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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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  1. 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

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

    • @iQraphics

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

    • “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!!!

    • 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 ;)

  4. iQgraphics

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

  5. It is an interesting discussion to have though I must say sometimes I do grow wary of it. Often times when colorism is discussed, the darker skinned woman is cast as the sad, unloved victim. The trailer of the film, Dark Girls, plays some sad, pitiful music that plays into the stereotype. I know I will not be able to stomach that film if the entire piece has that tone. I am a dark skinned girl with natural hair. I’m very clear and convinced of my beauty. I may not be somebody’s type (which I consider their issue) but my beauty and brilliance are not up for debate.

    I actually consider it a blessing that when I was younger, random boys didn’t consistently affirm my beauty, particularly based on skin color. My idea of my beauty and self worth came from a mixture of my own growth, identity, and the input of those who loved me. I have many friends whose lighter skin tones were constantly affirmed by random people and they did not get a chance to dig to fine their own beauty and self-worth, To this day, some of those friends still tie their self worth with how the outside world views them. So I just want to stress that there is a blessing in not always having the outside world affirm you. I even have a theory that when certain people don’t like/affirm you (i.e. Lil Wayne, Tyrese n company), it actually speaks better of your character than if they did. When dissecting an opinion, I always consider the source. These statements come from very simple boys who have been given a powerful platform – a very dangerous cocktail indeed. But there is precious little about Lil Wayne that inspires me so if my beauty does not inspire him, in my mind, that’s actually a good thing.

    I certainly struggled when I was younger, but there definitely comes a point when we have to decide to affirm ourselves if the outside world won’t do it. In all honesty, if somebody told me that they thought I was ugly today, I would a) think they were clinically crazy b) pray for them to grow out of their simple minded stupidity. I wouldn’t even dream of dating any man who only dates a certain skin tone (whether light or dark) because there’d be a 50% shot that my kids would come out as simple as he! As I’ve gotten older and am clear and unwavering about my beauty and where I stand, I get compliments quite often. And while very flattering and nice (I do love a respectful compliment :o)), they are superficial additives because I am already clear on my worth, my beauty, my intelligence, my creativity, my style, and my purpose. However, until every girl can feel worthy and complete just as she is irrespective of skin tone, it is a conversation that we must continue to have. But my perspective will be to affirm what gives you your unique worth and beauty and not to play into the role of sad, little, black girl when being a bad-ass, confident woman is infinitely more fun!

    • Toppin (Formerly Known As Just Sayin')

      This is something I’ve been thinking about:

      Why can’t dark-skinned black women/girls just be considered ugly? Why does it always seem to go back to their skin color rather than just their looks overall? And yes I know beauty is subjective, but why can’t someone not be interested in them because they honestly aren’t attracted?

      I used to mentor a teenage girl who was dark-skinned. She swore black boys were shunning her because she was dark-skinned. Mind you this girl was overweight, wore a very unflattering weave, and could probably use some lessons on how to be feminine. But in her head she was being overlooked because she was dark-skinned. I didn’t have the heart to tell the girl she might need to improve her physical appearance, but I always thought it was weird that so many dark-skinned women and girls I’ve run across immediately run to the skin color argument when trying to explain why so-and-so isn’t attracted to them.

    • @Toppin: LMAO! So basically in a nutshell you are describing Claireece Precious Jones? If thats the case I would say that she could be the fairest of fair and based on your description she’d still be ugly.

    • Dalili

      Well said @ ASA!

    • Toppin (Formerly Known As Just Sayin')


      Naw…she wasn’t precious. Poor thing just needed to work on her physical appearance.

    • TypicalBlackWoman...

      Let’s not even pretend like there aren’t *some* black guys out there who would prefer to have an obese light-skinned or white woman in their arm over a darker woman.

      Please note that the word “some,” which also emphasizes the fact that they’re the ones with the problem…

    • @Toppin. The reason why it’s not so cut and dry is because there is very real conditioning to equate skin color with attractiveness. Not everyone can even see features. I guarantee you that many of the people who love Beyonce’s physical appearance would look at her a bit differently if her skin were significantly darker. It is a hang up that a lot of people can’t get over.

      In general though, I do think that we place too much emphasis on the attractiveness of women. But if that girl you were referencing learned her true worth then knowing her beauty would just be another aspect of her personality. It also seems that you were holding her up to a very limited notion of beauty that plays into the problem. I’m not saying she couldn’t help herself out by putting a bit more effort into her look, but the true work is in her character development. That is what builds real and lasting beauty irrespective of weave, size or “femininity.”

      @the Precious comment – I hope that you will one day learn that we are all creatures capable of intense beauty and ugliness. Choosing to call someone one or the other is more a reflection of you than of them.

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