I was not always comfortable with my skin color. Growing up, I had moments where I wanted to be a shade lighter than I was. I didn’t view myself as ugly, per say, but I did think caramel or lighter skin would make me more beautiful.
My first experience with colorism was in elementary school when being rated by the boys in our classroom. I can’t remember how old I was, but I definitely recall the boys sneaking around a sheet of paper with the names of each girl and rating us from 0 to 5 or 10, in terms of looks. Two other girls and I were the darkest girls in the classroom and were consistently given zeros and a few ones while the others received higher ratings. I may have just been a kid but kids are very impressionable, and I quickly came to believe that our dark complexions were what made us “ugly” to the boys in the classroom.
As I grew into my teenage years, the encounters with colorism were more subtle. I watched plenty of movies in which black women were featured but few of darker complexion. Sometimes, those of darker complexion also played the lesser role. Back then, I also watched a lot of music videos (BET and MTV) and was cognizant of the lack of brown girls on the screen.
Was there a standard upheld by family members/peers that you felt you needed to live up to?
Everything I’ve mentioned through now was while growing up within my “American” community in the United States, but colorism was also apparent in my Nigerian community. I have known individuals who bleach their skin several shades lighter. I have also been told how dark I am. I have dated a Nigerian (darker than me) who expressed me that he is usually attracted to light-skinned women and that I am the exception. So, I’ve encountered some level of colorism from the perspective of an African American and a Nigerian.
This series was prompted by an essay by HuffPo writer Kim Lute about how she didn’t have any black female friends because she was light skinned. What has been your experience interacting with black men and women of other skin colors? Do you think there’s a divide based on skin tone? Do you find that light skinned and dark skinned people still segregate themselves?
Nearly all of my encounters with colorism have been in relation to dating and beauty and not so much social status, class, or employment. Maybe it is because my accomplishments speak for themselves, maybe it is my field of profession, or maybe it is both. I have not witnessed light-skinned privilege (or dark-skinned “deficit”) in relation to educational opportunities or career, but I have certainly seen it in areas where physical attractiveness is deemed important. In such cases, dark skin is usually seen as “not as attractive.”
I have several circles of black friends which consist of an array of complexions from that of Alicia Keys to that of Lupita. Segregation based on skin tone is completely absent from each circle and we appreciate each other’s beauty.
How do you feel about your skin color today?
Fortunately, my self esteem never suffered to the point of me bleaching my skin or fully accepting that being brown made me ugly. As a woman, it has helped to see other women of my complexion or darker who I consider undeniably beautiful. (I even have a Pinterest board dedicated to dark skin women.)
Today, I am completely accepting of my skin tone. Seeing undeniably beautiful brown-skin women across social media has helped me with that acceptance. If I could talk to my younger self, I would share the Pinterest board with her and tell her “black is beautiful” no matter how dark.
Click to read Rinny’s story on the next page.