrong! As Denzel’s quote demonstrated, there was no such evolutionary moment for our dark-skinned black sisters. The dark-skinned stigma for black females marched on, unchallenged for the most part. Enter Karyn Washington.

Karyn was a dark-skinned sister. But she didn’t want to remain a second-class citizen within her own race. She built up her own self-esteem, recognizing her beauty inside and out. Then, she set about helping other dark-skinned girls see their own inner and outer beauty. To that end, she founded the website, For Brown Girls. The website, aimed at dark-skinned African-American women, had a central theme of being proud of the skin you’re in and seeing the beauty of it. For Karyn it seemed that the dark-skinned issue for black women was twofold and needed tackling on two fronts. One, dark-skinned black women had to work on their self-esteem. They needed to see, recognize, and believe in their own beauty. Secondly, society had to see, recognize, and believe in the beauty of the dark-skinned black woman as well.

One needed only to witness the online onslaught of vicious innuendo following Karyn’s suicide to understand the battle she’d faced in changing society’s viewpoint, especially within the black community. With no basis in facts, since Karyn did not leave a suicide note, most people claimed that Karyn had killed herself because despite her website and writing and talks to the contrary, Karyn still couldn’t handle or accept being a dark-skinned woman, and therefore she killed herself. Now, let that sink in for a minute. She killed herself because she was dark-skinned was the first thing that came to a lot of people’s minds, namely black people. One very popular online blogger ranted nearly an hour about Karyn’s so called fake self-esteem. The haters underlying message seemed to be: you’re dark-skinned, You can’t possibly be that together. To me, that speaks more to the thinker of such thoughts than it did to Karyn. I don’t know why Karyn killed herself. My thoughts are that it most likely related to depression brought on by the recent death of her mother following a long bout with cancer. But regardless of the real reason, the initial black community response was telling. Our mental psyche is still fragile. Most of us still have self-esteem issues. We self-hate. I hope more people discover the life and death of Karyn Washington. Her 22 years of existence can help others dealing with a variety of issues, including, low self esteem, grief, depression, and self-hate. To me, she epitomized self motivation, self-love, and self-inspiration. She saw a societal problem and set out to do something about it. What an amazing life!

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