This past weekend, CNN’s Soledad O’ Brien took a deeper approach with the In America series by exploring the complex ideologies behind colorism within the African-American community for “Black in America 5”. Among the many individuals she spoke to – posing the question ‘who is black America?’ – commentary about the difficulties that blacks still face, no matter how light or dark their skin is, seemed to surface in several conversations.

Slam poets Hiwot Adilow, Telia Allmond, and Kai Davis explored the theme of color and identity through artistic expression for CNN. The young women from the Philadelphia Youth Poetry Movement performed “Team Lightskinned”, a poem that explores both the negative and positive experiences that light-skinned black women face growing up in America.

The poem opens with the lines, “Your worth a little more if your golden, yellow enough to remind them of precious metals.”

Imbued with deep reflections and colorful language, the poem recalls the historic struggle of colorism within the black race– for light skin women can “past the paper bag test in the dark…can dodge handcuffs without paying a fine”, unlike their darker brothers and sisters.

It also expresses their desire for darker beauties to accept themselves, despite how society may currently demean them: “black might be beautiful but right skin might be the light skin.”

Speaking of society, the poets negate popular belief: “it doesn’t occur to them that them that some of the most gorgeous stones are obsidian, opal, onyx.”

What are your thoughts on the poem? Can you relate?

  • Yb

    I could’ve sworn that the black community has identified what having light skin looks like, that ain’t it.

    But I must say it was a great poem. A poem that recognising the realities of what having light skin affords one in this society. At first glance I thought it would be one of those “mean darkies pick on me, cause I’m lighter and better” spiels but thankfully it was not.

  • simplyme

    Thats why I think the whole concept is kind of funny. If you had a room full of Black people and you were told to split them down the middle into “light skinned” and “dark skinned” no two Black people would do it the same. Everyone has a different concept of what that means. Add to that depending on the seasons…the lighting…. how long they’ve been in the sun etc. etc. many of us take on different shades. We’re like a bell curve of brown shades…. the majority just hovering between some middle brown colors…

  • lol

    to all the lighter-skinned ladies who understand and fight colorism thanks a lot! really appreciated! hopefully darker-skinned ladies can learn to appreciate the fact that life isn’t a walk in the park for you guys either.

  • Santi

    Please stick to the post. Your comment has nothing to do with nothing.

  • nona

    Yep, this is true. I am dark skin, and my mother is that middle of the road color that sunburns easily. Yet when talking about dark skin, my mother held up a PAPER BAG to prove to me I was not chocolate and that’s a title left to her man, Tyreese.

    I also commented on a friend’s facebook status when he was going on about how “dark people” shouldn’t wear bright colors. After I stood up for dark skin people and my love of the color orange and pink, he simply responded with, “you aren’t that dark though.” Overall, people look at me and see a dark skinned woman, but yeah, people love to justify who and what isn’t dark or light based on their own arbitrary reasons.

  • myblackfriendsays

    After watching the special on CNN, I saw some tweets on twitter that said the “paper bag test” was an urban legend, and never actually happened. Has anyone else heard this before?

    I am not saying colorism isn’t real and doesn’t have real consequences, I’m just trying to get my facts straight.

  • Yb

    This is just a random thought but I find it so rare to hear a light skinned black MAN speak about his experiences on being light skinned and Colorism. I find that when the Colorism debates arises it most centers around women of various hues, with input from dark skinned black males, but I rarely hear a peep from light skinned black men.

    I also rarely see light skinned black men portrayed on TV at the same magnitude as their women counterparts. I can name Jessie Williams and Will Smith, but I also don’t watch much TV so my findings may not represent the majority.

    I don’t know maybe I’m the only one who noticed these things. :/ *shrugs*

  • Yb

    It exists. Who ever said that it is a myth on Twitter just wants to hide our ugly past.

    In various communities in the south (especially Lousiana) paper bag tests would be enacted to determine the “desirables” and higher ups in society based on whether they are lighter than the paper bag. HBCU’s sororities and fraternities are especially known for doing this to determine who could be admitted into their organization.

  • lol

    i thought it would be obvious that my comment was meant for the ladies who comment on colorism articles. it has a lot to do with everything.

    and i can comment how i please.


  • &&&&

    Will Smith is light??

  • Alex Wright

    I think it has to do with the intersection of racism and sexism. Black women always had to measure of to the white women. It’s reinforced by society that white women are the most valuable. So most black men seek yellow bone girls or white girls, becasue that’s what we’ve all been taught.

  • LadyP

    I’ll be honest here. I don’t know how to fight this ongoing senseless battle any longer. When I watched the CNN special, I became so hopeless when the little “dark skinned” girl with the pink shirt said she wasn’t pretty because she was dark. I have a niece with a very dark complexion and very pretty. Regardless of the people telling her this, she doesn’t believe it anymore. She says she is not pretty because she is not light. When it comes to colorism, by our race accepting “light complexion” as automatically beautiful and “black might be beautiful but right skin might be the light skin” – Im not sure if it will ever go away completely. It is sad to see beautiful people not accepting their beauty because of their complexion and what other people think. I wish as a race we could arrive to a space of accepting ALL of our rainbows of beauty. I just think it’s embedded in too many of our minds now that light is better. This same problem has not changed since the arrival of the first indentured servants. It doesn’t seem as if it is becoming better even with the special televised programming. Look how ridiculous this statement is targeted towards Nona: “I also commented on a friend’s facebook status when he was going on about how “dark people” shouldn’t wear bright colors.”

    And I must add even for the darker complexion, there is a debate. For as long as can remember, I would here…but P – - you’re not really dark. You’re more of a caramel-brown complexion or soft –light brown. I would always, say, “huh?” Since, I consider by self as a brown-skinned girl, I would ask does it really make a difference?! The response is always YES. Beauty is beauty…and it shouldn’t be a fight to convince these young girls otherwise. My niece is only 10 so I’m trying to intervene the best way I know how.

  • niksmit

    I’d venture that that is because because colorism is also a gendered issue. Externally it’s more of an acceptability thing. Internally it’s more of a beauty thing. Beauty is more important for women than men in the heterosexual context, thus being the “wrong” color is going to wound women more than men.

  • Yb

    IKR I used to think the same thing but according to some people he is. Look at some of his old Fresh Prince episodes. At times he’s the same color as Uncle Phil.

  • Sasha

    Typically I do not comment on articles of this subject matter anymore but your comment resonated with me. This topic is exhausting. Half the time I read these comments and the ensuing comments and feel this sense of hopelessness for the “community” and the generations of kids who will have to deal with this but shouldn’t have to. I know the implications of colorism and intraracism are very real but I find it to just be so exhausting. Especially when there are so many areas of concern- violence, drug abuse, sexual abuse, underperforming schools, the unemployment rate, the fiscal cliff, I could go on. If I ever hear/ read about this specific topic again it would be way way too soon. How do people still operate with such a limited, ignorant and senseless mentality?

  • LemonNLime

    Maybe it is the lighting in the room where they are performing but they don’t look light to me…just brown. Maybe they were writing rom someone else’s point of view?

  • LemonNLime


  • LMO85

    Appreciated, much respect.

  • Chillyroad


    Your response didn’t even address the issue. You could have very well brought up the fact that light skinned men are viewed as less masculine when compared to their darker skinned counterparts or how it helps them better integrate into society a la Obama’s electability. Also, as I understand it, light skin men suffer greater sexual assault in prison because of the view of them being more “feminine” looking and weak compared to other men.

  • Pseudonym

    I thought the same thing.

  • Boney

    Brown, brown, brown, brown, brown, since when was the color brown a shade?

    Growing up, you were either dark, light and if you were something in between, you said one or the other and it was no big deal now it seems everyone is going the hell out of their way to not categorize their dark skin as dark.”I’m a cocoa butter dipped in milk chocolate on a Sunday Morning shade” really? Is the word dark that damn dreadful?

    Even though it’s not my experience I am aware that colorism exists and has for a very long time but can’t help but to notice it’s become so pervasive in this culture. I can’t sign on to twitter without reading ridiculous “TeamLight” vs. “TeamDark” bullshit on my timeline. And women referring to themselves as bone this and bone that? WTF?? I’ve never heard of such a stupid term and was not shocked to find out some rapper put “boning” on the map. Not to derail but to answer another clutch article, “Is hip hop to blame” I’m going to have to answer yes, there are so many lost men and women out here who take their cues from the latest/hottest rapper.

  • EST. 1986

    Can I just say that as a very fair-skinned Black woman, the terms ‘yellow bone’ and ‘red bone’ are highly offensive to me?

  • P


    I don’t have all the answers, but I do like to engage with others to search for more meaningful solutions. The conversations can become tiresome, but maybe with the programs and discussions, we can see a better day. That’s my heart hoping for change, but my mind says something totally different. For certain, the new generation shouldn’t have to deal with this issue.

  • Keepitreal

    ”I’m a cocoa butter dipped in milk chocolate on a Sunday Morning shade”


  • Kay

    Wow. It’s horrible how popular revisionist history is. The paper bag test existed, as did the comb test, as well as social clubs for lighter skinned people such as the “Blue Vein Society.” What people don’t get is that this practice originated during slavery, when mixed race slaves were considered, “gentler,” and “easier,” to control. This mentality became ingrained in how people thought of Black people as a group. The “tragic mulatto,” is all about that “poor” mixed race person who has the supposed “intelligence of the White race,” and the “insufferable savagery of the Black race.” It was basically a way to justify the rape of Black women. It’s like saying, “It doesn’t really hurt them. I mean, look, their children are better off for it.” Some really good books to check out:

    The Paper Bag Principle: Class, Complexion, and Community in Black Washington, D.C.-Audrey Elisa Kerr

    The Blacker the Berry-Wallace Thurman

    Hope this helps, as I believe that obscuring history doesn’t help, it only hurts. If we can’t take a hard, cold look at where we’ve been we can’t possibly move forward.

  • GlowBelle

    “It is sad to see beautiful people not accepting their beauty because of their complexion and what other people think.”

    You said it!

    I feel as you do. I wish I knew what was the *best* way to heal, but I think the only thing we can do is like what P said and pass on the positive and teach the babies to celebrate beauty in all forms. Even when there are those out there who continue to hate and divide, we shouldn’t engage in doing that and set a better example for the future generation, like your niece.

    Even though I’m light-skinned I have darker-skinned relatives, in fact, my whole family is all different shades — that’s what being Black in America is…being of variant of persons, ideas, and colors, and it’s such a simple concept, that it is just disappointing to me that we STILL have to bring this up, that we still argue in comment sections about this, and that people still feel ostracized and can’t feel comfortable celebrating being themselves because of someone else’s definition of what type of Black skin color is “better” or what type of Black experience is the most “authentic”. I get exhausted about the colorism issue, I don’t want to say it, but I am and I’m like Sasha, I wish we could talk about more pressing matters, but I still feel that if we don’t talk about it or dust it under the rug and act like it doesn’t exist, we pretty much fail ourselves — so it HAS to be discussed.

    P.S. Loved your comment!

  • The Other Jess

    oh gawdd people, here we go again – divide and conquer, CNN style.

    who cares? love yourself and you wouldn’t worry about colorism. light-skinned blacks had it just as hard as dark-skinned blacks in many ways, particularly in slavery and jim crow america. both groups were used and manipulated to promote whtever agenda was being promoted for the day.

    sometimes light skinned was “favored” over dark skinned (seen as more acceptable to whites who did not want to be as visually reminded of the african-ness of the black population on their shores, smarter, easier to manipulate in the promotion of white supremacist notions of lighter-skin-is-better), but other times dark skinned blacks were “favored” over light skinned blacks (seen as more trustworthy, reliable, loyal, less dangerous to whites, etc). bith groups were being used, and each promoted or favored only when it suited white interests and agendas.

    adam clayton powell had just as hard a time as paul robeson. lena horne had to fight just as hard as dorothy dandridge. just please, end it people and move on. they trump up this colorism thing every few years when they want to see black people fighting again. stop being led around by the nose.

  • Kay

    I remember mentioning this to a visiting professor who was a researcher of African American and Caribbean studies, and he was saying that it’s because the dynamics of rape, sex and beauty are often intertwined with a certain value. For instance, women are by far, defined as “valuable,” by virtue of their aesthetics, these aesthetics are often racialized, thus lending pressure for Black women to conform to a standard that is not only unrealistic, even for non-Black women, but places a low premium on us as women. I think that dark skinned men being able to have more roles, especially in things like action films may have something to do with the stereotype of how hyper-masculine (tough, aggressive, sexual, etc.) darker Black men have often been considered to be.

  • ChillyRoad


    But fair skin also denotes femininity while dark skin denotes masculinity and in that case it certainly does affect light skinned men negatively.

  • P

    I loved your comment as well! *best* way to heal – - Ms. GlowBelle, you’re holding the master lock key here. I’m not sensitive about a lot of things, but when it came to my baby niece saying that. I cried – it tore at my heart. I want the *best* solution b/c if is not the best, it will resurface once she start dating, enters high school, and college. Even though I feel as if it’s an endless battle, if I give up, I’ll fail her and myself. Can’t dust it under the rug …

  • Billy Paul

    “So most black men seek yellow bone girls or white girls[.]”

    If at all possible, please define “yellow bone” for me, it appears not be listed in contemporary dictionaries.

  • Billy Paul

    Contrary to popular belief, life is good for Billy not because he’s a light-skinned Colored male.

    Be not mislead, Billy’s life is good he is 6’3″, 205 lbs., highly articulant, and was trained at the finest universities that this country has to offer. However, such blessings are not unique to Billy alone as Billy’s articulant friends (both so-called light- and dark-skinned) are also currently enjoying the similar fruits.

    Further, what most of these learned commentors forget is that one’s credentials and tax bracket trump most if not all of their misconceptions. In particular, said person may arguably only obtain the “acceptance” that they seek only after they have addressed the deplorable state of their credentials (or lack thereof).

    Carry on, Family.

  • Val

    It’s amazing to me how stealth White Supremacy is. It’s White people that started all of this crap about skin color and here we are blaming ourselves and not even mentioning White racists and their divide and conquer scheme. Colorism is the result of oppression, period. We need to give full recognition to Whites for starting all of this and for keeping it going even today.

  • Santi

    @chillyroad you are a nuisance. Plain and simple. How does dark skin denote masculinity? Have a seat. I can find one for you. Troll.

  • TypeA

    As a dark skinned woman, I struggled with colorism. I didn’t think any guy would ever be attracted to me because of my skin. It wasn’t until I got to college that I started loving my self, and not caring what others thought of me. Now, I’m happier and more confident than ever. We need to encourage young girls (regardless of color) to truly love themselves!

  • Excuses

    According to you every thing dumb and or wrong a black person does is due to white supremacy.

  • lol at this

    glad i’m not the only one who noticed.

  • Tallulah Belle

    Right. I don’t understand. Are the poets supposed to be “lightskinned?” Because, they just plain and simply are not. Or were the poets just reciting a hypothetical? How strange.. I think that Soledad O’Brien, Mariah Carey, Vanessa Williams, Evelyn Lozado, and Shakira are “lightskinned.” The three women on the stage are beautiful, intelligent brown -skinned girls, each with lovely natural hair.

  • Tallulah Belle

    Yes, there are paper bag tests. I belonged to a very affluent, black folk, social group growing up in the Northeast and I actually failed one of these tests and could not attend an official soiree they were having. The men, however, did not have to take one of these tests, only the women. Failing one of these tests was par for the course, however none of the black men at these events even dare look atm let alone dance with or speak to a black woman without sandy brown hair and blue eyes. Black people have so many problems, truly.

  • PJ

    That gave me chills. Nice to see some lighter skinned sisters openly express what many darker skinned sisters like myself have held and felt since they were little girls being teased on the school bus. “Ignored… like black is only here to make us shine a little brighter.” Deep!

  • PJ

    Ya’ll seemed to miss the point. This wasn’t really about starting a competition conversation about whether the girls would actually pass a paper bag test. Distractions like that have held our community back for decades. Focus on the words.

  • PJ

    I think it’s a societal issue more than anything. I believe that if your niece had grown up in an African country or another place where black skin is considered beautiful she probably wouldn’t have that opinion. Look at all of the darker skinned actresses and models who are upheld as a standard of beauty in Nigeria (Nollywood) and other African countries. America (both North and South) is hopelessly entrenched in skin color issues — believing that dark skin is less attractive — due to our messed up history.

  • __A

    People may not like my comment, but I kind of get tired of these kinds of specials. They’re kind of like black people shucking and jiving to me. These channels and newspapers get black people talking about community dysfunction for ratings and page clicks. This is a problem in the African American community that has been around for a while. Does it really help anyone for poets to talk about colorism on CNN?

    There were people who mentioned this on the Single Black Men article. Black people go on these mainstream shows and networks and talk about all these things. It never helps. It doesn’t solve anything, and in the case of the single black woman it is now drawing a bunch of negative attention. To me it’s like one of those poor third world country children commercials, and other groups of people say “oh man it must suck to be them.”

    I’m for airing of dirty laundry when it helps such as Bill Cosby telling people what they needed to hear, but I get sick of black people thinking they’re bringing “awareness” by doing things like this. When there are specials dedicated to single black women and women writing articles about how black women are just naturally fat, I start to think that a lot of this coverage of black people is not actually good. After watching Good Hair, I had to think what was the purpose of this movie? Don’t black people already know what black women do with their hair? Maybe Chris Rock actually was trying to bring “awareness” but what it seemed to do was portray black women as pathetic and for wearing weaves or straightening their hair. And he showed this to the whole world basically to make money. Do you think his movie made his daughter’s feel better about themselves?

    People say it started a dialogue. I don’t think so. It just made other people talk about something that black people already talk about when these other people are not even involved. That movie basically said that black women put chemicals in their hair that can burn a can because they hate themselves, and this self-hatred was caused by nothing but their silly little minds. They get their weaves done before they pay their rent or take care of their children. Not only did he show that, but he went to India where he showed the women there cutting their hair for spiritual beliefs only to be bought by crazy black women. He was basically saying that these other non-black women had their priorities straight. They were coming from a spiritual place whereas these crazy black women were throwing someone else’s hair on their heads because they don’t like their own hair. It’s entertaining I guess. I didn’t feel like this when I originally watched the movie. I thought about it later though. It’s easy to overlook what these people do. People like Chris Rock and DL Hughley who go out in front of other groups of people and make negative jokes about black people have been around for a while. So many black people just laugh and brush it off.

    All of these specials for black people and articles about black people are just about getting views and page clicks. Other people tune in like they’re watching National Geographic or something, so all these black folks are just shucking and jiving for these networks and newspapers thinking that people actually care or what they’re doing is actually helping, but it’s very similar to what is going on with Maury.

    The next time black people decide to do a special to bring “awareness”, they should think does this help or are we the lion at the zoo and they’re the spectators saying “wow black people are so different and weird. They have so many problems.” Are you all on the same page? Are you joking around with people, or are you the joke? There are so many black people that think that laughter, acceptance, and media portrayal from non-blacks is good. But are they laughing with you or at you?

    The best way to combat colorism is to raise your kids not to love themselves and have some racial pride. When you let them listen to Lil Wayne or don’t address their self hate, they grow up to be these idiots that think they would look better if they only had some more non-black blood in them.

  • __A

    *raise your kids to love *

  • Keepitreal

    I really don’t care how some of “them” view us. If specials such as this spurs major reflection and discussion within black families than it was worth it. I never understood the “hush, hush, whitey might hear us” spiel and it almost always comes up when issues pertaining to black women/girls are being discussed, like clockwork.

  • ?

    I have a question for you and that Icyroad fellow,

    What do you gain by trolling a black women’s site?
    Do you think you are fooling anyone?
    Do you think your ignorant comments somehow hurts our very soul ?
    Do you do the same on white women blogs or is this brand of fun reserved for women of color?
    Is there not a jockmagonline .com out there for you and your kind to congregate?

  • MommieDearest

    I’m sooooo tired of CNN telling me about being black in America. Really, it’s disturbing to me that white folks are so interested in our pathologies and think of different ways to put them on display. *smh*

  • Pseudonym

    What is a “regular black woman?” Your wording alone makes you sound like an ass.

    I don’t get personal with comments, but you’re obviously a troll, so I’m treating you like one.

  • Val


    No, that’s according to you. I never said anything about ‘dumb’ or ‘wrong’. What I said was that many of us blame each other for stuff we have nothing to do with.

    You should read more then maybe you would comprehend better.

  • LadyP

    @ PJ

    Yes, you make some valid points. That is exactly what I’m going to tell her the next time we discuss it. If we start back embracing and teaching the “good” aspects of our history, maybe we will start back loving ourselves.

  • Idiot Basher

    @ Billy, define articulant….your comment defies itself…lol

  • nona

    Thanks for this comment, adding those books to my to read list.

  • __A

    I don’t know. I just highly doubt that black families are unaware of colorism and need a TV special or documentaries to tell them to do better.

    It is just like Good Hair. Black people already know what we do to our hair. I don’t think many BW decided to go natural from that movie. It didn’t really help. It just showed nonblacks what BW were doing to their hair so they could be like wow those women are crazy.

    There are black people who understand colorism and its effects. I think they’ve already reflected. And then there are black people who believe that light skin is better. Do poets make these people change? No. And things like this don’t help. They just show nonblacks all of our problems.

    Other groups of people aren’t always running to the media to talk about their problems and display them. They display the good and cover up the bad the best they can. The bad should be worked on in your community and on a household level.

    This isn’t about trying to cover up what happens to black girls and women. It’s about constantly running to the media to talk about the bad. It’s about working with people to make us appear dysfunctional. And you know if things like this helped, I would be totally fine with having dysfunction broadcast, but they don’t. It’s just another special where nonblacks will tune in to see what new is wrong with black people.

  • Val

    Lol! @ “Billy” referring to himself in the third person. So funny. Reminds me of a Seinfeld episode.

    And the first time I read his comment I was like, who the hell is Billy? Lol.

  • http://clutchmagazine blcknnblvuu

    Nollywood actors are all weaves and wigs.that’s right I stop watching

  • Danda

    Please tell me you are joking skin lightening is most common in the Ivory Coast my country and it is highly unlikely any of the actresses are on screen without a weave on

  • sheworkshardforthemoney

    Wow that was amazing thought I was the only one that noticed that point, what the hell was the purpose of the Good hair movie

  • LaLa

    Can we have some examples?

  • yumm

    “regular” black women? my friend you ARE a “regular” black women. Implied in your choice of words, is the idea that your special, and most people don’t react well to someone that is consciously or subconsciously treating them them as an inferior – which my explain your experiences.

  • yumm

    Wow (in not a good way). I do not been to be rude of pry, so feel free to leave this unanswered – but when did this happen?

  • yumm

    Also this culture looks up to athletes, associates them with masculinity- which painted as desirable by traditional social structures for men but not women.

  • Misty

    This isn’t divide and conquer. Addressing colorism doesn’t automatically divide people anymore than addressing racism automatically divides people. Not talking about it will only let colorism continue. We should address it at it’s roots.

  • Misty

    White folks started Jim Crow too, but it doesn’t mean that black people couldn’t fight against it and/or address it. Of course it’s white people who started this, but we’ve continued this divide, whether you are light-skinned or dark-skinned consciously and subconsciously through ideas when it comes to black movies (every Tyler Perry movie has a dark-skinned black male aggressor and a light-skinned male savior, and “Precious” had dark-skinned parents that were abusive and light skinned people that helped make her life better), though our choice of mates (the worship of light-skinned women and the disrespect of dark-skinned women and always having a light-skinned woman as the leading lady in music videos/romance movies) and other things. It because we DO want to acknowledge that Willie Lynch strategy that has continued and we do want to change it by educating people on elements where we develop self hatred whether it be skin tone, hair texture, etc.

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