All Articles Tagged "dark skinned vs. light skinned"
Just like most girls, I grew up thinking, and I still believe today, that my mother is gorgeous. I used to watch her shimmy into sequined dresses when she and my dad would go out dancing. Or I’d gaze at her as she prepared herself for church after my sister and I, with our scarf-tied heads, were already dressed. It was amazing to see this woman subtly, artfully and meticulously enhance her genetic beauty with the aid of makeup. My mother’s beauty, which is both external and internal, was all the more alluring because of her coffee bean brown skin.
My father, who is significantly lighter, praised her for it, her lipstick always complemented it and acne was no match for it. People always told me I resembled her. And though, I could see that we didn’t share the exact same complexion, I knew I wasn’t too far off. Apparently, other people didn’t see it that way. I think I was in the third grade, the first time a friend referred to me as “light-skinned.” While there are still some girls and grown women who would have taken such an assertion, as a compliment, I was shocked, and honestly, slightly offended. There is nothing wrong with being lighter complected but that wasn’t me. I was at least brown, not too many shades away from my mother. As the years went on, the light skin references increased and as I learned more and more about the cultural celebration of lighter skin, so did my frustration. How could anyone assert that “light was right” when I was living with a woman who contradicted the notion everyday? Ridiculous. It was poet, Jessica Care Moore, that expressed my sentiments best when she said, “Even the light skin girls are sick of the light skin girls.”
At some point or another I expressed my frustration to my family members. There was no need to discuss the notion that light was somehow better. That was an absurdity we’d dismissed long ago; but they did find it surprisingly comical that I considered myself to be just a couple of shades away from my mother on the color spectrum. From then on my sister, who is truly just a few shades darker than me, my mother and my younger cousin joked, good-naturedly, about my complexion. They joked that since I was determined to call myself brown, I didn’t know myself. They’d find the lightest black person in the room and ask if we were related. They called me “light bright,” just to work my nerves.
It was just jokes for them but the quest for brown skin is real for me. Every year, I yearn for summer so I can get outside and pick up a few more shades. I told a guy I was involved with, that though he was kinda light, if we ever had babies, they could still be brown-skinned because my mother and his father have the coveted complexion. I thought I was one of the few women who wanted “happy brown babies,” until I read Demetria Lucas’ “A Belle in Brooklyn,” in which she wrote about the collective [non-ignorant] light skinned girl’s desire to have brown kids. It’s real out here.
At a recent family gathering, I was explaining to an older cousin, who told me to call her Aunt, that I was wearing East African Fulani earrings, that I live in Harlem and write for a black women’s website. After all that she said, sincerely, “Oh, you’re real black.” I offered her a very satisfied smile and nodded. I have to admit though, that later I questioned myself a little bit. Was I “so black” because I was trying to prove that I was “so black”? Eventually I dismissed that potentially treacherous train of thought. There are plenty of ways to be “so black.”
This past weekend in New Orleans, I interviewed a makeup artist about black women and what we need to know about makeup. He told me what’s tricky about black women is that we have nearly 170 different skin tones, compared to the white woman’s 4. He said it was all about the undertones black women possess. Some of us have red, yellow or gold undertones.
That undertone word, set me off. Here was my chance to ask a professional about the skin I’m in and finally get a real, legit answer. In a self-serving move, I asked him, “So, what type of undertones would you say I have?”
“Look like you have a yellow undertone.”
That’s cool. Even though I’ll probably always
envy admire the mahogany looking sister, my mom’s coffee bean brown and girls named Ebony, I recognize that my black is still real, even if it has a little yellow in it.
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I think about race a lot, but color? Not so much. Some would argue that’s because I don’t have to, being of a lighter complexion. But there are more people who have told me about my own skin tone and level of blackness than I’ve ever cared to think about myself.
I can recall the first time someone tried to set me apart. I was in high school and some girls were talking about their enemies—basically the girls who didn’t like them because of some boy they were both messing with at the time. I remember one girl asked me who my enemies were and when I said I didn’t have any, she said, “Please. You’re light skinned and you have long hair. You have enemies.” It was the most ridiculous thing I had ever heard, but over time what she said played out to be very true.
I remember in college I was (admittedly inappropriately) using the n-word, and a guy stopped me and asked, “Should you be saying that word? You don’t even look like you’re allowed to use it.” I thought — did he really just put me in the same category we put white people in?
As an adult, it seems the spotlight on my lack of melanin has grown even brighter. It’s become sort of a running joke among some of my friends that I’m “not really black.” Somehow whenever I’m attempting to have a serious conversation about issues in the black community with other associates, my skin tone always finds its way into the discussion—you know those issues I know nothing about, because I’m of a lighter persuasion.
I always facetiously hit people with the same argument that the LGBTQ community uses: who would choose to be black? Blackness may be a cool fad to some white suburban kids watching Lil Wayne on MTV but anyone who is African-American knows there’s a slew of discrimination, prejudice, and racism that you must bear as a person of color and it’s hardly worth the “right” to call someone a n***a.
I also remind these people that they’re more hung up on my color than I am. I don’t want to explain my blackness every time I get passionate about black on black crime or broken homes, and I certainly don’t need to be reminded of what I look like. I see myself every day. I also don’t want to have to explain my family tree every time someone isn’t satisfied when they ask what I am and I simply say, “black.” I refuse to feel guilty because somewhere along the line Massa most likely raped one of my ancestors or a Cherokee found his way over to one of my enslaved relatives and they procreated, or that my maternal grandfather and great grandparents are Louisiana creoles with a whole mix of things going on.
If I’m down for the black community isn’t that all that should matter?
As much as we love being black, we can’t pretend that we’re a people without flaws. One of the deepest, nastiest burdens we carry is our attitude about skin color. The dismissal or downright distaste for darker skin tones is an attitude that’s been a part of our culture since the days of slavery, if not before. While this belief is certainly not representative of all black people, there are still several women and men with darker skin tones who have felt and experienced pain because of these sentiments.
Actor and director Bill Duke, decided to tackle this issue, as it relates specifically to black women. He interviews several dark skinned women, both in and outside of the African American culture, who describe their painful memories and detail their hurtful experiences. Hopefully his work will provoke discussion, change mindsets and lead toward the healing we so desperately need.
You can watch a clip of the documentary, which will be released during the Fall/Winter of this year, below.