Weaving together personal stories, history, and analysis, Same Family, Different Colors explores the myriad ways skin-color politics affect family dynamics in the United States.
Colorism and color bias—the preference for or presumed superiority of people based on the color of their skin—is a pervasive and damaging but rarely openly discussed phenomenon. In this unprecedented book, Lori L. Tharps explores the issue in African American, Latino, Asian American, and mixed-race families and communities by weaving together personal stories, history, and analysis. The result is a compelling portrait of the myriad ways skin-color politics affect family dynamics in the United States.
Tharps, the mother of three mixed-race children with three distinct skin colors, uses her own family as a starting point to investigate how skin-color difference is dealt with. Her journey takes her across the country and into the lives of dozens of diverse individuals, all of whom have grappled with skin-color politics and speak candidly about experiences that sometimes scarred them. From a Latina woman who was told she couldn’t be in her best friend’s wedding photos because her dark skin would “spoil” the pictures, to a light-skinned African American man who spent his entire childhood “trying to be Black,” Tharps illuminates the complex and multifaceted ways that colorism affects our self-esteem and shapes our lives and relationships. Along with intimate and revealing stories, Tharps adds a historical overview and a contemporary cultural critique to contextualize how various communities and individuals navigate skin-color politics.
Groundbreaking and urgent, Same Family, Different Colors is a solution-seeking journey to the heart of identity politics, so that this more subtle “cousin to racism,” in the author’s words, will be exposed and confronted.
About the Author
Lori L. Tharps is an associate professor of journalism at Temple University and the coauthor of Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America and Kinky Gazpacho: Life, Love & Spain. Her writing has also appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, and Glamour and Essence magazines. She lives in Philadelphia with her family.
“With great sensitivity and unapologetic boldness, Tharps skillfully weaves the rich historical context of the United States, the Americas and Asia with wrenching contemporary first-person accounts to investigate how color operates in the most intimate spaces of American families...This thoughtful, honest, historically textured and valuable book offers a detailed and current syllabus of work on the social and cultural meanings of colorism around the world and brings colorism ‘out of the closet.’”
—Allyson Hobbs, New York Times Book Review
“Same Family, Different Colors is the first book on colorism to take us inside African American, Latino, Asian, and interracial families as they speak candidly about how the politics of skin color shape their family dynamics and lives. Lori Tharps explores this taboo and urgent subject with courage, vision, and great sensitivity.”
—Michael Eric Dyson
“A nuanced, forthright, emotionally compelling take on a painful subject.”
“The proximity of my skin to whiteness will probably protect me from having my face blown off by a stranger behind a locked door in the middle of the night, but what of my daughter? She, like Renishia McBride, is ‘black from a distance’ and a threat in many places. Colorism in society is dangerously complicated. Colorism in the family is painful. Tharps’s provocative book has the potential to be powerfully healing, but it won’t be a pretty process.”
—Michaela Angela Davis, image activist/cultural critic/light, blonde, and black
“A compassionate exploration of colorism in the most private realms of our lives—with our familias—Same Family, Different Colors is a much-needed book for a country (and a world) that grows more multi-hued with every passing year. Tharps combines journalism with history, memoir, and good old-fashioned storytelling to weave a powerful thread across communities and to suggest new ways of embracing our collective futures.”
—Daisy Hernández, author of A Cup of Water Under My Bed
“Colorism is a topic people of color are reluctant to talk about, but Lori Tharps investigates this difficult subject with grace, humility, and inclusiveness. Through historical context and frank personal stories, Same Family, Different Colors creates a powerful mediation on what so often goes unsaid even in the closest of families. With its fascinating multicultural focus, there’s something here for everyone to learn about themselves, and others.”
—Mat Johnson, author of Loving Day