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4 Shades, 4 Stories: BGLH Writers Discuss Their Experiences with Colorism and Dark Skinned Prejudice [Part 2]

Lisa

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I honestly didn’t know I was perceived as dark-skinned until I was in my early teens. Sure, family members would say things here and there, but it didn’t really start to stick until I was older. As a younger child I never really paid that much attention to my complexion. I considered myself “regular” brown, much like Rudy or Vanessa from the Cosby show. I knew I was black, and yes, when I was 6 years old one of the little white girls in my dance class told me everyone hated me because I was black, but colorism, as we understand it today, didn’t become an issue for me until I entered high school.

When I formed a new circle of friends as I entered high school the color divide became frighteningly real. There were the girls with boyfriends, and then there was me. I began to feel then that I had to make up for being so black. I did well in school, dressed in the latest fashion trends, and had my hair styled every other week at chic downtown salon.

I thought I could wash away the stain, the horror, of my black skin by being the anti-stereotype. When issues of color would arise, and someone would casually say things like, “you’re not that dark,” my insides would light up with glee. I had done it. I had successfully ensured my blackness was a non-issue.

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Then I went to college, and one of my dorm-mates in a drunken rage screamed at me to “Just go back to Africa!” I knew then that I’d better start owning my blackness, my deep black skin, or other people’s perceptions of me would continue to haunt me all the days of my life. I was tired of being lulled into a sense of security with myself, only to have someone say something crazy to take me back to feeling like the 6 year-old everyone hated.

Were you ever bullied?
No, I wasn’t bullied, but given that my best friends were significantly lighter in complexion, I felt very much on the outside. During the summer we’d go to the beach and I’d watch as they’d lather their bodies in baby oil, happily baking beneath the sun’s rays while I’d pull my wide-brim hat down over my face.

Some people feel that certain skin colors come with privilege and others with a lack of privilege. Have you experienced light skinned privilege or a dark skinned deficit (ugh, for lack of a better phrase!) in your life time?
I can’t say with absolute certainty, but I know that as a black woman, a dark-skinned black woman, folks immediately make assumptions about me. I sometimes still feel the burden of not being what they expect. And then, of course, I am mad at myself and sometimes find myself wanting to be what they expect just for the hell of it. Fair skin is just so revered in our culture that it’s hard for me not to assume that those with fairer skin are afforded a sort of privilege I’ll never be privy to. Fairer-skinned women are perceived as beautiful just because. Their beauty is easy to digest. They are easy to digest. I have to sell people on me. I have to sell that I am beautiful, sell that I am not aggressive, and sell that I am not any of the things people associate with dark skin.

All in all I’m okay with myself. I’m married, so I’m not faced with colorism in dating, and I have a job so I’m thankfully not trying to be dark-skinned on the job hunt. So issues of colorism aren’t great challenges for me today. My concern really is for my son, and the other children we soon hope to have.

I love my skin today, but on some level, I know I haven’t fully conquered this demon. My husband and all of the men I dated before my husband don’t look like me. They are all fair-skinned. And if I’m going to be completely honest, when I imaged the children I’d have, even as a young girl, my children were all fair-skinned too. This, of course, makes me incredibly sad, but when folks tell you awful things about yourself as it relates to your skin color, the effects run deep.

What advice would you give to your younger self?
Own it. Own and love every part of yourself that the world may tell you shouldn’t be loved.

Go back to Tori’s story

Ladies, whose story do you relate to most? What has been your experience with colorism and light skinned privilege?

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riyo
riyo
7 years ago

So are we ready to admit light-skinned privilege exists or nah. everydayfeminism.com/2015/02/light-skinned-privilege/ We gonna pretend darker skinned criminals and girls in school don’t get punished harsher or nah mobile.nytimes.com/2014/12/11/us/school-discipline-to-girls-differs-between-and-within-races.html?referrer=&_r=0 Lighter than a paper bag don’t exist or nah Pelo malo o no? I can go on for days with examples and empirical study. But to say light skinned women don’t face sexualization due to their subjective “attractiveness” and proximity to whiteness… To say that dark skinned women don’t face hypermasculinzation because it offends you to admit there are people in the world that don’t have your same experience? To heal… Read more »

EllieLo
EllieLo
7 years ago

“No tea, no shade, no pink lemonade.” Lol, can I borrow that one, Rinny? But in all seriousness, thanks for sharing your experiences with us, ladies. They’re appreciated and insightful. From elementary school on, I was always in a situation where I was in the racial minority, but it didn’t really matter because no one really said anything about it. I blatantly knew I was different than other girls, and when I was picked (because I was) it had nothing to do with my race and everything to do with why I didn’t have funds to keep up with whatever… Read more »

melissa
melissa
7 years ago

That last story really hit home. Especially the part about imagining my kids being light skinned. I feel so guilty and ashamed for ever having that feeling.

im not the only one
im not the only one
7 years ago

I’m honestly done, like on a serious note this is getting too much .Before I read this article I told my friend to wait and see that all the stories would involve the typical dark skin girl that was bullied and hated her skin color etc etc. Same story every time. Sometimes its like people want to make is seem that all dark skinned girls have been bullied or were insecure about their skin color. I believe a dark skinned girl that has never been negatively affected by colorism should have been included in this to show different sides of… Read more »

Telion
Telion
7 years ago

You know what? That’s great. That’s great that you’ve never experienced the buying or the negative self esteem associated with dark skin- you are blessed, and so right to be grateful. That does not however negate the fact that the story is much different for a great many of us ‘dark skinned’ girls. What you need to understand is that just because you haven’t experienced something doesny make it irrelevant. None of us directly experienced slavery- but does that negate its impact on our society, our families and our world? If you’ve never been poor does that mean poverty is… Read more »

Yemi
Yemi
7 years ago
Reply to  Telion

Thank you! I came on here to say all of this but you did it so very well. I’m also dark-skinned and while I haven’t had the experiences these women have, I’m not about to come on here to dismiss and discount their histories because it doesn’t mirror my own. Furthermore, I fail to see how these women’s stories are perpetuating this “dark skinned girls are struggling” trope that imnottheonlyone is complaining about! None of these women are saying “I’m dark-skinned, woe is me,”…rather, they’re being honest about their negative experiences and sharing how they have been able to find… Read more »

Simone White
Simone White
7 years ago
Reply to  Telion

Amen!! I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Rylee
Rylee
6 years ago

Your experience is the exception not the rule.

Paula
Paula
7 years ago

The link to the next story does not work.

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