I believe Black folks, in particular, should have more open conversations about colorism.
However, one of my biggest pet peeves with the entire colorism debate is the framing. More specifically, how most public conversations on the issue tend to only address colorism and its effect on Black women.
Of course, colorism is not only a Black woman’s problem. It isn’t just about hair textures and skin tones and adequacy issues. It’s not just about Black women feeling they are too dark to be valued and too light to feel Black enough. It is not all in women’s heads nor is it our cross to bear alone. Instead, it is an issue that affects all of us. And that includes the brothers too.
And yet, it is rare to hear or read anything about how the brothers relate to their own, or to each other’s, skin tones. This is one of the reasons I appreciate Georgetown University sociology professor Michael Eric Dyson’s latest essay, which is entitled, “The Color Line: Stephen Curry’s prominence resurfaces issues of colorism among blacks.”
Well, I should say that I sort of appreciate it.
As the title suggests, this essay tries to make Curry’s light skin tone an issue among all blacks. Dyson even managed to tie Beyoncé and Lil’ Kim into his discussion that is largely about Curry. However, if we read between the lines, it is clear that all of us are not the primary focus here. For one, the article appears on Undefeated, which is generally a sports site. And who is the primary audience of sporting news and opinion pieces? The menfolk.
And secondly, women are fans of the Golden State Warrior MVP player. I’ll just leave it at that.
But aside from the topic’s questionable framing, I am here for it. I too have noticed the subtle shade being thrown at Curry among men. I see the light-skinned jokes on social media. And I personally know of Black men who don’t mess with him as a player simply because he is light skinned.
These sort of instigations do not exist in a bubble. They are very much examples of how brothers are active players in colorism just as much as the sisters. In short, some have no problems accepting and loving redbone women, but will object in a minute to a redbone man.
And as Dyson noted:
The politics of shade have shadowed black folk from the time we set foot in North America. Curry’s fame has upped the ante: Suspicion surrounds him because of his light skin, and because he’s been lauded by both the NBA and media establishments. The subliminal message has become explicit: Curry is a brother we may not be able to embrace because the powers that be embrace him too. Curry is not the first black man who makes some black folk uneasy because America loves him as much as we do, but he may be the most popular contemporary figure evoking that dilemma. And Curry’s color is at the heart of that dilemma.
There’s little question that Curry’s skin has inflamed a racial wound that may be invisible to folk outside the culture: the plague of colorism, or skin tone, that has yet to be conquered. Curry’s light skin and its relation to — some would argue the crucial reason for — his broad cultural appeal has not gone unnoticed.
“James Harden doesn’t stand a chance to win the MVP,” a college professor on the West Coast proclaimed in his class when I visited his school in 2015, referring to Curry’s closest competitor for the award. “He’s too dark and ‘too black.’”
Dyson then goes on to write about the time during an NBA 2K-sponsored panel discussion when Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder said that he initially didn’t believe Curry was Black when they first met.
Or as Dyson wrote of the exchange:
“I thought he was white,” Durant said. “He was this yellow kid, right? I’m just being real now, right? Where I come from, in the hood, we don’t see that. We don’t see the light-skinned guys around. It was all guys like me.” As the darker-skinned Durant told the story, Curry was engulfed in guffaws as he rested his left hand on Harden’s back, who was bent over in laughter. There was clearly no offense meant or taken.
Still, there is a premise or two suppressed in the logic of Durant’s remarks. First, “hood” and “dark” imply an inverse relation to “light” and “suburban,” or somewhere that is definitely not the ghetto. Class distinctions abound in Durant’s observations.
“I thought he was white,” Durant said. “He was this yellow kid, right? I’m just being real now, right? Where I come from, in the hood, we don’t see that. We don’t see the light-skinned guys around. It was all guys like me.”
Second, “ ‘hood” in the coded speech of black identity means “real.” Durant channels what passes for common sense among many blacks: that a “real” black may be the darker one, and the lighter black is suspect and inauthentic because his or her skin reflects symbolic, if not literal, ties to the white world. There would be no light skin if there weren’t white skin in the game — either through the raping of black women on slave plantations, or in less-volatile relations between black men and white women.
As Dyson noted, Durant isn’t the only player with colorism issues. Retired Philadelphia 76er Allen Iverson once referred to Curry in an interview as “That light-skinned dude.” And retired Los Angeles Laker Kobe Bryant once “admonished” former teammate Jordan Clarkson for “driving to the basket like a light-skinned dude.”
As Dyson wrote, both of these comments, as well as the many made daily online, illustrate how Black folks have fed into some pretty nasty ideals about light skin not being Black enough. “Often, without proof, lighter blacks are indicted for the sin that their skin suggests they’ve committed — the sin of collusion with white society to derive advantage from their elevated status,” Dyson said. “In such a view, their choices are narrowed to either eagerly embracing light privilege, or disdaining light skin as the mark of racial heresy — a sign of the denial of authentic blackness at the level of the epidermis.”
You can read the essay in its entirety here. I suspect that for many Black womenfolk, in particular, the ones who have been beaten over the head with the colorism issue, there are very few revelations in anything Dyson wrote. In fact, the essay itself is pretty elementary and self-evident.
But again, the mere fact that this issue was broached from a brother, among other brothers, makes it worth the consideration.
Though for some reason, I expected more of a reaction to the article. This should have gone viral the same way that the conversations about Lil’ Kim’s drastic transformation did. And yet, this piece has barely gained any traction.
Hmm, I wonder why…