Life as a Black Girl

Token Dark Girl

By: Marsae Johnson

If I had a dollar for every time I heard   “you’re pretty for a dark girl” Bill Gates wouldn’t even be on my level. And what does that even mean? “You’re pretty for a dark girl” like beauty is forbidden fruit to those blessed with melanin. I know way too many dark girls who hear the same thing. The dark girl narrative makes me feel like we’re all “Stepford Wives”. Like being a dark girl makes you just like the rest. I didn’t want to be like every dark girl I wanted to be me, but it seemed like my skin color wouldn’t allow me to do so. I couldn’t wear bright colors or dye my hair. I couldn’t live.

Yet, I still felt privileged. I felt like I was different. My story, although similar to the infamous dark- girl narrative, has a few plot twists. I realized this when the hashtag “#GrowingUpDarkskinned” started trending on twitter. Much like many other dark girls, I have dealt with feeling inferior to lighter-skinned girls and being insecure about my skin color. But unlike many of them I was never the bud of many dark jokes. I can’t recall ever being called “tar baby” or being scared of disappearing when the lights turned off in class. I was always told that I was beautiful and exotic-looking even when I didn’t feel like it. I guess you can say I was blessed in that sense.

Reading the tweets under the hashtag made me feel light skin. Like I had it easier or my pain just wasn’t the same. Many of the girls told stories of being rejected because of their skin color and being made to feel ugly. I’ve never dealt with that. Why? That’s the question I’ve been asking myself lately. Why was I spared? What made me so different? I think I have finally come to a conclusion.

I’m what you would call the “token dark girl”. I’m like Martin Luther King Jr. circa civil rights movement. They don’t like my dark-skin, but can seem to make an exception. I’m that one in a million. I don’t quite fit the European perception of beauty, but I’m not too far out of bounds. I don’t have smaller facial features and my skin isn’t light, but I was “blessed” with hazel eyes and sandy-brown hair. Everyone loves labeling me as “exotic-looking” and different. I’m not your average black girl. This is the load of crap I’ve been getting my whole life.

eyes2 (Pictures of my hazel eyes)

eyes 3

It’s funny how every intended compliment felt like an insult. The constant “what are you?” and other questions suggesting my beauty is anything but black pouring alcohol on my wounds. As if black can’t be beautiful and my beauty belongs to someone other than my people. I used to hate telling people I was “just black” like being black was boring. It made me feel like I was a disappointment.

In 9th grade I told people I was Dominican so I could sound cultured and exotic. My mother once asked me did I think I was beautiful without the eyes. And at that time I honestly didn’t. My eyes were the only thing I had going for me. Without them what would I be? Every time I felt pretty something in the back of my head would say, “If only you were ten shades lighter”.

I haven’t always been dark-skinned. When I was younger I was a caramel complexion or brown-skin. The happy medium between dark and light. In school I heard all the jokes dark kids dealt with and at times threw them out myself until the tables turned. The summer before 6th grade I baked in the sun playing every hour of the day. I got noticeably darker to the point that people would say, “Wow, you got black”. I was mortified. And to add insult to injury puberty was just hitting. So not only did I get a major tan, my uterus was shedding and skin purging.

I was scared of being teased and made fun of for my skin color, but luckily it never happened. I of course dealt with boys saying dark skin girls were ugly and not wanting to date a dark girl but that’s nothing compared to what others have faced. Hearing accounts of people’s families excluding them because they’re too dark and other horrifying stories put things into perspective.

For years I thought I had it bad when it was really just regular melodramatic teen drama. Insecurities are normal, but the things many dark girls have to face are unimaginable.

Every day I log onto Twitter, Tumblr, or Instagram with a timeline full of black women empowerment. I follow a countless number of “dark-girl appreciation” accounts. It’s disheartening to know that at one point I needed those pages to feel beautiful. Seeing beautiful black women, as if it was a rare occasion, kept me going when just seeing me should’ve been enough.

Don’t get me wrong, the adoration of dark women is beautiful and long overdue, but it seems like it’s being shoved down people’s throats when it should just be a known fact. And let’s be real majority of the girls on those pages don’t look like me. They don’t have kinky hair, broad noses, and a lanky body. They have fame and fortune with “nice” hair and smaller features. Gabrielle Union, Tika Sumpter, and Kelly Rowland shouldn’t be the only reason I love the skin I’m in.

We strive so hard to fit the European perception of beauty. Equating beauty to light hair, light eyes, light skin, and smaller features. And as we process our hair and contour our faces white people are tanning and pumping their lips with collagen. It’s all so backwards. Minorities constantly push the notion that whites are superior and we don’t even know it. Black men hating black women. Black women trying to look like something that we aren’t. And us believing anything beautiful couldn’t possibly come from us. We don’t know ourselves or our worth.

Now I’m glad to say I love myself through and through. I love my mahogany skin and my eyes are only a plus. I love black me and not only the part of me people think isn’t black. I will no longer be the “token dark girl”. The dark girl flattered when boys say I’m the first dark girl they’ve talked to or when people think I’m mixed. I am a dark girl and proud of it.

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5 years 4 months ago

Every time I read this I smile and feel empowered. Love you and thank you for writing this Marsae. Miss you sis