Light, Bright and Still Black (Unconventional Wisdom)

Belton Family PhotoHow the person two shades lighter than you isn’t necessarily better off

Roaming among the rubble of hate, field hand’s hair and master’s face didn’t stop me from meeting a noose. (Video)

I didn’t know I was “light-skinned.”

Or should I say, I’m not light-skinned but people have informed me one way or another of what I am based on what they are. I am, in fact, not lighter than a paper bag. I am not cafe au latte. I’m a rich, reddish brown that’s lighter than most black people, but too dark to be truly considered among the what traditionally was viewed as light-skinned — which for me is damn near white.

All of this though is irrelevant as no matter what you look like, in America, if you’re black you are black. This isn’t Brazil or some other South American country where there are a billion color based delineations to separate the blue black Wesley Snipes-ish brothers and sisters from the Wentworth Miller-Grady Sizemore’s of the world. This is America, where Rev. Jeremiah Wright, an unapologetically black man, is a dead ringer for white man and former Republican Bob Barr. Did Wright get any sort of pass for his negrotude because he was two steps from passing? Or for that matter, does any black person?

More after the jump.

There is a color divide in black America that is unpleasant that no one likes to talk about yet it persists. Since we aren’t like other countries where the mixed population was allowed to separate and form their own ethnic group, there is a projected united front regardless if you look black or white. As long as you have some fraction of African blood in your veins, you qualify to be a brother or sister and you qualify to get all the garbage that comes with it.

Unfortunately, despite our outward togetherness, internally there are scores of problems. Problems we’re all well aware of. Issues of mistrust. Of favoritism. Of disputed loyalties. Of house negro versus field negro talk and the like. Some have even gone so far to argue that if Michelle Obama were Halle Berry light she wouldn’t be liked as much by black women (although this theory doesn’t explain the love for White House Senior Adviser Valerie Jarrett, who practically has to produce a birth certificate to prove she is, in fact, a Negro).

The perception is if you are lighter you may have had it easier. I’d argue that everyone has their struggles in a country where the standards of beauty are impossibly European and historically racism touched us all, from the light and Liberal Thurgood Marshall to the dark and conservative Clarence Thomas.

If you’re darker, you have to deal with the overall preference some have for lighter people. You have to deal with disparaging remarks from uncouth family members who thought it would be “good” for your self-esteem to tell you to stay out of the sun. You had to watch endless music videos and films where the love interest was a light-skinned girl with long hair. You’ve had Halle Berry crammed down your throat since the 1990s as the ideal of black beauty. You have to deal with discrimination among your own people because no one hates black people more than other black people. We take our self-hate and project it onto the innocent and condemn them for not being able to live up to some standard we can’t even live up to ourselves.

If you’re lighter, your loyalty is constantly questioned, even if you are “unapologetically black.” You have to prove yourself because it is believed that you, no matter your background, surely must have had it easier. It doesn’t matter if you’re from the Tony suburbs or the rough and tumble inner city. It’s just an assumption that light made right for you, even if in the eyes of most racists you were no different from your darker brethren. You deal with the jealousy and suspicion of those who view your skin tone as a personal affront to their own. You deal with the nonsense of other light-skinned people who have bought the garbage that being light skinned has made them “special.” You deal with the fact that you cannot hide the legacy of slavery in you because it is obvious that you didn’t come from the motherland with hair and eyes like that.

Being what other people saw as light didn’t save me, or anyone else I know who is lighter than me, from racism. I wasn’t liked more by white people because of how I looked. I routinely ran into teachers who tried to engineer my failure by giving me F’s on days I was out sick, hoping I wouldn’t notice until it was too late. Racists, quite honestly, don’t care about color delineations. They hate us all. We, as black people, sabotage ourselves when we get bogged down into arguments over “who has it easier.” I’ve known light skinned people who longed to be dark so their outside could match how they felt inside. I’ve known dark skinned people who longed to be light because of the self-hatred. I’ve had arguments with people who did not believe I could be “fully black” with hair as long as mine. I’ve dated men who have obsessed over my skin tone, one beguiled with me being light because he thought it made us “special” and one who condemned me for being light because he thought it made me a sell-out.

I remember, as a child, I thought I was dark because I was treated just as shabbily as the other black kids at my school. I received no perks. I was teased and harassed. I assumed I MUST be dark because I’d heard that light skinned kids caught breaks, that people thought they were pretty and they were popular. Boys liked them and wanted to date them. I wasn’t popular, no one coveted my looks and if I caught breaks I didn’t know it. I walked around with a target on my back for most of my elementary and junior high years. I couldn’t be like the light-skinned girls that everyone wanted to be like. No one was worshipping at my alter.

Then we moved to the so-called “white” end of the school district and the questions began. What are you? Is your father white? How do you get your hair to do that? You can’t be all black. You can only imagine how confused I was. Then one day, sitting next to a friend I considered very light, we put our arms next to each other to compare and I was lighter than her. My entire world was turned upside down. What was I if I weren’t dark like everyone else? How could I be light? I didn’t FEEL like I was treated any nicer. I had few to no friends. Boys were uninterested in me. What good was being “light” if there was no discernable difference between how I was treated and everyone else?

And that’s when I realized that these color values were manufactured. That light was relative to the person sitting next to you and that most of the “she must have it easier” was an illusion. There wasn’t any “easier,” there was only “different.” I had it different from kids darker than me. No one ever told me to stay out of the sun or joked about my undesirableness for being darker. But people did mock my nose and lips, tease me for my voice, accuse me of not being black enough and lash out in occasional jealous anger over things I couldn’t do anything about, like my hair. I still remember the hate and pain in the voice of one girl who screamed that my hair was going to fall out like hers did from over-perming. That hate wasn’t about me, but her own self-loathing. Since then when I was 13, I’ve met plenty of people who took my existence as a personal affront to their own, coming from a place of insecurity and low self-esteem.

Then there was the racism I couldn’t escape. The constant feeling that I was “Anonymous” from Ralph Ellison’s tome “Invisible Man” and that somewhere there were dozens of envelopes mailed out with my name on them and letters inside that said, “Keep that nigger girl running.” This tape still plays in my head as I run through life, wondering who means me well and who is just there to keep me chasing like a rat in a wheel? Trapped by my own fate of being born black and loathed by some for it. There is no better. There’s only different.

I still don’t know what color I am, other than brown, but I also don’t care anymore. If you think I’m light, fine. If you think I’m not light, that’s fine too. I just know I’m black and that has always been fine with me.


Agree? Disagree? Respond below! Also, read the rest of the series here or if you want to write your own “Unconventional Wisdom” piece, check out the other topic ideas here.

55 thoughts on “Light, Bright and Still Black (Unconventional Wisdom)

  1. Be yourself, none of us are pure anything and can take pride in being a "special mix". Honor all of your heritage. I am red, black and white – but I don’t label myself as any of those single groups – I’m proud to be a special mix. Sure I have had to hear some garbage – from a teacher who gleefully told my 2nd grade class that he knew my family and I wasn’t white, and parents of white girls buggin’ out when they figured out who my Dad was, to black people in our own neighborhood telling me to get out of their neighborhood – not to mention cousins who hate me. But get real people – we catch flack at some point for being any color, or for wearing some bo-bo’s, or having a fat mama.None of us are black enough, white enough, etc. to please everybody. Fuck them, be happy.

  2. As a yellow mf myself I’m acutely aware of the pathologies, ironies, weirdness of color. Frankly I think I had a RELATIVELY easier time of it than my sister, or my wife…who were always being counter-harassed for "thinking you better than us and too cute with that light skin and hair and eyes" blah blah. Both of them are sweetest most humble women I know. Again, irony. Pathology. I knew Michelle Robinson when I was at Princeton (she was a freshman thus persona non grata but I knew her brother Craig); I had drinks after a race panel discussion on campus in the 90s with a student named "Wenty" Miller. Again irony: being fish in the white sea was the great equalizer. Regardless of skin color, your negritude was a personal matter. The color construct these days (outside of the entertainment industry) is something WE are still discussing. White people don’t care as much as we think, or at least it’s subtle.Now, with regard to entertainment, advertising/marketing–they DO control. They lighten women’s hair and skin in order to sell albums or L’OREAL, they force actresses to be "exotic" or "ethnic" rather than sistas to appeal t Podunk. They turn dark skinned sistas into stereotypical lunatic shrill coarse b-s in the VH-1/Real Housewives of ATL style/BET vein. That is where we need to fight the fight.

  3. My father was from South America and my Mom from good old Southern roots. My family has the rainbow array of light caramel to bittersweet dark. Being on the caramel side of the scale with hair that grows past my shoulders, I’m constantly assailed with "So what are you? Are you Puerto Rican? Where YOU from." (sigh) Just last week at a restaurant, the server kept coming to me for everything. My two darker-skinned friends said, "You have the skin, the hair, and the boobs, he only sees you." I proceeded to get ticked off for having my entire being reduced to skin, hair and boobs. "Maybe I was just more POLITE than you two?" I argued. They weren’t having it. It’s exhausting defending your blackness. I wrote something similar about classism within the black community. It’s always something.

  4. "This is America, where Rev. Jeremiah Wright, an unapologetically black man, is a dead ringer for white man and former Republican Bob Barr. Did Wright get any sort of pass for his negrotude because he was two steps from passing?"Honorary half white status is ONLY noticed, remarked upon by whites, when you become POTUS, then its celebrated to demonstrated that a ‘fully’ black person could never be that smart,special etc. Usually by the types who hate race mixing.However as we see the racial demographics of the US continue to brown, you will see more Bill O’ Reilly types (like the remark about MJ’ white children as a sign of non blackness ) noticing the ‘not all black’ people – its divide and conquer 2.0. "FGM"’s who have two American parents who go on and on about that special/weird/ UNbelonging/ tragic situations they are forced to face because of their intimate connection to a real live breathing white person… are complicit in perpetuating the color pyramid where white is on top. All people deserve our consideration/attention and to not be typecast/stereotyped. dilettante refuses to ‘let slip’ her skin tone,non black ancestry etc until she is ready to post pictures and elucidate on how Grandma X’s native tongue of Y, is used in family recipe for Z, from the old country of Unicorn land.everyone is skinny, rich, smart (light with really long hair) on teh internets —snark 😉

  5. So what are you? Are you Puerto Rican? Where YOU from." ?it was [another] black person asking? Its sad that often we ourselves can’t accept that ‘pretty’ is something we can be without having some nonblack component to it. The logical conclusion would be that ‘all black’ is ‘all ugly’.I’m speaking only from an AA point of reference here I have a friend about the skin tone of Lauren Hill, who because of her (real) hair length and features/slim body is always asked ‘where are you from’ ? [answer Detroit]. She’s gorgeous, but its like "our own" people cant accept "our own" attractiveness. 🙁

  6. This is possibly one of the best articles that I have read on the concept of colorism. Most articles tend to be trite. Others have an undertone of bitterness (depending on the personal experience of the author). Others like to brush the issues under the rug with the, "We’re all black" statement. Not that the statement isn’t true, but it’s tends to read as a dismissive copout. I am a dark skinned young woman who did not have issues with my skin color until middle school, which is when I transferred to a small Christian middle school where the king & queen of the class were "high yeller" and where I was introduced to the wonderful thing that is modern day hip hop music videos . I guess that makes me a late bloomer and is possibly the reason why I am more open to listening to the experiences of my fellow lighter skinned brethern/sistren without rolling my eyes. On occasion, I have been told that I am in fact BROWN SKINNED by individuals who find me attractive because in their mind dark skin and beauty are mutually exclusive. I am lucky to never have experienced the [sadly] common treatment by family members who see brown skin as a negative. I am also happy that I spent most of my youngers years with my head in the books instead of my eyes on the TV, because the media is not meant to bolster the self-esteem of people of color. It is meant to keep us in our perceived place.

  7. My eyes glaze over when I read these skin color commentaries. Second verse, same as the first. I don’t see any new angle. Maybe I’ve been around the block too many times. I’m a tired black man and I’m tired of this issue, whether it’s discussed by either race.

  8. Do light skin blacks have it easier? Depends on what you call easy.Halle Berry is always used as the measuring stick of what black women should look like. But if I’m not mistaken Halle Berry has never know her own father, has had a boyfriend beat her till she went half deaf in one ear, had baseballer Dave Justice pulling an Ike 2.0 on her in her first marriage, and had an embarrassing philandering sex addicting husband for the second. I wouldn’t call that easy. Just because she attracts men like bees to honey doesn’t mean her life will be apple pie. And Just because your a beautiful woman doesn’t mean you’ll attract better quality men. I’ll even go as far as to say that the more attractive you are the more ass-holey men you attract cause lots of superficial men like superficial beauty. The pool may be larger but quality is quality. Can I get an Amen?Ultimately. Being light might help to open doors quicker for you; but nothing will sustain you like the development of personal self confidence and self assuredness that we all have to work on to get from point A to B in this thing called life. Light skin or not. What we as a people have to recognize is that there’s more money to be made off of divisiveness than there is to have everyone love and accept themselves for who they are. Ultimately confidence is KING. Either we have dynamite parents that helped in that process or we must do the work for ourselves. So if I can make you desire to look like Halle Berry then my divisive job is done and I can collect a check off of your insecurities. Ahhhhhh. The good ole US of A.

  9. This is truly a confused country that creates lots of confused people. I’ve always considered myself plain old brown-skinned. Not light, not dark, but in between. I have a lot of hair but not wavy or fine, the kind that causes so much black girl envy. So I was thrown off when I was informed that I "jjust might be light enough to be hired" for a hotel front desk position when I first got out of college and was searching for a pt job. It never occured to me that people still judged black people on the shade of lightness of their skin. I thought that stuff went out of fashion, or at least admitting it, in the 70s. I sadly discovered that this wasn’t the case. I observed white women at my PR job only hiring black secretaries that were light with long hair. When they were given a brown, short-haired temp, they quickly sent her back. I have been given attitude and dirty looks by darker black women who feel that I’m that light, long-haired" sterotype from Chicago to Puerto Rico. It’s sad and I don’t take it personally anymore but it’s way past the time for us to move beyond the silly color consciousness.

  10. My eyes glaze over when I read these skin color commentaries….I don’t see any new angle. dukedravenI totally agree, I’ve been such a comment hog on thread because of what I do see as a *NEW* angel, from the American POV- is the Bill O’Reilly comment on MJ (his white kids). And because I’ve just finished reading Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers. It was fascinating. It also explained why its seemed to me, some Afro Caribbeans seem to be inordinately color struck, that’s not to say, AfAm, or ‘real’ Africans aren’t. In Jamaica ,the one drop rule was codified, and operated in the reverse during /post slavery there, as it was a way for the minority whites to maintain power by recognizing the ‘not all black’ descent of some of the larger populace which was majority black.I contend that logic is behind O’Reillys comment, [when has a white American man, ever implied a black man w/ white/bi-racial children was non black?] and all of the people who feel compelled to point out the presidents white mother in another way I think to demonstrate white superiority/black inferiority. I think this happens now when ‘white’ may soon become the minority


  12. Amen @ Anonymous.And I agree Anon, even though the issue with colorism, good hair/bad hair and it’s connection to superiority/ inferiority can be frustratingly tiring, dialog should remain open.

  13. @ ANONNo need for all caps (overuse of caps are against the commenting rules). We don’t have to shout at each other. Duke totally can read.

  14. Dilettante – I just finished Outliers as well. An eye-opener, for sure. And yes, the people who ask me "what I am" are always of color. Sad that we’re still having these discussions but I think we have to continue shining the light of these issues or they will never get any better.

  15. I still don’t know what color I am, other than brown, but I also don’t care anymore. If you think I’m light, fine. If you think I’m not light, that’s fine too. I just know I’m black and that has always been fine with me.Beautifully said.

  16. To those who’ve acknowleged reading Outliers: kudos to you. May I suggest that everyone read it. And thanks, Danielle.

  17. When you are a special mix, you never get any good songs. RUN-DMC’s "Proud to be Black" wasn’t quite on point.There was no, "I’m proud to be orange y’all – motherfucker I’m lookin’ like a basketball"

  18. maybe she/he just liek using all CAPS. chillax you two………………………………

  19. i used to mess with blurple babes for the longest. but my girl now is snob’s complexion.

  20. It’s sad that skin color still rules some things. For instance the entertaiment industry is a good example. Record companies will skin a light skin girl with no talent (i.e. Rhianna)…but make a brown skin girl that can sing (i.e. Jazzmine Sullivan) jump through hoops. In my opinion it’s gotten worse in the entertainment industry than it was 30 or even 40 years ago. Thank God Areatha, and Gladys, even Whitney, came along when they did because if they were young and trying to get signed now even with their voices and presence it would be next to impossible for them to make it.I think about a great actress like Cicely Tyson. If she were 20 now trying to break into film would she even be given legitimate auditions or would she just end up on an EBT or VH1 reality show in order to eat. Now that’s not to say that there aren’t light skin people that are talented, example Beyonce, but let’s be real most of these light skin folks in entertainment are just getting over with their looks and skin color. And sadly this seems to apply only to the women. A black male singer or actor can be pitch black but still find work as long as he’s talented. The woman are the ones that have to be a certain color, what’s up with that.

  21. I don’t see why as Blacks we still buy into theses fabricated degrading ideals created by Whites to tear us apart. We all know the source, we know the intent and yet and still we choose to act ignorant and perpetuate this stupidity. I do not give one red cent about a persons skin color, hair texture or otherwise. I honestly believe all women are beautiful in their own individual right. I was the "victim" of color jokes from my family, although I am not a dark skinned woman. It was cute when I identified myself as "lello" (i couldn’t say yellow at 3) and brought my Mom the crayola that matched me perfectly, but then as I got older and decided to swim damn near everyday of my 10th grade summer, and I turned into the rich red brown that I am now. That’s when the "Uh oh, Rekni got dark" or "Uh oh, you can’t pass the paper bag test anymore" comments came. Keep in mind my family is various shades. It wasn’t cute after that. Funny enough, my baby sister is a gorgeous chocolate brown (no one ever made comments to her) and from the time she was born I used to beg my Mom to put her into modeling. I knew I was pretty but I thought she was It! I never dwelled on my skintone, but my family and other people did in a manner they thought was joking, but I thought was offensive. Nowadays, I no longer live in my sunny hometown of Long Beach, but in the gloomy Bay Area, and I crave sun to keep my "summer color" and dread it when I start showings the lighter signs of winter. All this to say, Black women and women of color, get over yourselves and your self hatred. Be dark, be light, be brown, be red… Just be you and love it!

  22. Interesting piece, I’m mixed, but somehow dark enough to be often thought of as perhaps having two "lightskinneded" parents, so I get interesting reactions sometimes.My girlfriend in high school had two light parents, and we remarked that I had black gums and she didn’t.Perhaps my most interesting incident was when I was a kid. I took the bus downtown to get some comics, then proceeded to wait for the bus to return home. I then noticed this guy arrive at the bus stop that was on the bus when I went into town. He was super-albino black, decked out in punk rock leather. He came and asked me what I was ethnically. I said I was black & white. He spit near my feet. It was my 12th b-day that day, and he was around 20ish, so i was outta there, and went to a different part of the bus stop, and eventually started reading the comics I had bought. A few minutes later I looked up and he was passing by me. As he did this he spit directly in my face. OK.I wiped off the spit. For some reason I wasn’t even mad at the guy, but I was fearful that he might go further.He did, and when I got on the bus I deliberately sat up front, and he deliberately sat across from me, staring me down and smiling while wrapping a studded leather strap around his knuckles, studs pointing out.Before the bus left I walked up to the driver and explained the situation. The driver called Metro security and the albino dude got off the bus before security arrived.Trying to wrap my head around what occurred, it occurred to me that it wasn’t about me, but him and his self-loathing, and this is the case for anyone who considers them a white-supremacist. It’s really insecurity.Nevertheless I decided that next time someone asked, I was black, period, for that’s all they would see.Just thought I’d share, and also to implore people to wrap their heads around this correctly. They don’t hate us, they hate that they admire us, and value our skin above their own, hence tanning. Only correctly diagnosed, can we deal with the illogical in a logical way.

  23. ummm just trying to understand… and spending w a a y t o o much time on this you wrote "super-albino black," Are you saying he was Afro descent, but had no pigmentation? "They don’t hate us, they hate that they admire us, and value our skin above their own, hence tanning."If the [they] here is meant to be ‘white’ or European people, I would disagree. I think many people like having a tan, but its wrong to exaggerate and say that white women/men "wish" they were black when seeking a tan. Conversely I don’t think all AfAm women who relax their hair are always attempting to distance themselves from their race. The super blond weave, is up for debate 😉

  24. I’m leaving the colorism alone.Danielle, the photo you used in the post was great. Do you know what year it was taken?

  25. @ MonicaI believe the picture, like most from that particular family collection, are from the turn of the century between 1915 to about 1930, possibly earlier. I’d have to dig into the crates to check.

  26. I consider myself dark-skinned, but some may consider my complexion as brown (chocolate brown). Anyways, I have naturally long hair that comes down to the top of my butt. Just about all of my life I’ve been asked ‘Is that your real hair?’ I never really paid that much attention to it until I realized that when a light-skinned girl has long hair, people automatically assume it’s her real hair. So what? A dark-skinned girl can’t have long hair without it being weave? I remember when I became extremely insecure about my complexion. I was in the band in high school and we practiced outside alot during the dog days of summer. I had numerous people in my family comment on how ‘dark’ I had gotten. As I’m writing this I still get emotional thinking about how unattractive I felt and it was mainly caused by some people in my own family!! I was even told by a so called friend that ‘dark-skinned people are unattractive." But I overlooked her comments knowing she was jealous of me anyways.Needless to say, once I went to college to an hbcu where there are all kinds of shades in black, I got over the obsession of my complexion…..somewhat. I find myself sometimes comparing my complexion to others trying to see how much darker or lighter I am to them. I don’t know if I will ever completely get over this whole complexion complex. I don’t think anybody black will ever get over it.

  27. The black community tries to pretend as if colorism is a figment of society’s imagination. Whenever I have tried to discuss this sickness with some of my fellow brothers and sisters, people act like you’re the one with the problem, or you’re trying to play a slave game. I’m not going to pretend that blackness brings this list of advantages, but in some cases being lighter can work to your advantage. Again, I point to mainstream Hollywood, it is no coincidence that the black women whose beatuy is celebrated the most happens to be women who are lighter or possess European features. There was a case where a company was looking for black models. The flyer had the typical descriptions of what they were looking for. The problem came in when someone spilled to the media that they were looking for a "Beyonce type" ( Another damaging part of colorism is then the frustration is misdirected towards lighter women. If colorism is not a problem, I decided to do an experiment with some of our black boys, and it was very informal. I said, write down adjectives for what you looked for in your ideal woman. I will tell you, almost the majority put light skinned on that list. What in our society is leaving us with this impression that being light brings an advantage? To be fair, is it simply a preference….or is there more. I think instead of behaving like whites who sweep racism under the rug, we as blacks had better start questioning some of our own behavior.

  28. @DanielleLOL…. You cracked me up with your ALL CAPS post. I was combing your site looking for the culprit. I’m sooooo glad to see you’re staying on top of it. I always found the caps lock key to be rather useless. They should remove it from keyboards. It’s reeking some serious havoc on The EnterNets…

  29. Unless you have had the experience of being dark-skinned in America…….I don’t think you can declare that you had it no worse. It’s like a white person declaring that racism against Blacks wasn’t so bad and no longer occurs…….well how do you know? You’ve never experienced it so you have no point of reference. I also think that when people make the statement that light-skinned people have it easier..most of the time they’re referencing those that are light-skinned along with european features, I think black people who are light skinned with traditionally african features might have a similar experience as those who have darker tones but to a lesser severity.I truly believe that had you been dark-skinned you would have had it considerably worse.I have become so sick and tired of the light skinned, racially vague, light eyed American Paradigm of Black beauty that I have begun to develop an aversion to it over the years…….to the point that I routinely look at pictures of myself and go huh……I thought i was darker then that or huh maybe the flash was really bright lmao I think of myself as a caramel color but some people say I’m light-skinned I think of myself as inbetween.I’ve also had to deal with people thinking I’m mixed with something because of the length of my hair……I just say no, I have African textured hair this is just a result of proper Black Hair care theres a wealth of information on it on the net check it out! lol its so insulting the way people think long thick hair and blackness can’t be one in the same.I think the color caste system still exists but its withering away…..slowly but surely.

  30. I laugh when my daddy, a chocolate colored man, calls me "yellow"(I’m about the color or Sanaa Lathan).It’s about perception…Very intriguing post Danielle!

  31. Sorry, Mlisa, I must disagree with the assertion that dark-skinned people must have it worse. One could easily flip your opening statement: "Unless you have had the experience of being a fair-skinned African American, I don’t think you can declare that you had it no worse." I’ve heard many a comment directed at some of my lighter-skinned friends along the lines of "Is he/she black?" or "Does he/she associate with us?" All these doubts about their authentic "blackness" are tied to skin color. Perhaps some fairer-skinned black folks experience favoritism, but I think it has to be rough not being white and facing all the institutional disadvantages handed down to us through history (which, by the way, affected ALL black people regardless of color…remember, Homer Plessy was a blue-eyed, blond-haired man) but nonetheless drawing scorn from people within your own racial community, solely because of melanin.

  32. I totally agree with what maanu said. It has been my experience that the most racist people you will ever meet are obsessed with qualities and characteristics associated with Black people. Whether it’s pigmented skin, naturally large(r) breasts/penises, physical dexterity, creativity, or sexual prowess. The more they admire/long for these qualities, the more they hate us for having them. They aren’t supposed to want to be like us, just ask the parents of a White teen who dresses and "acts Black." Everything in this society is set up to convince them that they are superior to all others, and they want to believe — hence Bill O’Reilly’s popularity. But you will find that a lot of these so-called "wiggers" deeply resent Black people because they don’t think they can be cool unless they adopt a so-called "Black" attitude. And if you are raised to believe that you are better than an entire branch of the Human race based on nothing more than a lack of pigmentation, the fact that you feel differently in your heart and aspire to what you are raised to abhor leads to the racist feelings and actions we see all around us. After all, if you really are superior, why do you feel so compelled to try being like those supposedly "beneath" you? Why do you — and those who came before you — copy their fashion sense, musical styles and word usage. THAT is the self-questioning that leads to the anger and hate among many Whites. They’re not supposed to want to be us.

  33. skin color & hairgood gracious you said a mouth full, Snob.I use to get grief from another mother about not pressing or perming my little daughter’s hair. She likes her natural curls & so do I. My kid was rocking puffs & this woman’s kid had one of those burned up little pig tails peaking through a scrunchy with thinning edges, yet the way this woman couldn’t help but address this issue EVERY time I saw her, I thought she might call child services on me for not pressing my daughter’s hair. I realized that her issue was about her own identity and my kid was just a trigger for her insecurities. She was an absolutely beautiful black woman with a dark chocolate complexion.Some of the most beautiful people in the world can’t see their own beauty

  34. I am Angela Bassett’s color, and my older brother was Senor Baby Wipes’ color (dammit I can’t think of the man’s real name right now). When I was about 10 we got into an argument and I called him a yellow bastid-yeah not nice at all. Our mother got after me with "don’t you call your brother yellow, we’re all the same color in this house. BLACK!". Years later we laughed about it, and i asked her why didn’t she get after me for cussin, she said my childish tactic of color seperatism bothered her so much she forgot to address my profanity.@dukesdraven, I understand what you are saying, but if you will excuse me, i think this issue often affects women differently than men. Samuel Jackson might not be considered as handsome as senor baby wipes or safe as Will Smith, but dammit, he’s still a big, bad black mothafucka and a major box office attraction as well. Don Cheadle has portrayed several roles that show what a great actor he is. Flip side, I would not be surprised if Halle is cast to play either Sojourner Truth or Harriet Tubman one day, because apparently there are no other Black actresses in Hollywood.

  35. I’m dark with a v. short natural. Several close friends are bi-racial, v. fair, one has naturally blond hair. My close friends see themselves reflected in the American media as beautiful, desirable etc. I don’t see myself reflected at all. I’m older so I don’t give a crap but I wonder how younger girls feel?Because I went to high school in the ‘burbs I wasn’t exposed to much intra-racism. The white racists who said horrible things to me also said them to my best friend who was fair. I saw a little of it in college and then it really smack me in the face in DC. DC was another world back in the late 80s early 90s. I now live overseas. Why is it that by American standards dark black women are given back handed compliments (for a chocolate sister you’re cute) and yet here my dark self is in Europe and it’s a whole different story? We have a lot of issues in America. I think things are getting worse. I agree with the earlier post about Aretha and Gladys. They would NEVER have the career today they had back in the day. Why is Estelle not a bigger star in the States? She is crazy talented.

  36. I hear you, Caribbean Ragazza. I thank God I grew up when I did (1970s) because I can’t imagine how hard it must be for young girls today who don’t see images of themselves associated with beauty.I am unmistakably dark-skinned, just like everyone in my immediate family and most of my extended family (on my dad’s side). I grew up in the ‘burbs too but they were integrated/integrating and I experienced a LOT of intra-racism from the other black girls. It’s a miracle I ended up NOT hating my physical features more than I did…in my family, "black is beautiful" meant something (and still does).I also agree with regards to Europe. My first visit was literally mind-blowing. I’ve been there enough to know that it’s not a racial paradise by any stretch BUT I have long said that every African-American woman who’s felt left out by mainstream standards of beauty (and love and romance) should visit Europe at least once to experience what most white American women take for granted.AND I agree that things are getting worse in terms of how black folks relate and don’t relate to each other. Not only am I dark, I’m also NAPPY natural and I carry myself like a queen (which I am, lol). I have no time for ignorance and most people know better than to come at me with colorist crap. We can go back and forth about whose blues ain’t like whose but the reason why colorism is the way it is is because of the notion that even a little bit of white is better than none. Obviously it’s not enough just to be light-skinned — there are conformist behaviors involved as well — but in a room where you have two "conformist" individuals who are equal in every way except skin color, the lighter one is going to be preferred by most white people and again, that has everything to do with white supremacy and the history of slavery. As someone whose appearance doesn’t allow her to benefit from white privilege AT ALL, I have witnessed this more times than I can count. Consequently it benefits all of us, regardless of color, to challenge and fight white supremacy and white privilege when we encounter it…and that includes challenging intra-racism based on white supremacy. People don’t like to give up their privilege, though…

  37. I’ve known light skinned people who longed to be dark so their outside could match how they felt inside. I’ve known dark skinned people who longed to be light because of the self-hatred.This is interesting. If a light skinned person longs to be dark – it is because they want their outside to match how they feel inside.If a dark skinned person longs to be light – it is because of self-hatred.Hmmm… Thanks for the clarification.Also, April’s dismissal of Mlisa’s statement only highlights what she said – "The black community tries to pretend as if colorism is a figment of society’s imagination." It is interesting that April stated "I’ve heard many a comment directed at some of my lighter-skinned friends along the lines of "Is he/she black?" or "Does he/she associate with us?" —- yet she states this as if they asked a stupid question. Of course, there are light-skinned blacks who associate with everyone, but there are many who do not. It is practically an article of faith that dark-skinned blacks can be "jealous" of lighter blacks but the notion that some lighter blacks really do discriminate against darker people is thought of as rare or something that stopped in the 1930s.Surely it’s purely coincidental that studies have been done over the years that show that light-skinned people are paid higher salaries than blacks. And Hollywood and the music industry? All happenstance. Everybody "knows" that Beyonce and Halle Berry would have the same careers if they were darker. I’m sure if Jill Scott had Rihanna’s voice, she would have the same shot in the industry. If Michelle Obama looked like Valerie Jarrett, I’m sure gop racists would joke about the same monkey sounds and how "angry" and "bitter" she is. Forget white racists. Colorism will never go away because black people are content with pretending it doesn’t really exist – especially when they benefit from it and/or perpetuate it in hiring practices and their choice for a mate. It’s easier to simply label anyone that points it out as "bitter" or claim they are exaggerating things to avoid further discomfort.

  38. @ LisaWhen I wrote that I was referring to people that I personally have known. Obviously I can’t speak for every case, but for the most part the light skinned people I met who wanted to be darker said so because they wanted it out of racial pride or because they hated the white blood in them (which is also a form of self-hatred). When I met darker people who wanted to be light it was because they wanted to be "more beautiful" or accepted and felt being darker was a burden or ugly. I mean, these aren’t earth shattering things. As black Americans we are supposed to want and love being black and it’s frowned upon to openly wish you were lighter even if people display an obvious preference which is why wanting to be darker is received differently than wanting to be lighter.No one is denying that the media and even black people display preferences for lighter people. My point was that both sides have their own struggles and that a lot of the color debate is subjective (re: people unable to decide if I count as light or not). But colorism is an issue, which is why I wrote the piece.

  39. That scene from the movie "Queen" has been running through my head for about 2 months. The one where Halle Berry is homeless, wandering through the south during teh Civil War, and encounters a group of Black folks around a campfire. Halle is not hungry, but HON-gree, and a middle aged Black woman asks her, quite caringly, if she’d like something to eat. When Halle says yes and comes closer to get the food, the woman tosses it into the pig stie and says something to the effect of "eat that, white bitch!"I’ve always wondered, did that lady really think she was white? Or was she mocking her octaroonish ability to pass, as she had done before, and would do later in the movie.Like you, I’ve been called lightskinned by people too, and I don’t see it. To me, lightsniknned is the same as yellow, and that’s not me – I’m firmly brown, maybe light brown, but quite brown. Probably 65 – 75% of my family on both sides is yellow, but I’m part of the small group that ‘s holding on to those original African brown genes for dear life.Alot of the things regarding color (and attendant characteristics like hair texture, facial features, etc.) people say out of their moths is a reflection of their own stuff, not about you, in most cases.

  40. "…but in a room where you have two "conformist" individuals who are equal in every way except skin color, the lighter one is going to be preferred by most white people and again…Consequently it benefits all of us, regardless of color, to challenge and fight white supremacy and white privilege when we encounter it. That is the salient point I think, I’m *not* prepared to say [black] people can’t have preferences for a certain physiognomy etc without being a self hater. What I can very much see happening is the shrinking white population using more ‘soft power‘ methods to ,invert/ redefine ye olde one drop rule. When they were the majority, unlike the in the Carribean, there was no need to co-opt ‘not really white’ people into the club. As the country changes, I wonder? The Skin You’re InNPR on point, program from yesterday. Interesting dialogue /nice contrast to the conversation here.

  41. I’ve been refered to as ‘light’ or ‘fair’ and I just don’t get it. I’ve always seen myself as brown, it’s that simple. Also, at school, I had my hair in cainrows(cornrows, to you yanks) and was asked if it was my real hair… that stumped me. I honestly despise this whole thing, but I fail to see where it’ll end. Too sad.

  42. Dang Olivia, y’all took it from corn to the sugar cane fields. Whenever people mention sugar cane I always have the urge to initiate a Saint Domingue/Haiti style uprising. Where’s my machete?

  43. My daughter (9yrs) is very dark, like dark chocolate, and absolutely gorgeous. I’m not just saying that because I’m her mom (lol). I tell her all the time how beautiful she is. And I hope that she sees it when she looks in the mirror. However, truth is, she does not see herself reflected in media or anywhere in her neighborhood or school. For me, this (fighting colorism) is an offensive game. I seek out black models in magazines & internat to share with my daughter. I have a copy of that Essense book that has all those models in it (there are some dark ones there). I seek out the Ebony fashion fair fashion shows. It takes money, effort and time, but I seek out.Colorism exists, but honestly I’m really more preoccupied with trying to make a decent living. I honestly don’t care about adults who have an issue with their color. But I do care about kids and the subliminal messages being sent to them. Please, when you see a kid, compliment him/her on their yellow, toffee, caramel, milk chocolate, dark chocolate, blurple skin. You just might be the only one.

  44. @ AltanticOceanI really appreciate how you’re trying to instill high self-esteem in your daughter and how you’re trying to expose her to beautiful women who look like her. But the adults who have issues with their skin complexion were once upon a time children with the same issues. And maybe they weren’t exposed to the situations you are showing your daughter.

  45. This is late, but I find it curious that Lisa writes as though colorism only goes one way. My point was that light-skinned blacks have suffered disparagement and outright hate by dark-skinned blacks, too, and it’s wrong to dismiss that by saying, "Oh, no, it MUST be worse to be dark-skinned." That’s all.

  46. Danielle I applaud your piece and the profound honesty that encompasses the article.I have been reading the comments from your readers. Again I applaud every single comment and for some skin color has caused much pain. I was especially touched by the comment from the reader who was spit on and followed on the bus. That comment was difficult to process because she could have lost her life.Danielle, in your piece you mention White House Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett having to produce a birth certificate to prove that she is black. Did she actually do this? I ask because my life is eerily similar to hers. On my birth certificate the race is stated "colored". That was the word du jour for describing African-Americans at the time I was born. On several occasions, when I was much younger, I used to produce my birth certificate for those who did not believe that I was black. I was offended. My mother, father, brothers, sisters were obviously black in skin color. I was not. I am the exact complexion of Valerie Jarrett. As her parents were active in the civil rights era, so were mine. I have read many articles by Ms. Jarrett and she is so proud of the contributions she (and her family) have made as African-American activists. Most important my parents raised me to always be proud of who you are and with that comes responsibility of black pride. Yet, when a birth certificate was plainly evident of my race, some still did not believe me. That was tough to take. Now, of course, I could care less what anyone thinks. I know WHO I am and if no one excepts that, it ‘s their problem, not mine. Finally, there was the doll test. Conducted by African-American husband/wife team Doctors Kenneth and Mamie Clark. The results of the doll test have everything to do with the fact that were are now an integrated (I prefer the term "blended)" society. However, in an article that I read "Why Black Girls Still Prefer White Dolls " (link: I was sadly disappointed.Once again thanks for the article and thanks to every comment in response. I have taken so much away from both the article and the comments.

  47. @ WilhelminaI was exaggerating when I said Valerie would need a birth certificate. I was just making the point on how she often is more "white" looking than her white co-workers and peers.

  48. One of your better posts though I don’t agree with your conclusion. I believe a key factor in addressing this problem is the misguided emphasis on skin colour in ascribing ethnicity. Defining yourself or others, dark skin, light skin or whatever inbetween or outside, according to how they are seemingly favoured by the colonial/imperialist order is nonsense. Flipping the measuring stick upside down so that "Black means good" is nonsense too. Mine, yours and everybody’s particular skin colour should be irrelevant to all sane people. Am I less related to my parents because one’s darker than myself and one’s lighter? Should I feel more related to those with the same shade of skin as me than my own brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews and cousins who don’t? If you needed an organ transplant would a brown skin donor be more suitable? NO. NO. NO. Shared ancestry, history and culture – in it’s true sense – are the concrete factors that unite us. It’s time for us to stop defining ourselves in reaction to others.

  49. I happen to be VERY fair-skinned. My mother is too. Both of my parents are biracial Jamaicans. While I can certainly empathize with dark-skinned individuals because of how they are treated by society, I cannot help but feel that many of those said individuals would never try to understand the perspective of a lighter person. My life has NEVER been simple. Most black people and other minorities have been unbelievably cruel to me because of my pale skin. This is especially obvious if I happen to be the only "near-white" person in a room full of darker people. Since childhood, I have experienced nothing but hate and I believe it is related to my physical appearance. It is painful because I love Black people in all shades…but most don’t seem to love me in return.I once dated an African-American guy (my high school sweetheart) with a dark chocolate complexion. His family had some pretty severe hangups about color and race. His father was hypocritical…constantly trying to insinuate that I thought I was "special" because of my skin, yet he would admire anything that had non-Black features. Not to mention, the constant claims of white and Cherokee ancestry. *rolls eyes*This was a family that referred to natural African hair as "bad/nappy" and loose curls as "good hair". My ex’s mother literally HATED me. She was openly hostile in the way she would barely acknowledge me when I said hello, the snide comments she would mutter, the way she would critique my skin color and every aspect of my appearance. I was always respectful to her despite the hostility. She never tried to hide it anyway. She obviously hated me for being of mixed race and being fair-skinned. Yet, she had her hair straightened and bleached PLATINUM BLOND. She tried to look like anything but what she was…a brown-skinned Black woman. She also considered herself "light-skinned" when in reality she was not. I believe that she had issues with herself and she was projecting these insecurities onto me. Her husband cheated on her with a white woman, which resulted in a biracial daughter. I met the other woman once. I feel like on a subconscious level, I somehow reminded her of this person because we share the same white skin color. My ex surrounded himself with other self-hating individuals, including racist Latinos who considered themselves white and would drop the "N" word in casual conversation like it was no big deal. My ex’s grandmother *was* somewhat light-skinned, but still many shades darker than myself. She once asked me out of the blue if my hair was real. I was taken aback. I have to disagree with Sandi on this one. Black people are often quick to wonder if my hair is a weave and I’m not dark. Most people believe that Black women cannot have naturally long hair. This is not true, as I’ve known more than a few Black women with beautiful dark skin and flowing hair. Hair length IS mostly determined by genetics but other factors like nutrition also come into play. It really isn’t about the color of one’s skin. It also depends on how well a woman takes care of her hair.My dark-skinned stepfather literally abused me for years because in his words, my life was "too simple". He was another person who was all too willing to project his pathologies about color onto me for something beyond my control. My biological father is biracial and very light-skinned like my mother. I never understood why my stepfather perceived me to be so carefree. How ironic, since he terrorized me to the point of nearly losing my sanity. He expressed his hatred and resentment on a daily basis. He accused me of "coasting through life" and seeing life as one big party. Many people assume that all light-skinned people are happy and privileged when nothing could be further from the truth. He also abused my mother in different ways. He worships white women. As an adult, the knowledge that my color played a role in his harsh treatment only saddens me further. To abuse a kid because of color (or for any reason at all) is HEINOUS.There was the dark-skinned teacher who incited other children to beat me up because I was "light-skinned and snobby" in 7th grade. She was of partial Indian ancestry, but obviously had a problem with light-skinned biracial people. The black woman who told me that dark skin was prettier than my own pale skin when I was 11 years old.The people who always feel the need to remind me that I look "different" somehow.This needs to stop. It is shameful how Black people treat one another. I don’t look down on ANYONE, no matter what color. However, I simply do not wish to associate with people who make assumptions about me based on my color before trying to know me better. We are a beautiful bunch of people. The human race is beautiful because there is so much diversity. Most people don’t accept me. Therefore this whole business of "light skin + looking exotic =instant happiness" is B.S. It is utter nonsense. White people (with the exception of my dear husband) are not entirely willing to accept me. I’m still black in their eyes. Black people are not entirely willing to accept me. If you start talking about my color or some superficial stuff the minute we meet, I will stare off into space. I don’t have time for that. I want to find commonality with people in a positive way…not focus on what divides us and why somebody believes I have it so much better when they don’t know me.

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