A colorism conversation in the black community goes like a game of Bingo.
Every board is different yet contains the same content with the same rhetoric being retorted.
I’ll give the conclusion: Colorism is so powerful that there is no division of black people that is completely immune from its effects.
What keeps me mum on colorism discussions in social settings is that everything is sugarcoated or dismissive instead of acknowledging the reality and calling it what it is. As a dark skin Black American woman in the U.S., yes, I remember a lot of insults and remarks made about my skin tone. I never had an issue with my complexion until others did. However, instead of wishing for a lighter complexion, I really just wanted to be accepted instead of having to alter my appearance.
My mother is a shade or two lighter than me and as a child she always reinforced that I was pretty (what mom doesn’t right?) but as a black woman (a dark skin one at that), I would be downplayed so I had to stay on my P’s and Q’s.
When I would come home upset about being made fun of regarding my skin, my mom would list things like “you’re smart, you got nice teeth, long legs, them big ol eyes and your skin is even and beautiful, what can they say about you?” Nothing was the answer but why did people HAVE to say something? Especially something that I couldn’t fix. My #melanin was always a target for jokes.
She would tell me that you gotta have tough skin and learn how to have comebacks to get people to shut up. I gained a rougher exterior but deep down I was still a sensitive child. One of my first reoccurring experiences about my skin was when I was between 7-8 and it came from my neighbors. They lived next door and they would tease me for being skinny, too black or both. I recall one day just getting so mad at them that I called them “stupid m-thaf-ckers” and ran to hide in my house because I knew they would tell my mom I cursed at them. Before that, it came from my stepfather’s family. His family is mostly filled with light skin people besides his father and they were Jamaican. Caribbean people have their complexes about colorism and this was no different. His mother was fair and had silky black hair and would always express her distaste of people being “too black”, which was funny because she married a very dark skin man even though his melanin didn’t reflect in the children. She never mistreated me but the comments she made regarding skin tones were obvious she was #teamlightskin and was happy when my siblings came out fair.
Hearing “pretty for being so black”, “pretty for a dark skin girl” was common. When I moved and had to start going to an all-white school, it was not the best time for me. I felt isolated because I stuck out like a sore thumb among the #FFFFFFFF minus a few springs of browns here and there. While everyone is getting into relationships or talking about who they crushed on, I was just the friend who could lend an ear to them because I knew it would be a while before I had those experiences. I saw the types of girls who were getting chose or who were “Miss Popular” and I didn’t fit the criteria externally. Was it all because of my skin? No, these are the awkward years and not everyone gets lucky. Do I believe my skin played a factor? Yes. Some may say “well you shouldn’t think like that” but that’s colorism for you. Skin tone is silent but it speaks.
For some reason, I really liked this one black boy in my class but he never had anything nice to say about me. All from 4th grade to 7th grade middle school, he always had to tease me about being dark skin. I never understood why I continually held on to the idea that one day he’d be mature and maybe even like me back. That crush came to an end when one time in the halls I was passing and he called me a gorilla and thought it was so funny. I guess that was my breaking point. At the end of the year, I was offered to skip 8th grade and I did. It wasn’t because of him but because I didn’t see what was the point of hanging around another year with these people who do not like me. I knew I wouldn’t be missed so I might as well keep it pushing.
High school got a little better when I started going to an all black school. I still got joked on for my complexion but I had grown immune to that and would just laugh it off. One moment that sticks out is when this Filipino girl thought I wanted her boyfriend. She caused a scene at lunch period and asked me if I was trying to get with ol boy. I told her no he was trying to push up on me in culinary class and I always dismiss him. Guess she didn’t like my answer so she started yelling at me, calling me all sorts of names and told me he would never want my black crispy burnt ass in front of everyone. Line crossed.
That would have been the first day I would have found out if I knew how to fight because I got so angry. Her man was for everybody and she had the nerve to disrespect ME like that when I never tried to get at him. I never got to feel the pleasure of my fist connecting to her face because friends held me back and literally dragged me away from the lunch table.
These are just a few of many times colorism has reared its ugly head my way. Now, this is not going to turn into a dark skin girl, woe is me tale, I’m just telling my story.
As I’ve come into my own, I grew out of being self conscious about my skin because I never had anything against it in the first place. As I went from teen to young adult, there were still times when colorism would come up and instead of investing feelings in the situations, I would just listen and observe as I filled my Bingo card with red dots.
– Watching dark skin men bash women that are literally the same complexion as them
– The stereotypes of dark skin women being more aggressive and strong than lighter counterparts
– Having light skin friends who had a complex about not getting darker from the sun
– Discussions about good hair vs bad hair
– Black women dating white men
– “Brown” people who felt stuck in the middle: not light enough to be grouped a “redbone” yet felt a negative connotation if you called them “dark skin”
– debates over light skin privilege
– Watching how white girls aka snowbunnies were treated differently when approached by black men or in black spaces
It’s all fascinating and I learned and critically thought about how all these factors have shaped me into the woman I am today.
Light skin people tell their stories about being bullied for being “light” or not black enough and who am I to dismiss their pain? However, the truth is that there’s WAY more positive images in favor of light skin people than there are for darker toned people. So, when I hear a LS person talking about the troubles they faced regarding their skin, I feel sympathy but not empathy. Is there light skin privilege? Yes, in a way. Hearing “I don’t date dark skin people” or “I don’t want dark kids” from women and men were common phrases I heard and still hear to this day. Now everyone is on the #Melanin movement and you see some people saying “oh I wish I had darker skin” but do you really? If a LS person woke up DS one day, I’m sure there would be issues with them accepting it. It’s easy to say you would when it can’t be done.
Being called “light bright” is nowhere near as traumatizing as people always associating your skin with being “burnt”, animal-like, less feminine or undesirable. It’s common to see movies and TV shows label the “hot” friend as light while the dark skin friend will be the one with the “bad attitude”, “unattractive” or have some issues that only boosts the attractiveness of the hot friend.
Examples “Martin”- Pam and Gina
The Proud Family
Even though light skin is seen as desirable, it also could make some LS women feel like outsiders. Reading Diamond Durant’s “The Secret Life of a Light Skinned African American Girl“, she voices the issues she faced as a light girl and even though she had the skin tone that was more accepting, she still faced self esteem issues.
“I was always told I was black. I was black, but not quite black enough or not black black but still black to say the least. I was told that in my life, I would have certain privileges. Privileges that darker women would not be able to acquire and I should be grateful for that. I should be happy that I would be more desired for receptionist jobs and I should be overjoyed that if a white boy happened to like me, I would be eligible for a seat at family dinner because I’m not black black, remember?
I should appreciate the automatic assumptions that I am foreign, that if I have a weave it is my real hair, and that I’m way too narcissistic to give most boys the time of day. I should never ever complain about my skin because real black girls go through things every day that I will never be able to relate to.
I understand that my skin has privileged me in some ways. No, I was never bullied or called ‘burnt’, or compared to a monkey or a roach. I was never told by a boy that he didn’t like me because of my skin color. But, being told by people that I wasn’t black or I wasn’t black enough took a different toll on me.”
To be continued.
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