Shadeism: An Insidious Part of Racism We Need to Start Talking About

Provocative, poignant and powerful, choreographer Esie Mensah has created an incredible piece of work Shades of Blackness that draws upon the concept of shadeism. Esie's evocative piece uses the intensity of dance to emphasise the damaging ways in which discrimination of skin tones still has the power to divide and create feelings of confusion and isolation, with the stereotypes and judgements that still exist in society today. Discussing the workings behind creating such a piece in her interview with CBC Arts, it's clear that Esie's choreography is charged with a political statement that has been shaped by incredibly personal and poignant experiences, and we would recommend watching this interview first and then watching the final piece, letting us know what you think.   

Shades of Blackness is probably my most political work that I’ve done so far. And I am nervous about it. But I know that it’s necessary. We know that there is discrimination in this country. We don’t talk about it. But I feel something like this will force people to talk about it.
— Esie Mensah

To clarify further the origins of shadeism as a concept, using Esie’s website for reference, shadeism has become known as a practice that dates back to colonialism, at a time when enslaved members who were of a lighter skin tone would receive privileges that those of a darker skin tone would not. As Esie elicits in her work, she resounds that this is still an issue that exists in today’s society, in a different more insidious way. Esie’s choreography uses both movement and text to portray what it means to be viewed and scrutinized for the shade of your skin tone, and this combination of physical movement and verbal articulation throughout the piece is transfixing.

Describing the “one time I was told by a black director and a black artist that I was too dark to be in the music video... They felt I was too dark for television”, Esie reveals her own feelings of not belonging, experienced because of shadeism, which are so powerfully conveyed in her work. It has incredible poignancy on ways in which we can think about race today, and as Esie stresses in her interview, it is something we need to stop ignoring, and instead start talking about and addressing. 

Words by Lottie Franklin