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I am a dark skinned Black woman. Or at least I think I am.

Not that I often define myself as such, nor do I’ve ever remember being defined thus. Which is to say I try not to think about it. I was never teased for not being particularly light, nor is my skin so obviously dark that it is ‘blue-black’ like my younger brother, my father, or the complexion of my grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins on my dad’s side. Theirs is skin with a gloss finish, it sucks in all surrounding light and sends it back out as a flat glow, mine is a much plainer, matte. I know that by popular standards of beauty and in the unwritten rules of women invited to grace the covers of magazines, dance in music videos and appear as love interests in general releases I am dark. Which is to say, the ladies that regularly occupy those roles are usually much lighter than me and if I ever found myself in a room with them I would know for sure I was the dark one.

I don’t care that Kevin Hart likes to make ‘jokes’ that women the same colour as me have bad credit. Just as I didn’t care that Lil’ Wayne mused in ‘Right Above It’ that a certain black woman would ‘look better red.’ I don’t care for Young Berg’s pool test. Or that Tyrese believes going with the best means omitting black women. Or that Ne-Yo thinks “all the prettiest kids are light skinned anyway.” Taken individually these slights seem too ridiculous to consider. I don’t take them personally; I tut at them; I brush them off.

But when I think about what these single ideas add up to, of course, I care. How could I not?

I’m crushed by caring. Because they perpetuate an understanding that to be a dark skinned woman is to be less. These ideas build themselves into assumptions and ways of treating women with as much melanin as me. I care because I already know dark skinned women are likely to receive longer prison sentences and less likely to get jobs when qualifications are equal. I care because too often our bodies are used as backdrops or props (i.e. Bella Padilla on the cover of FHM, ‘emerging from the shadows’). Think of how often you see women the same colour as me as surly, head rolling, loud-talking, finger-snapping comic relief (think Pam from Martin). I care because grotesque representations like Makode Aj Linde’s cake/performance art seem to be the only consistent representations of dark skinned black women. I also care about light skinned black women, who are women of colour too, and I do not want to continually feel set against them.

I think of all the dark skinned women I know. I think of how regularly they are excluded, insulted, mistreated. I see them all suspended in a place that isn’t a place, stranded it seems. I’m eager to watch Bill Duke and D. Channsin Berry’s Dark Girls documentary, and I’m holding out for its kinship.

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263 Comments

  1. I’m a light-skinned woman. When I hear men say things like “I only date light-skinned girls.” I don’t feel proud or complimented. I feel disgusted. Not only is it an insult to dark-skinned women (and I won’t say ‘black women’ because there are women of different cultures who are dark-skinned as well that aren’t black) but it also shows that men only pay attention to the color of a light-skinned woman’s skin and not anything else about her. She could have a great personality, nice smile, pretty eyes, but the only thing he’s attracted to is her skin. It’s pathetic and sad.

    • Ashley

      Thank you! As what some might consider brown skinned, I have several friends who are light skinned and hear their perspectives all the time. The way light skinned women are seen as fetish is disgusting. I think that brown and fair skinned women shouldn’t be separated but rather talked about as a group. As black woman first and foremost we have a problem with how we’re objectified and seen in the media, amongst black people, etc. I think this article is great. While the author is not saying that she has some overwhelming grudge, she is simply presenting a view that can spark a conversation. It is coming from a place of concern, rather than rage, resentment, or resistance. I find myself thinking and acting the same way at times.

    • Dreaming

      Yes, LainaLain!

      I, too am a light-skinned woman. I am very fair skinned, to the point that when I was in high school, White friends would point out to me how they were darker than me. I don’t feel any sense of pride or complimented either by men admiring me for my skin color.

      It seems that those (Black girls/women) who aren’t light-skinned think it’s all good for us. I’ve never felt good having people question my ethnicity or even my nationality simply because of my light skin. It makes me cringe every time a Black guy yells out to me, “Aye, light skin!” or “Hi you doing, light skin”

    • honey

      @LainaLain

      I totally agree with you, As a light skinned women, I find myself getting more offended at the rap lyrics praising light skin more then my browner skinned friends. Receiving preferential treatment due to my pigmentation over anyone is nothing I support or am proud of.

    • *Joins the “light skin” and indifferent club*

      I can identify with all the comments above. Colorism makes me sick

      There’s nothing like hearing a BLACK man praise the glory of your “lightness” to make you feel uncomfortable and squirmish. Only the most damaged, gutter self-esteem having light complected Black women would view this as a “compliment”

      How can any light Black woman feel proud of her skin color when it’s used as a measure against more than half of her lineage? This logic has always puzzled me

    • binks

      “How can any light Black woman feel proud of her skin color when it’s used as a measure against more than half of her lineage? This logic has always puzzled me”

      Amen! That has puzzled me to S. This is why this issue is a two way street that we need to try to understand from both sides. Because trust me, we as black women are victims of this issue no matter what side of the color spectrum we fall in. I know we can’t walk in each other shoes but we can understand each other pains and try to fix it. I was not born to be anyone’s fetish or knock my fellow sisters of darker hues who is not my skin tone. I refuse to be a victim of it or let others use me to make others a victim of colorism. So these rap videos, those individuals’ quotes in the artlce, rappers, men who only date light skinned women, etc. can go kick rocks all day everyday with me…shrugs

    • The Taker

      Agrees. So true.

  2. Ms. Information

    Well expressed Sara…I, like you was never teased for the darker hue of my skin, but I can remember little digs that I would hear…I also notice the obvious lightening of women on television and in the media…but God made me and I accept myself exactly as I am, and I wouldn’t change a thing.

  3. HowApropos

    Dark skinned and proud to be! I grew up being teased about my skin tone, because i am the darkest of my mother’s children, and because I grew up in a predominantly white town. However, when I was growing up there, there’s a huge mixed population there as well, so the black people there, especially the black men, are terribly colorstruck to the point that when i left in 2000, i can happily say that i’ve never turned back. The bad thing is, this sick mentality that ‘lighter is better’ seems to be all over the place. All the more better for those who are hurt to get a thick skin and work your beautiful brown selves.

    And because of my upbringing, I really don’t hang out with a lot of black people. If anything, I’m a loner and i like it that

    • grateful

      *waves to fellow beautiful darkskinned introvert*

      ;>)

    • HowApropos

      *waving back wildly*

      Hey Pretty!

      (i say that to all the beautiful sistas on this thread and all over)

  4. thanks for your honesty sara…

    being a dark girl ain’t easy peazy.

  5. jamesfrmphilly

    i LOVE dark skin!

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