Introduction on Colorism by Granny: The Awareness That Was Pivotal In My Life By Sharman Rae Sampson-McMillan, LCSW-R

Growing up in Trinidad in the early 1960’s, remembering and reflecting being just about six (6) or seven (7) years old and thrusted with an enlightenment that would forever bear impact on my life and sense of self. 

One evening after school, my Granny (paternal grandmother) called me into the living room where she was sitting. She addressed me by her favorite way of calling my name – RaeRae, and said that she wanted to talk to me. I was still in school uniform. Granny sat me on her lap, held me close to her, with her hands holding mines. With her soft, yet stern voice, her caring eyes fixed on mine, she said – ” I want you to listen to me. You have to promise me that you will learn your lesson.” She went on to say -” Your sister, your cousins are all light skinned and you are the darkest of all.” (Granny named each of the light colored grandchildren within more or less age range which were five at the time). She continued – “They will get jobs because of their color, but you RaeRae, you have to have the education; it is only education that will get you a job and take you places.” Granny identified the banks as an example of where I definitely could not work, and sister and cousins could. I quietly listened as I was being informed, advised and made aware that I was different. My grandmother had armed me mentally. Oh,Granny even made me promise her that I would become a doctor. 

Reflecting that the one-on-one with Granny was her clever way of introducing me to the harsh reality of life, the world in which we were living, and what she felt that I needed to do in order to succeed being dark skinned. Also remembering how Granny responded to an individual who questioned my ability for constantly doing well while attending elementary school. She took to my defense responding- “What you are born with, no one can take from you.” Powerful yes! Impactful, yes! My grandmother again cleverly reinforced my drive and my determination to keep up the hard work. Actually, her response was a form of empowerment for me. She definitely wanted me to know that I had the ability to succeed despite being the one with the darkest skin. Additionally, she wanted me to also know that I was born with worth. From my perspective, it was not color or shade that would define my success or who I was. Knowing my worth, believing in myself and my ability, in combination with my education would clearly define my success, jobs, opportunities, sense of pride, sense of status and much more. 

While in High School in the early 70’s, almost a decade into post-colonization and the island’s independence, where every creed and race should find an equal place, the “Black Power/Black is Beautiful” movement came into force. The emphasis of such was meant to have impact on systemic colorism for darker skinned individuals and more so, nationals to be inclusive in positions generally held by whites and high colored individuals. Granny fortunately lived through this era and was able to see some of the changes.

Driven to achieve, I graduated from Secondary and High Schools with ten (10) Ordinary level subjects. Instead of a congratulatory greeting, my ability was again questioned by the “not so pleased” family who asked – “Don’t you have enough, how much more do you want?” My internal interpretation of the question was – how dare I achieve so much with my skin color and the others lighter skinned could not? Speechless, I did not respond. I also knew that I had to respect my elders. Thanks to Granny, I was not to be broken. With a strong sense of conviction, I was not about to feel guilty regarding my ability and my accomplishments. I am remembering the many sleepless nights, the studying with candles when lights were gone, the after-school group studies, the weekend study groups, the rigorous self-discipline, the ongoing support from both my parents, and of course the prayers that it took to accomplish and achieve at that time. I stood steadfast and focused on my education as my grandmother had instructed. Yes, Granny was around when I got that first job with the Ministry of National Security prior to high school graduation. A couple of months later, I was transferred to the Office of the Prime Minister and worked there briefly before migrating to the US. 

I attended a two – year Community college, obtained my Associate degree, and was awarded the College prestigous Key Award. Actually, both my sister and I were awarded such honor. Additionally, I received the Alliance Francaise medal for outstanding performance in my French class. Noting here, that above all odds, I was informed that I was the first Black to place and be first runner-up in the College Homecoming Queen contest. 

Education continued to be first and foremost on my mind while attending my 4 year college in NY. I made a clear decision and reminded myself that I came to the US to study and obtain an education. So I went from full make up to plain Jane at the end of the first week of my freshman year to focus on my education. 

Acknowledging that my grandmother’s early “ism” seeding made quite an impact on my life. Her valuable input remained ingrained and prepared me for the reality in a world of “oppressiveisms”(™), where the struggle for equality continues to this day and where the belief in oneself is so important to overcome and achieve. Colorism continues to exist in families and impact lives with varying degrees. Still, so thankful and feeling very blessed that Granny took the time and applied a teachable moment at such a crucial point and age that positively helped shape my life direction. 

My dear grandmother transitioned in 1980, just a few months after having obtained my Bachelor’s Degree. Yes, she was so very proud to see a copy of the degree. Remembering trying to translate the Latin for her. Noting that I did promise Granny that I would be a doctor as her heart desired. However, there were different life career callings. I can safely say that my career span as a clinician/LCSW-R involved touching numerous lives and helping to heal many wounds. Granny, wherever you are in the universe, I am certain that you would know that your “ism” lecture was not in vain. 

Months after receiving my first degree, I decided to spend some time teaching. It was one of the most rewarding career I experienced. I strongly believe that teachable moments should be as active as possible. As a matter of fact, nieces and nephews that are close to me would generally

say – “Oh boy, there goes another lecture.” Yes, Auntie Rae always provides a lecture, always seeking teachable moments to impart knowledge. That firm conviction started early in life. Education yes, is key. Believing in yourself, knowing that you have worth, being empowered, remaining goal-focused and prayerful are all vital to success. No matter your skin color. 

Please note that this introductory writing piece is not to be taken as the whole. There are many other areas of my life where colorism has impacted and not disclosed in this segment. 

#rootoutoppresiveisms (™) 
#shadeism aka #colorism 
And all other “isms” that meet the criteria. 
Acknowledging that – ” No one is equal until all are equal.”


  • My Dearest Rae, what a piece of literature, you’ve penned! I had no idea that you had this type hurdle to vault. But vault it you did!! Kudos to your deep resolve, and your grandmother’s singular advice. I’m proud of you as always!


  • Excellent piece, Rae. Thank you for sharing your lived experiences. Colorism in the US, like that in the Caribbean and South America hits close to home for most of our families. My own Mother (Mahogany-skinned) was treated appallingly by my Father’s (red-bone) family during their courtship and in the early days of their marriage. Even going as far as questioning the paternity of my sister, who was born slightly darker than I. My Mom always stood her ground, preservered with stregth and kindness and grace. During her life, she never let the opinions of others deminish her sense of self or worth. She was the perfect example for my sister and I. Thanks, Rae for continuing the much needed conversation.

    • Many thanks Beverly for highlighting how colorism has impacted your dear ones. Truly, it is a topic worth continued awareness and discussion. When I made mention in another article on Oppressiveisms, I shared that many individuals experience more than one of the Oppressiveisms at any given time, or at some point in their lives. Imagine being able to rise above such. Yes, it is important to know that we should not allow ourselves to be defined by an “ism”. We all have tne power to define who we are and should be. Hats off to your dear mom and the grace and kindness that she upheld to rise above. There is still so much on my end to share about colorism, but I chose to contain the contents in this article to honor my granny who was definitely pivotal in my life direction. Again, many thanks!

  • Thanks Rae for bravely sharing your experiences with colorism. You are right on point in conveying that message, and also share the strengths that enabled you to move forward and thrive.

    • Thanks a million Sharon for your continued support. As noted, colorism is a much needed active conversation. Noting also from one of my quotes that we ought not be defined by an “ism”. Again, many thanks!

  • Great article. I grew up in exactly that time period. Totally resonates.

    • Many thanks for your feedback Eleanor Julie Pierre! Yes, so many of us can relate to our time and place in a society – colonialism impacted. Thanks!!

  • Thank you for your words. I know this issue to be so true. You have captured the feeling we have when we realize that the world creates an uneven playing field and how our character helps us to rise above this.

    • Many thanks for your support S. Yes, the ultimate goal is to rise above by self-defining who you are. Blessings.

  • Caribbeans colorism is the result of house slave/field slave mentality that persisted for decades in the islands and probably still does! It pushed you to your “standard of excellence.” Your grandmother was very wise…and she wanted the best for you. I’m sure this will resonate with many as it has with me.Thanks for sharing!!

    • Many thanks for your continued and ongoing support Yolanda. You shared some vital history with which we can easily resonate. Blessings.

  • A well crafted article but unfortunately, colorism still exists today among black people even among the educated. Thanks for sharing your experience. Great job!

    • Agree with your response Marva. Colorism, one of the Oppressiveisms (TM) continues to impact many on varying degrees and yes, despite one’s high level of achievement. Many thanks for your continued support. Blessings.

  • Thank you for sharing. I like granny’s intentions in sitting you down to explain society at such a young age. Her intentions were pure.

    Education is the one thing no one can take from you.

    I would say even with the MD as granny suggested getting you can still face systemic battles that you thought you would overcome with such an education attainment. At times just because of the color of your skin you may be second guessed or questioned by patients. You just have to know what you know and stand by it- always be willing an open to learn.

    Granny was right do not break, be persistent and believe InYourself.

    My goal in giving back is by mentoring youth that need guidance in unserserved areas or even those willing to go into a field of medicine that <3% of physicians identify as black physicians. Women>>Men.

    I’m happy yo see how granny’s actions has shaped your life.

    Thank you for sharing

    • Many thanks Robert for your response that certainly resonate with many. Granny’s intentions were pure. Yes, it is so important to know your worth and self-define who you are, and should be. It seems clear that despite one’s educational attainment, we continue to struggle with issues of colorism, racism and other “isms” under the Oppressiveisms (TM) umbrella. Love the idea and vision you described for mentoring youth. Such gesture is very much needed. You will do well. Blessings.

  • Dear Rae, my beautiful Sister-in-law,
    Thank you for sharing your inspiring story.
    I am blessed by your strength and I am always so proud of you.
    Many blessings to you always,

    • Many thanks Lori for always being so supportive. Know that your believing in me is precious and adds to my inner strength. So very much appreciated. Thanks! Blessings.

  • Well said my sister. We have always been proud of you and even more so now.
    We grew up in a Colonialized country where one was always discriminated against because of the colour of their skin. In some cases, even the texture of their hair.

    Your discipline and hard work always brought you success.

    Thank you for being a strong example of determination and perseverance within our family.

    Congratulations on writing a great article.

    • Many thanks to you dear brother for your inspiring words of encouragement, strength and understanding. Yes, colonialism sure made its impact on skin color and hair texture. So thankful and grateful to Granny for guiding me, believing in me, and setting me in the right direction. As mentioned, we ought not to let an “ism” define us. It is important to self-define who you are and should be. We have to power to decide and act on it. So thankful to you brother for believing in me. Thanks! Blessings.

  • Does adversity and rejection make us more powerful? While it can, it can leave behind residue of trauma. To always have to fight to prove we are just as great or better should not always be a people’s plight. To the author: I’m proud you found your way in this misguided ethnocentrism that permeates some cultures. Please continue with those”teachable moments. ”

    Nes Nes

    • Many thanks Nes Nes! Agree that many times it sure felt like fighting to do better or greater, constantly driven to achieve and prove your worth. Thanks for your suggestion about continuing those “teachable moments”. Blessings.

  • This article highlights and provides support to the many individuals who have experienced and continue to experience colorism aka shadeism in varying degrees from family members, and in their own community and culture. While yes, education is key to success, the article puts focus on knowing your worth, and believing in yoursself and your ability. How we define ourselves is really what truly matters. No matter the skin color.

  • Unfortunately, her advice may have been accurate, at the time. It is 2022. My daughter would be considered light skin/tan, and I share your grandmother’s concerns. But I do not vocalize it.

    • Many thanks Louise! Yes, at that time, Granny’s lecture on Colorism was very much on target. What was so special, was the fact that she made a decision to sit with me to make me aware of the world in which we were living, in order to take the necessary steps she felt needed for success. Trust that I fully respect your point made about not vocalizing. Sharing, that In this day and time, it is not uncommon for black fathers and or male relatives or even mothers to sit with their sons and or male relatives/youth, to discuss the impact of racism with respect to police brutality. From my perspective, those are some of the “teachable moments” of which we all should play a part. Thanks! Blessings.

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