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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. Keish

    Im proud to be a dark skin woman.. Two of the most powerful women in the world are dark skinned..Oprah and Michelle Obama.. I love the skin Im in and my husband is light skinned but that doesnt matter because love is love… Only black people has this light skinned and dark skinned complex and its once again away to seperate our greatness as a race..

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    • HowApropos

      Keisha, do realize that Asians, Latinos, and other dark-skinned minorities practice colorism too, right?

      It’s far from being a ‘black thing’.

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    • PeeWee

      Oprah & Michelle are definitely NOT dark skinned…..and yeah, all people of color, not only blacks, go through this.

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  2. I really thank the author for the honesty in this article because this could have been the usual visionary writing telling the audience how perfect her self-esteem is and how “strong” she is in the face of much criticism but she, instead, kept it real… I appreciate that

    We all know that there are women who, in a moment of weakness and vulnerability, “stretch [their] faces” and never fully rid themselves of doubts that they would somehow look “better” if they somehow different.

    All women can identify with this but darker Black women have the extra burden of living in a society that is (permanently) hostile towards their skin tone.

    You literally have to build a wall around your self-esteem to get around that and if your family didn’t start building your wall early on then it could be a long road ahead

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  3. Tonton Michel

    Good article, very thoughtful, it is a conversation that needs to happen regularly in order to at the very least make people aware of the manipulation society has on our subconscious choices we make. Solutions are what we should be interested in.

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  4. iQgraphics

    I never saw the infamous comment, but ya’ll do need to get out of your own heads. Everybody has their own particular preference on who they find attractive.
    This article could have been about being skinny in a world where the proportions of Kim K, Nicki Minaj, etc are preferred.

    At the end of the day, people are going to crap all over you, regardless of their preference, if you don’t walk with your head held high.

    You are all Queens. You will not be desired by ALL KINGS. get over it. get over the uptown downtown stigma. I do appreciate that loving yourself and being comfortable in your own skin takes time and personal growth.

    But then, I speak from a position where I had other features to become comfortable with, I also dealt with my son having mild identity crises’ based on being ousted as a white boy by his classmates. He got over it. We all can.

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    • @iQraphics

      Are you Black? Is your son Black or bi-racial? Just asking so I can understand your comment.

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    • “I never saw the infamous comment, but ya’ll do need to get out of your own heads. Everybody has their own particular preference on who they find attractive.
      This article could have been about being skinny in a world where the proportions of Kim K, Nicki Minaj, etc are preferred.

      At the end of the day, people are going to crap all over you, regardless of their preference, if you don’t walk with your head held high. ”

      The realest thing ever said right here!!!

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    • iQgraphics

      @Chic Noir
      sry… haven’t been back since this thing exploded

      But, it does not matter. I have self pride and managed to instill it in him. I helped him to understand people have their opinions, which they are entitled to and some times, most of the time, those opinions are meaningless and stupid.

      He’s different and
      He’s fine with that ;)

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  5. iQgraphics

    i do often wonder why some blacks treat others so poorly.

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