Navigating Colorism While Dating As A Light-Skinned Woman Drastically Reduced My Options
Whenever I was approached by a Black man in my single days, I would always find myself getting a little apprehensive on first meeting. I was bracing myself for the moment that they would mention my complexion. Normally, it wouldn’t take more than five minutes, but some guys could last as long as 12 before making a comment. It happened so often that I just began using it as a way to eliminate dudes from my list of prospects. The moment that I would hear anything along the lines of “your skin is so light,” I would mentally check out and put them in the reject pile. It was refreshing when they didn’t bring it up at all, but that didn’t happen nearly as often as I would have hoped.
Full disclosure: I am not now, nor have I ever been, the friend that got the most attention from men when I go out with my girls. Despite whatever advantage my complexion may have granted me, I have always been awkward around guys. One fateful Friday night during happy hour at The Park at Fourteenth in DC, I had a line of interested suitors. Nothing like that had ever happened before, and I couldn’t explain what was different. Was it the gray dress I wore to work, or was it my general over-it-all aura? The world may never know. My friends joked that it was most definitely my complexion. I had to remind them that this was not the usual way of things.
I will also never forget the night I was hanging out in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of DC with two girlfriends. We were having a great time going from club to club, sipping our cocktails and dancing the night away. The only hitch in the evening was when, after some chatter with my friends, one of my dance partners decided to tell me that “light-skinned girls can’t be friends because there’s too much competition.” This, after insisting that he’s Good Guy ™–or to quote him directly, “a good n-gga.” Another one bites the dust.
As a light-skinned woman, I fully understand that there are privileges I had in the dating game simply based on my complexion. Outside of letting men know that their participation in colorism is gross and can be used against them, there was not much else I could do to combat it. I will never understand how Black men use an observation about a woman’s skin tone as a compliment. As if in my being light-skinned, I have accomplished some great achievement, when, in fact, it’s nothing more than an accident of genetics.
Rejecting guys for that reason alone made life a lot easier for me, but being put in that position was incredibly tiresome. It never feels good to know that someone is ascribing value to you based on how you look; that’s true at either end of the spectrum. It makes you feel like a man isn’t looking at you as a person–rather an interchangeable object or an accessory. To them, there’s nothing special about you outside of your lightness; anyone with the right shade will do.
It feels worse knowing that your complexion is used to determine how you’re treated. For light-skinned women that understand colorism for what it is, the preferential treatment is annoying at best. That, in itself, is also a privilege. Colorism has never been used to exclude us or dismiss us in the Black community. If anything, it gives us more access and visibility. But, it has been used in far more negative ways (as in intraracial oppression and discrimination) against dark-skinned women. As the daughter of a mother who is dark-skinned I have seen this first hand.
The one benefit of the colorist remarks I heard over the years was that they always served as a clear indicator of the men who were not worth my time. The most unfortunate aspect of it all was that the men who ogled me for my complexion were always highly melanated and, more than likely, born of and raised by dark-skinned women. Approaching me and suggesting that they preferred light skin said to me that they not only couldn’t see the value and beauty in dark skin; they couldn’t see the beauty in themselves.
Whenever a man would approach me with a light-skinned line, I asked them what their issue was with darker skin outright. I would ask them why they preferred light skin and whether they thought I should be attracted to them based on their logic and preferences. I even questioned what would happen in the summer when I get darker. There was never a good answer. But there was always an attempt to still get my phone number. I would give them the number to the nearest Barnes & Noble, pretending that it was mine.
I recognized that any man who lacks that kind of self-awareness is not someone who could add anything positive to my life. If my complexion was the main attraction for him, I would ultimately spend our relationship questioning his commitment to me based on my physical appearance. Not to mention battling his self-hate. Who needs that? Instead of putting myself in line for that kind of frustration, I simply decided not to date men like that. It may have reduced my options in the dating pool, but it greatly added to my peace of mind. That was way more important.