Equality. Diversity. Inclusivity. We see companies change their posters, revamp their marketing strategies, and realign policies to say that they provide equal opportunities to everyone. Are they able to live up to it? Does it make you feel confident that your applications will not be pushed aside as soon as they see your picture? Is it the system you don’t trust, or is it yourself?
In this episode, Darryl Mobley, also known as “Coach Mobley,” one of the world’s leading life & executive coaches, co-founder & CEO of Catapult Leaders, shares insights on colorism and its impact on society and people. He talks about how our upbringing plays into how we take on opportunities and how easy we self-sabotage when dealing with challenges. If you think you will never be good enough because you were born of color, think again! Tune in and find out how you can live your best life and gain professional success. As Coach Mobley says: enjoy life and be happy because the best is yet to come.
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The Toxicity Of Colorism With Darryl Mobley
Darryl Mobley is one of the world’s leading life and executive coaches, helping achievers all over the planet live their best lives and gain professional success without personal failure. Coach Mobley is an in-demand speaker and personal development expert. In our episode, we discuss the impact of colorism and specifically how colorism affects how people are treated in organizations and society. Let’s get to it.
We’re going to have a good conversation. I’m so excited to have you here. How are you?
I’m doing fantastic. I can’t imagine it being better.
Before we jump into the topic at hand, I wanted to get you the opportunity to share with the readers who you are, and some of the work you do.
Most of the core of me can be summed up by saying I’m a husband, I have a great wife, I’m a father, and I have kids. My motto is to enjoy life. The best is yet to come. I also know that as long as we believe, it’s all possible. I spend my time at Catapult Leaders. I’m one of the Founders of Catapult Leaders. We focused on helping Black people with great jobs in Corporate America.
With your experience and the conversations we’ve had, I’ve been appreciative of your insights. Knowing that you’re on the show, I wanted to take the effort to see what your experience was or is with toxic leadership and give you space to share.
The toxic leadership experiences that I’ve had have run the gamut. As a teacher who tries to lead you astray, who doesn’t believe in your talents, is he or she toxic? The answer is yes. I had one boss who was extremely toxic. I was with a team of people that reported to this person. For the most part, the toxicity of this boss didn’t impact my day-to-day stuff but it’s because I had experiences beforehand. I knew what to do with it.
Other folks weren’t as fortunate. I saw people have physical and other reactions to the toxicity. I’ve seen a lot of it that way. I had a great experience term as an Army officer. I don’t think I ever had a toxic boss while I was in the Army. Early on dealing with society and that whole thing and some experience in the corporate world, I saw what’s toxic up close in person.As long as we believe, it's all possible. Click To Tweet
I was happy to hear your approach to that at some of the work that you all are doing at Catapult Leadership. What are some of the things that you talk about at Catapult Leaders related to individuals going into Corporate America?
It is a different journey, depending on who you are and where you come from. Your experiences form your reaction. It’s hard to have instincts on something if you’ve never dealt with it. We talked to a lot of people in the target audience about what it’s like to be the only one. That is a huge pressure. I’ve had friends of mine, for example, acquaintances who are White, who will bring up the time that they went to a party or something. They were the only person there who was White and how they felt.
Imagine living your life professionally and personally with that bit of burden and weight. You got to get used to it. We got to drive through it. We talked about what it’s like to go to a place to work where you got to have a low percentage of people who may look like you in the environment and society. How do you deal with it? How do you make your kids able to diverse that world where they’re always the other? We have a lot of great conversations. We talk a lot about the need to push forward. That is a personal mission of mine that we have to be on a mission to push forward, to go where no one has gone, perhaps. We do it not just for ourselves. We do it for those who come behind these.
It’s like in that notion of pushing forward, what support do you have around you to do so? Mental well-being, resilience, and all that stuff need to be in play. I love that because it reminds me of the notion, “Don’t let it take you down. Don’t let it pull you backward.” Thank you for sharing that. That’s something I think about a lot, people of color and spaces where there are not a lot of people like them. The pressure that exists in that aspect of it is immense. We want to set people up for success.
You do work in a lot of areas. You and I connect in a way where we work with individuals that come from different walks of life and different places. We create environments of inclusion and equity. I’m sure you have the same experience. When you look at racial equity and when you look at DEI from a global standpoint, there are vast differences depending on that country’s history and the history of oppression. One thing that unites negatively and connects most cultures as it relates to oppression is the impact of colorism.
Whether you were talking about India, the Dominican Republic, Europe, or the United States, the impact of colorism comes up. That is a way for individuals from other countries that I talk to and consult with for them to get the racial injustices that exist in America for them to feel like, “We have that.” I’m like, “Okay.” Talk to me first and for readers about what colorism is. How do you approach it?
The definition I have for colorism applies to all the places we see it. We see colorism in every country, on every continent, and on every island nation. It’s been going on for a long time. Colorism at its base is to value or be treated differently, people who are lighter skin than those who are darker skin. If you boil it down, you’re in societies where you’re going to have fewer opportunities. You’re going to have more bad things put to you if you’re darker versus the person who has lighter skin. None of us choose the darkness or lightness of our skin. There are folks who benefit tremendously from colorism and those who are harmed tremendously by colorism. It has been everywhere. It is not recent.
A lot of times, colorism gets utilized in even a more tacit way than traditional racism. We could use colorism to get people that look similar to White people and say, “They’re Black. Were done first,” but it’s more tacit. You have to dig a little deeper there because you are diverse. Sometimes colorism gets used as a stopgap.
Nothing is more fraudulent than the term people of color. That is a great get-out-of-jail card because it allows that colorism to work because of color. We can find people of color who are adjacent to White. Can we find it? What you’re talking about? It’s been completely fraudulent and I always throw it out the door when I hear it.
You’ve done work in marketing and advertising. You’ve talked to me about that world. You see some of this colorism come to light in those fields a lot because it’s all about imaging. It’s about optics. You see the notion of a skin tone manifest in fashion, marketing, and advertising. What insights do you have there?
When you’re in the business of creating imagery and making pictures, what you believe about images, pictures, and people, comes out. Going way back in time, I remember when I was starting over in the corporate world. I had to look at a lot of advertising all the time. I’m on a print aspect of a magazine. We print ads and look at pictures.
I remember turning to my boss one time. He was a great White guy. His name was Mark. I said, “Have you ever noticed how every time there’s a picture of us in a magazine, we’re like dancing or skateboarding?” It is a magazine in the business. This was back in time. I said, “Pick them and leap through them. Where you find one Black, why are they dancing or on skateboards?”We have to be on a mission to push forward, to go where no one has gone. We do it not just for ourselves but also for those who come behind us. Click To Tweet
He said, “This is unbelievable.” I said, “It’s unbelievable.” This is what people think of you. That’s the value. Other people are skateboarding all the time. If a person is unconsciously affected by colorism, how they present people is going to be completely driven by what they value. Look at Hollywood. Hollywood is an advertisement from a different source. There’s a reason why most of the Black axes over time were lighter skin as opposed to darker skin.
There’s a reason they got opportunities other people did not get. The reason was they have lighter skin. That wasn’t their fault. The bottom line is the people making the decision on tasks and saying, “Here’s what we’re going to present as beauty. Here’s what we’re going to present as a sign of femininity except for womanhood. It’s going to be this look.” It was always at worst adjacent to White. Why present White? We can deal with it. The same thing happened.
Let’s be honest about colorism. Colorism is right throughout India and a lot in every country. Also, the Finnishness of colorism. Within the Black community and in the Hispanic community, there is colorism forever. This has been what is been taught. This is how you processed the world. It’s something we have to win. We have to beat.
It’s 2022, so people might be like, “That is not a thing anymore. We’re beyond that. We’re post-racial.” I’ve had conversations about that a lot with people who have that opinion. We still have to have thoughts about marketing, for example, about, “Can you stop trying to find racially ambiguous people?” Why what’s wrong with knowing the race? That erasure tends to come up.
You see these all the time now. You look at ads in this ambiguous thing. Why is it done? To not offend, to reflect what we’re thinking. It’s crazy.
Let’s talk money here. There was a study by Devaraj, Quigley, and Patel in 2018. It’s called The Effects of Skin Tone, Height, and Gender on Earnings. I like longitudinal studies because you get to see stuff that happens over time. They had 4,000 individuals. It was from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth. They found from a skin tone standpoint that individuals who were darker skin were expected to earn over $500,000 less than lighter skin subjects over the course of their lifetimes.
That’s the end but that’s telling. That’s something to look into, investigate, and consider about what the impact of colorism is that exists still, and how it’s still here. One of the things I’m curious about is how have you connected colorism to our brainwashing of how we view the world, beauty, or what’s right? Tell me more about that.
If you’re raised to believe in colorism with advertising and that you would be more beautiful if you were lighter, that has an incredibly deleterious impact but the reality is like everything else. If I’m in an environment and I smell a skunk, eventually, I get used to the skunk smell. It’s normal. It’s natural. It is what it is. I operate based on the skunk smell being all around. This is my point about this example. The colorism part impacts how you see yourself, operate, and act. It impacts what I’m going to try to do and feel about it.
Am I going to give my full effort? Am I going to be authentic? All of these things were impacted. Even if we try to fight it, that’s brainwashing. Brainwashing is a process of, “I’m going to tell you something and show you something repeatedly.” I’m never going to let a contradicting theory of thought get out. We do it to ourselves. When you have people who see Blockage, a number of people, even people who were Black would say, “That’s not us because we don’t live like that.”
To me, that is an example of colorism. Even self-paid ads perhaps are part of the brainwashing because you don’t accept success as who you are. It’s got to be something else. Whatever the spectrum is, it’s got to be on the opposite. We’re good on that. Other people feel the same way. The truth is that the colorism thing happens because, since the beginning of time, there was this color.
I have friends of mine who say their family came over here from a country. They were White but they also were indentured servants. It’s the same. I say, “That’s a bad thing.” However, they could walk away. They go to the next town. Nobody knows. When everything circles around, the brainwashing occurs not only to the person who is harming the person to do it but also to the person themselves. They know. That’s why you have women in countries around the world putting skin lightener on their skin.
Also, men because Sammy Sosa had lighter skin tone.If you're raised to believe that you would be more beautiful if you were lighter, that will have an incredibly deleterious impact on you. Click To Tweet
He was completely off the edge but you’re right. The psychology is, “I will be treated better if I’m lighter skin.” You have all these people doing this stuff. We see on TV doing their movies or shows with a bunch of shades lighter than I know them to be.
What you’re describing is like that internalized depression that occurs. That’s that battle those individuals, even in marginalized groups, create their own hierarchies themselves in a way. It’s that proximity to whiteness that exists. I’m not even saying it looks purposeful. It seems purposeful by design in society but even if it’s not purposeful, it’s happening. I do want to acknowledge that when we think about this colorism piece, Dr. Kamilah Woodson wrote a book that talks about colorism as a global phenomenon.
One of the things she talked about in that book was acknowledging the fact that colorism also connects to other things related to the European aesthetic like hair texture, hair length, body size, and body image. All of those things intersect and connect to somebody’s perceived level of attractiveness and value. The notion of color comes up when I talk to people like my readers and colleagues from India.
They would tell me that they were told not to go out in the sun too long when they were little kids because they will get too dark. It had nothing to do with no UV race. It wasn’t about skin cancer or sunscreen. It was about the color of your skin. This brainwashing from the way you describe creates this internal battle of, “I’m not good enough,” which is an interesting perspective.
When I take it back to the workplace, I wonder what that looks like for individuals who have that internalized oppression of, “I’m not good enough.” How do they like to overcome? They’re perfectionistic. They have to try to shine in some of the light. Talk to me about this brainwashing and how it shows up in organizations. I’m curious. When we think about being a leader or a staff member in an organization but this is in my mindset, talk to me about what you’ve seen and experienced.
There’s the pool. I get into her organization, whatever the rule is. It’s early on, mid, or high. You feel what I call the Jackie Robinson sense. You have to be perfect in an environment where nobody else is perfect. If you approach it like that, what are you going to do if you feel you’re walking a tight rope and that you might fall off? You’re going to be very careful. You’re going to crouch. You’re going to go slower because you don’t want to take any risks.
The challenge is that in those roles to truly move up and have strong leadership positions, you have to do something of a risk. That’s part of the deal. If you hold onto the tight rope, get along, and take forever to get there, you’re failing. That psychology of, “I have to be perfect,” is an incredible burden to walk with because you’re never going to be as successful as you want.
I want to touch on something else. If you carry the burden of either self-doubt or self-hate, you’re not going to be as good. When you play sports, a field goal kicker who doesn’t believe he’s going to make the kick is not going to make the kick. If you approach the ball if you’re a basketball player and you worry about the crowd booing you or how you’re going to be judged, you’re unlikely to take that last shot. You’re less likely to even make the shot because you’re concerned about others.
This concern about others does two things. One is it burns you down with all of that weight. Number two is it puts them on a test. You go into environments where even if you’re with peers, you’re putting your peers on a pedestal and they are putting you down. There have been studies that showed that when judging the performance of Black versus the White peer was overwhelming even if the performance was the same. If the articulation of the issue was the same, all of them would rate the Black person as less competent.
That Black person had to do more and do it repeatedly so great to make the person say, “This person’s good.” Even though the rest of the world, that’s it. It’s a Jackie Robinson. The rest of it is not perfect but all of us carry that weight. The oppressors and the oppressed carry the weight of being different. It’s an incredibly challenging space to be.
To that point in the workplace, there’s also a reason why the EEOC defines it as race and color discrimination. They’re both included but they are different. The burden of proof is similar but they are different phenomena. Paying attention to what our biases may be internally is a good first step for leaders, at least. In the comparison you stated about the difference in rating, you can have identical things. You show different races, people of color, or Black people who are typically rated lower than White people.
I’ve seen that study. I’ve seen multiple studies that showed that. I’ve also seen that study as it relates to gender. It’s the same thing with men and women. I don’t personally know of any studies on that related to differences within race bias from a color standpoint but I’d be curious about that, too. You can change your skin color.We can do much more. We could be much better off if we truly unleash the talent to give us the very best. Click To Tweet
We’ve seen it with different creams and stuff but it’s something that you were born with and didn’t have any control over. It’s one of the first things people see when that implicit bias kicks in. That’s the thing. That’s the signal. What do you think about the impact of this colorism, brainwashing, and turned-out depression that we talked about? How does it impact organizations ultimately?
An organization will never be as good as it could become if it’s unable to get great talent but get the best out of that talent. Let’s say you’re dealing with the talent you have on hand. If 5%, 10%, 30%, or whatever percentage of your talent group is not performing as well as they might, then your organization is not going to do as well as it could. As time goes by, a self-fulfilling prophecy comes into play with a lot of people who are different in an organization. The organization takes on legacy toxicity because we operate.
We accept the fact that may hire 50 or 100 engineers in a row who all happened to be White but we say we want to open it to everybody. Nobody sees anything unusual about that. Whereas, if that same company was to magically go about their business and hire five Black people in a row, there would be, “What are we doing? Is this affirmative action? What is going on?” There’ll be a lot of concerns in the organizations because that exposes how we see people and value these little things.
Can you imagine the NBA with no Black players? There was a time when that was the case. They can’t play together. As we know, baseball was like that but the leagues have gotten better because you’re getting more people to compete for these roles. “Open competitions. Come in. You’ve got this. If you can get this job, get this job.” That’s what companies can have. They can have an environment where everybody comes in unleashed and they’re nuts.
One of the advantages in the US as compared to many other countries is that we probably get more out of our talent, male and female, ethnicity, and everything else as a country. We probably are more open to people doing stuff but we’re not where we can be. We’re not where we should be. There are other places where if you’re a woman, you’ve got nothing. 50% of their audience or their group, “We don’t need you.” They’re fighting the war in the world with one arm. Whereas, we have a lot of people doing things. My point is we can do much more. We could be much better off if we truly unleash the talent to give us their very best.
We have to be coactive and intentional about it. The impact of colorism is one thing. The colorism that occurs inside somebody’s head space is something that only they can control. There is a whole host of studies called the Bad is Black Effect. There are 6 or 7 studies that look at skin tone in a lot of different ways, whether it’s performance or related to morality, which is interesting. They compare photos and ask people who committed the crime or who’s more likely to boom. That comes up with skin tone, too.
There’s also related to competency, too. They’ve shown the same results that the darker the skin tone, the more “bad is black.” That’s what they associated with. That is a study by Dr. Adam Alter of New York University. That’s study is important to lift up right here because what I’m trying to illustrate is this is not simply needing laws and policies. With the laws and policies, these things are still happening. This bias is still happening.
In order for us to move from this toxic state and get to something that is more equitable and inclusive, we have to be honest about the bias that exists. That still remains in our systems and our mindsets. To that point, what words of wisdom would you want to leave our readers with as you think about colorism and the work that you’ve done thus far on it?
It is important for all of us, no matter where you are in this whole space, for your employee, in a group, out of a group, to believe that the best is yet to come. You have to believe that there’s a great mountain to climb and this could be a great view to meet that client. When we’re talking about addressing the psychology of colorism, deeply embedded stuff, we have to be honest. If you’re honest, you can fix the problem. All success begins with honesty. It’s conscious and unconscious.
You got people that walk around saying, “You’re an ally,” who are as overtly full of colorism as he would ever be in. We have people within groups who would also do that. First, we have to believe that the best is yet to come. Be honest about how we got here. It’s important. I’ll give you that one quick example. I was talking to a group and said, “When I grew up, we would eat fruit. It would be a watermelon.” I grew up in the South. One thing we used to do was put salt on our watermelon. Have you ever seen that? Did you ever know anything about that?
I know about that.
Here’s how crazy it is. You may know about this. I remember as a kid, my goal and the goal of a lot of us was, “Could we put enough salt on the watermelon?” It would disappear when it got wet. The goal was that the salt wouldn’t disappear and eat it. How much is that related to high blood pressure? My point is, to be honest about it. I was 21 or 22 when I said, “I’m not going to put salt on my food. I’m out. That’s it. I’m done.”Look in the mirror, call it for what it is, and understand that if you think you haven't been brainwashed, then you have been brainwashed. Click To Tweet
I associated it with high blood pressure and all these health problems that numerous of my family were having. In other words, I had to be honest and say, “How I was eating has some impact on how we got here. Let me change how I eat.” You’ve got to be honest about it. Look in the mirror, call for what it is, and understand that if you think you haven’t been brainwashed, you have been brainwashed. If you think you haven’t, you’re a fool. This stuff has been going on in TVs, movies, books, magazines, and the news. When I grew up, if you’re Black, you’re not going to show up on the cover of newspapers unless you’ve done something wrong. That was it.
This has been going on and on. It changed how we think of people. It’s normal. It’s natural. That’s what it is. Let’s say I come home and see my dog. I walk away from him and kick the dog. They look at me. What’s going on? I come back the next day and do the same. Walk through the door, walk the dog, and kick the dog. By day three, that dog is going to say, “He came through the door. Let me back away.” In other words, he will accept what is. He will no longer say, “I’m sure he’s got to pet me.” He says, “He kicked me.”
We have to be honest and say, “This colorism is a thing. It’s real.” Let’s be intentional about how we get our way to get out of this. We can get out of this mess but we got to start with being honest. You got to be intentional. As with all business objectives, we have to set goals, put people in charge, get to those goals, and be relentless. Accept nothing less than reaching that mountaintop. If we do that, we will be fine. If we just hope people change, it’s not going to happen because colorism is too deep.
It’s embedded. How can people reach you, hear more about what you’re doing, and learn more about Catapult Leaders?
Probably the best way to connect with me and Catapult Leaders is to go to LinkedIn and look up Darryl Mobley and Catapult Leaders and you’ll find me there. You can send me a message. That’s always great. You can always go to CatapultLeaders.com and there is Contact Us form. You can send messages. I’m always happy to talk with people.
If we work together, we can make this place better. It’s going to take all of us because you can’t have toxicity or cancer spread. We’re going to fix it if all of us get together. “Here’s what I’m going to do.” That’s what we’re trying to do with Catapult Leaders. We’ll do our part to help overcome the burden of all those years that led us to where we are.
I appreciate the work that you do. Having these conversations with leaders as they enter these spaces is important. A lot of the work that we do is we focus on this toxic leadership phenomenon and toxic organizational culture phenomenon. There’s equally or more important work to do with the toxicity that’s within. That could be our mindsets that lead to the behaviors that we see. I thank you for this conversation.
I thank you, Dr. Kevin. You’ve been fantastic. I love that you going on this air because we got to shine the light on it. That’s how you make roaches run away. Turn the lights on then we can deal with it. It takes all of us. You’re doing your part. Your readers are going to be doing their part. We’re doing our part at Catapult Leaders. I always tell people, “This is the time. If you know something, say it. Don’t be out there peeking around the corner, thinking, ‘I should say something.’” Say it.
If you want to know if you’ve been impacted by colorism or one of the other -isms, ask yourself if you ever want to be someone else. If the answer is yes, perhaps so. Did you ever want to be something other than who you are, whether you’re Native American, Hispanic, Black, White, whatever your thing is? Even as a little kid, were you trying to do your hair in a way to be something different? That’s where you see an impact. It’s so insidious how it impacts us but we can do it by calling it out, turning the lights on, and committing to moving forward. I look forward to talking to any of you about it.
Thank you all for tuning in to the show. I’m Dr. Kevin Sansberry, signing out.
- Darryl Mobley – LinkedIn
- Catapult Leaders
- Catapult Leaders Contact Us form
- National Longitudinal Survey of Youth
- Dr. Adam Alter
- Catapult Leaders – LinkedIn
- KEVRA: The Culture Company – LinkedIn
About Darryl L. Mobley
Darryl L. Mobley is co-founder & CEO of Catapult Leaders – America’s leading executive search firm that exclusively sources Black Mid-to-Senior level managers, Early Career talent & College Interns, and Junior Military Officers – for Engineering, Supply Chain, Computer & Data Science, and Marketing roles – with top companies that value a diverse pipeline, equity, and inclusion. Darryl is also one of the world’s leading life & executive coaches, helping achievers all over the planet live their best lives and gain professional success without personal failure. “Coach Mobley,” as he is known to clients & audiences, is an in-demand speaker and personal development expert. Formerly with Procter & Gamble and a U.S Army Military Intelligence Officer, Darryl is founder of Family Digest Magazine and co-creator of Better Manager University – a training & professional development program for corporate managers. He hosts the popular podcast, “The Darryl Mobley Show:
Your Life Coach On The Radio,” created & hosted America’s No. 1 Life Coaching radio show, and is author of several books and programs. Darryl is a graduate of West Point, has parachuted hundreds of times, Run with the Bulls in Pamplona, Spain, partied at Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, dived for pearls in Tahiti, competed (carrying his wife) in the World Wife Carrying Championships in Finland, backpacked Asia, wrestled alligators, competed as a college athlete, and hosted a very popular family-focused TV show. As a kid, he was a snake wrangler, a horse whisperer, and picked oranges with migrant workers. As husband & father, his non-negotiable focus is to be his wife’s biggest advocate and an active, strategic presence in his children’s lives.
Darryl’s philosophy: “Enjoy Life!” Darryl’s goal: “Be Happy!” Darryl’s belief: “The Best is Yet to Come.”