Despite the many strides we have made and our best efforts to overcome it, we can’t deny that colorism is still a big part of our communities. Whether we are complaining about Lil Wayne’s constant celebration of “redbones,” or wondering why a commercial only showcases light-skin sisters, or are rooting a little harder for the FLOTUS because she’s a brown skin woman, we can’t deny that Black folks still have a complex relationship with skin color.
In the piece, “Skin Deep,” Kierna Mayo interviewed a cross-section of prominent African-Americans to see how and why we are still so obsessed with color.
As I read the discussions, many things jumped out at me. One major theme was that there is pain on all sides. Whether you’re a light skin sister who has at once been celebrated and shunned because of your skin color, or if you’re a dark skin sister who has been fetishized and/or cast aside because of your deep hue, there is pain. No matter what point on the color spectrum you fall on, we’ve all been hurt.
Writer/Activist Michaela Angela Davis on ‘Yellow Fever’…
“I’m so far on the light-skinned scale that I don’t actually benefit from the typical light-skinned thing. Growing up, I was so fair. I had blond hair and was often mistaken for albino. I was almost able to be a voyeur. My sister, however, is very Halle Berry. I held a panel once with black women who were really high up (at mainstream institutions) in the fashion industry, and [the two darker-skinned women] scheduled to be there couldn’t make it. My panel was light-skinned by default and the reaction from the crowd was so intense. I chose people based on their credentials. A part of me thought that if all these women had brown skin, no one would have been up in arms asking, “Where are the light-skinned girls?” [Panelist] Tricia Rose is a professor of Africana Studies at Brown—but they saw her as a “light-skinned academic.” Brown-girl under-representation is a real thing, but it doesn’t change the fact that in that moment, Tricia felt reduced.”
Allison Samuels on rappers finally “getting it”…
“I remember interviewing Snoop. He really seemed to get it. He has a daughter. My friend who works at a casting agency says now Snoop’s always like, “Make sure you have brown girls.” He didn’t do that 10 years ago, but now his little daughter is dark-skinned. It almost takes this rude awakening. I remember LL Cool J said his niece once told him he must have thought she was ugly. He was like, “What?” Her classmates would call her Crispy because she was dark. She said, “Because you don’t put girls who look like me in your videos.” And he said it just broke his heart; he just felt so bad. And I’m like, But why does it take that though?”
Mark Lamont Hill on Black men and complexion…
“Like everything else, male privilege allows us to get by. I mean, there’s something to be said about Biggie being “black and ugly as ever,” [as he said in one of his songs], but still having models surround him at the club. It doesn’t mean that he wouldn’t have the same issues around color, but men can navigate it more freely than women can because there’s much more pressure on women to be defined, on a fundamental level, by how they look. But dark-skinned brothers do struggle. You hear stories about all the challenges—like Wesley Snipes coming up before being dark-skinned was cool. There’s a very real pain underneath that. But our response is so maladaptive that [many of us] just go out and look for the lightest woman we can find.”
The conversations in Mayo’s article are raw, honest, and telling. Even though many of us find discussions of colorism played out, we can’t deny the effect it has had on our communities.
To read the entire article, check out the Uptown magazine site.
Clutchettes and Gents, why do you think we’re still so hung up on color?