I thought that with the new influx of love for natural hair and campaigns encouraging us to love the skin we are blessed to be in, “colorism” would somehow disappear. Call me naïve, but the whole light skin vs. dark skin thing is tired. I was hoping that such conversations would dissipate. You see, I’ve had them for most of my life.
I am a Caribbean-American woman of a lighter complexion. As a child, I hated my skin.
Often appearing a bit paler than I’d like (especially in the wintry months), I was called “house slave,” “oreo,” “bougie” and a whole host of other unsavory names kids (and sometimes family members) use to belittle one other. I grew to resent being light-skinned due to the automatic assumption that came with it: I was stuck up and had a sense of entitlement.
Dating black men of a darker complexion was sometimes complicated for me. Some women would say that the only reason certain men were interested in me was because my skin is bright. And while I never thought that was true (and wouldn’t give a color struck man the time of day), there are black men out there who only pursue light-skinned women. Sadly, some preferences are often created by social constructs.
I’ve encountered people like this most my life — both the color-struck men and people quick to point out differences when it comes to complexion. I was hopeful that all the discussions about these issues (i.e., Dark Girls, Light Girls and more) would help bring about some change.
So, again, when naturally stunning, bald and beautiful Lupita Nyong’o graced the covers of magazines, including being named People magazine’s “Most Beautiful” person in 2014, I thought for sure that the colorism talks would finally be directed into the crapper.
Then Kendrick Lamar proposed to his high school sweetheart, Whitney Alford.
Once the dust settled from all the congratulatory messages, Rashida Strober, a woman people have been referring to as an activist for dark-skinned women, took to Facebook to point out that his fiancée is much lighter than Lamar–and a lot of other black people:
“Well, well, well would you looky here,” Strober wrote. “ANOTHER FAKE CONSCIOUS MUTHER F-KER EXPOSED. I will never support him nor his music with one dime of my money and encourage all dark skinned women not to either!”
K. Dot’s racially-fueled, socially-conscious sophomore album, To Pimp A Butterfly, put his blackness on display for the world to see. He was and still is proud to be black. While the rhymes of many rappers put the spotlight on their dollars and cars, the Compton MC delved deep in the hopes of exposing issues with race (and within our own race) that we often sweep under the rug.
So naturally, the expectation is that his leading lady outside of the music videos would be a dark-skinned, pro-black, fist-in-the-air kind of gal. But that is not fair.
There is no proof that Kendrick Lamar only chases after light-skinned women. He’s been with Alford for ten years. And in fact, one of his previous girlfriends, a girl he referred to as “Sherane” on his debut album, is of a darker skin tone. Could it be that Lamar just so happened to find a soon-to-be life partner who meets all of his criteria below the surface level? A woman who could stand with him without the desire to be seen flossing and flaunting his royalties as his career took off? If anything, I thought the decision to marry her had more to do with her love and loyalty than her skin color.
Again, feel free to call me naïve.
Women of a darker complexion have undoubtedly dealt with much discrimination. In Strober’s biography, she recalls that, “Her self-esteem was brutally assaulted at every turn by classmates who made her life a living hell. Known as ‘black and ugly,’ ‘monkey mouth’ and ‘African Booty Scratcher,’ she was told by many that she would never make it as an actress.”
Now, she champions dark-skinned women as a self-proclaimed activist. That is a noble thing. However, what’s not noble is Strober perpetuating the same hate she received from her classmates as a child onto someone else as an adult.
Where do we draw the line in hateful speech within our own communities? When will we accept and celebrate the vast skin tones that make up the African-American community without questioning if the black that doesn’t look like our own skin is black enough?
A lighter complexion does not make Alford less pro black than the next. Just ask Angela Davis. Moreover, it does not automatically mean that it’s what drew Lamar to her. What we know for sure is that after ten years of dating, he has found the person he wants to be with for the rest of his life, and she is a woman who undoubtedly supports him. Instead of questioning his decision and his blackness, let’s celebrate that.