I know this probably won’t be a well-received article. The Varied Complexions of Black People is a guaranteed push-button topic, and too many writers have exploited the issue for hits. I hate that this will likely be taken in that context, but I assure you, that’s not what I’m up to.

Hear me out to the end.

When I caught wind of Eric Benét’s latest single “Redbone Girl,” my first thought was “oh, #$%^!” I wasn’t excited; I was loathing the term for the description of light-complexioned women and more so, the comments sections of multiple sites that would inevitably explode with vitriol and knife-twisting in never fully healed wounds. No one man should have so much power.

We’ve all experienced our fair share of unwanted and offensive commentary about our complexions. We say the comments don’t matter and that we’re so over it, but our reactions show otherwise. The emotional trauma, whether you’re 27 light, 1B dark, or a middle shade like 6 brown, all sticks like balls of track glue. What I want to suggest to you here is there is no outdoing each other in the pain category.

A dark girl encounters ignorance about her complexion? Yeah, so does a light girl. It would be nice if she could get a little empathy and understanding, too. Pain is just, well, painful, period. Who’s Hurt More isn’t part of the upcoming Olympics, and the re-telling of emotional battle scars shouldn’t be a competition.

Undoubtedly, racism, sexism, and alleged “preference” have created an unfair culture in which women with lighter complexions can be more valued in some circles. If you dig up stats on incarceration, employment, and even marriage or familial favoritism, they often tend to pan out in the favor of a “light bright.” That’s not at all OK, and I don’t have any Kumbaya answers for how to recondition 500 years of mind-@#$%ing to make it right.

Because in some situations those of a lighter complexion might get a one-up, that doesn’t discount the many ways in which it can be also be a pain. The hue that can make light-skinned women prized among some also can make them loathed among others. And the latter half of that dichotomy shouldn’t be dismissed because of the former.

The vitriol hurled at a darker woman for being melanin-infused doesn’t somehow trump that of a lighter-hued woman, also marginalized but in her case for not being considered black “enough.” (There’s a reason that after a trip to the beach, you’ll catch some light women extend their arms beside another light friend as a playful competition to see who’s finally darker. Sometimes you’ll catch one measuring her skin beside that of a brown friend to see if her complexion made it to brown status. It’s a joyous occasion to be “black enough.”) The words are different, but the intentional infliction of shame, the feeling of being outcast and set apart for something out of your control hurts just the same.

I get that it can be annoying if not downright infuriating for a not-light woman to hear men extol the virtues of a “redbone” or watch a video that signals the prevailing beauty standard (rarely even a black woman these days). That’s only a compliment to the most basic of light womankind. There’s no collective Halle Berry mirror-gazing, wondering, “Who is the fairest of them all?” Being visually objectified and men wanting to bend you over isn’t a come up for any woman of any hue.

For every dark-hued woman baffled that anyone would jump to assume she’s mean or angry, there’s a light woman somewhere with a similarly stuck-on-stupid face because someone would assume she must be stuck up or feel entitled. I hope we can all agree that women’s dispositions are more complex than a “School Daze” musical number.

No one likes being singled out for their complexion, not in the “you’re pretty for a dark-skinned girl” way, or the way President Obama is praised for marrying a “real” black woman like Michelle, one of the implications being that to be a real black woman is brown-brown or darker, certainly not light. I get why that praise is heaped, a sort of proudly brown backlash for a culture that still pushes Bright is Right. Still, it doesn’t ease the sting.

But light girls just aren’t supposed to talk about that. The reaction is akin to men hollering about sexism: Just shut the @#% up about it already! And so light girls do, stuffing down their own complexion-related pains, listening and empathizing with those of others, even when the favor isn’t usually returned.

Demetria L. Lucas is the author of A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life. ABIB is available to download and now in paperback. Follow her on Twitter at @abelleinbk.

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  • 1flyynerd

    How about an article that is called “In Defense of Black Women PERIOD!” Written by multiple blackmen posted everywhere discussed on all the talk shows. How about everyone open your eyes and speak out for there mothers, aunts, sisters and cousins and tell the MEDIA to stop exploiting us & back up off of us. Forget defending dark skin and light skin defend BLACKWOMEN in general. One thing society can’t understand is why haven’t we crumbled yet, they call our first lady names, they called us the ugliest women on earth, they call us nappy headed hoes, too muscular, too fat, obese, highest in AIDS (I don’t have AIDS do you?) but yet we held our heads high and we keep walking, working and loving. Let them call a white woman all these things she would crumble or kill herself. Don’t write articles like this that degrade our self worth but write articles that prove we are, what we say we are and think we are! We are feminine, sweet, loving, caring, assertive, mothers, lovers, backbone shelter a force. One last thing, Blackmen we don’t want you to depend on us we want you to lead us. Society wants you to depend on us so when they tear us down you will fall too. The sad part is you haven’t realized that yet because you have joined them in their efforts.

    • 726

      “How about an article that is called “In Defense of Black Women PERIOD!” Written by multiple blackmen”

      Don’t hold your breath for that one.

    • jamesfrmphilly

      defending our women is a primary role of the blackman.
      we have failed at it. perhaps because we never had the rite of passage to teach us what a man is.

      my apologies to the sisters.

  • jamesfrmphilly

    say wha? they pickin on my redbone sisters? ** calls out national guard**

    • AJ

      shut up idiot.. omg. This is a serious conversation

    • jamesfrmphilly

      no, it is not…….

  • apple

    well as light skin person, i don’t really need coddling or woe is me..sure i have been offended by darker skin people by being called light skin b*tch, house n*gga,front porch n*gga, blah blah and its annoying hearing about skin tone all the time or having your own mother say you don’t count as a black person (my mom is darker skin), i know society thinks that we have won the “lottery”(not my words,what someone said above) so there is no need to try to outshine someone in an oppression Olympics. but its really not that hard, i don’t know what light skin people are really trying to prove? trying to say this without being offensive to everyone, but GET OVER IT? life is hard being black but its marginally worst being a darker skin tone(because of society). This is just coming out all wrong. I don’t know. Can’t we all just get along lol ???

  • ashley

    I’m dark brown and my mother was light brown. We only to played with barbies or dolls that were black . I can recall being in grade school and describing someone as “bright skinned” and my mother informing me “light skinned” is the correct term. Other than that, we never discussed light/dark skin issues because all we knew was black is beautiful. I was raised in the “city” in Mississippi. When I got to college (university school with MS folks from small town and those of us from cities)it was there I learned how different my view of beauty was from a lot of guys AND GIRLS and that I didnt really pay attention to different complexions. I didnt realize until recently, I dont view a lot of white nor light skinned people as attractive as I do darker brown skinned people. With all of that said, I dont think its necessary “society” that gives us our view point on how we feel about our complexions. It’s more so from our backgrounds and our parents teaching. I’ve never felt bad about my complexion and I’m dark brown but my momma instilled that confidence in me. *kanye shrugs*

  • Thank you for writing this. Too often, I feel like we “light brights” aren’t considered entitled to voice our concerns of being on the other side of the coin, and although I do feel beautiful, it’s not because of my relatively long hair, green eyes, or light skin. It’s not because Lil’ Wayne prefers red over brown. It’s not because many men have a standard preference, and I might happen to fall into that category. It’s because my mother raised me to feel beautiful, even when I had the braces, the acne, and couldn’t really dress to save my life. Even at 27, I still become slightly offended when I’m told I’m not black enough because of my lighter skin, or told that I don’t really have “black hair, anyway.” I see women of all shades, and am amazed at their beauty, which is only complemented by their complexions. This article was fantastic in expressing how light-skinned women have a burden to bear, although many expect us to bear it silently and with a smile on our faces. Thank you for being that voice.