Empire's Grace Gealey Says She Didn't Experience Colorism Until She Came to the US

Grace Gealey plays a biracial character on Fox's hit show "Empire," but in a conversation with Details magazine she opens up on how American perceptions of race differ from those in her native Cayman Islands.

She describes that she'd never thought of herself as "light" until she immigrated.

DETAILS: You moved to the U.S. when you were 18. What surprised you the most about American women?

Grace Gealey: For me personally, it’s the whole light-skinned/dark-skinned dynamic [for women of color]. I mean, there’s competition among women everywhere you go. But back home we understand that you can look like a variety of things and still be from the same culture. What I’m saying is that I’ve never felt like I was a light-skinned black woman. Never felt that way because we shared the same culture back home. But when I came to America, that’s when I started to feel that there was a lot of push-back from women. I was definitely made aware that I am light-skinned. I realized that was a thing here.

DETAILS: What kind of thing?

Grace Gealey: It was something that people felt the need to point out. I guess maybe it’s a form of intra racism: I was discriminated against for being light-skinned and there were a lot of labels. Some people assumed that guys might like me more because of my complexion or that I had it easier in general. Which is funny because I’ve been a victim of prejudice as well: There were times when I have walked into a Rite Aid at 12 o’clock at night and had the store manager stand in the corner and stare at me while I was looking at nail polishes.

Colorism is a global construct, but it's certainly interesting to get an international perspective.