By: Taylor Lamb
When discussing “problems in the black community” many black people like to claim that we are the ones holding ourselves back. They say we as a race have a variety of problems that make it impossible for us to advance. A commonly touted idea is that we are too divisive, always finding hindrances to prevent us from coming together. An example often used to point this out is the light skinned vs. dark skinned debate.
People claim that “it’s stupid, it’s petty, we’re all black and should embrace that”, but this debate is not just a petty way for black people to hate on each other. This is much deeper than that, and has been an issue for centuries. It’s colorism, and it’s not a two way street. I’m a light skinned girl and I benefit from colorism.
Colorism, the preference of lighter skinned people over darker skinned ones, is rampant in the black community. It is a problem for men and women alike, but in this article I’m going to speak on the experiences of women because that is who gets the worst of it. if you’re an avid user of social media I’m sure you’ve seen examples of this first hand.
Often times men are seen making jokes about how they’ll never date a dark skinned woman, comparing her to terrible things, saying they would fight her in the street, etc. The most shocking thing about this is many of the men saying these things are dark skinned themselves and have dark skinned women in their families. Despite this, they manage to use 140 characters to fire the most heinous insults against people they should be supporting
Some light skinned girls are probably reading this and getting annoyed, thinking, “Wait, colorism negatively affects us too!” But no… it doesn’t. Think about the most common light skinned girl joke. People say we have a ton of people texting us and we never text back. The joke is that we’re so desirable that we have a bunch of suitors trying to get at us and we just can’t take the time to respond. This isn’t an insult.
Don’t get me wrong. I watched the Light Girls documentary. I know that some light skinned girls have had problems while growing up like being excluded on the playground by dark skinned girls, among other things. I’m sorry if that happened to you, but colorism is more than playground bullying. Colorism is more than just the hurt feelings, the insults, the mean tweets. Colorism, like racism, is a systemic problem.
So far, I’ve mostly spoken about the way men play a role in colorism, but dark skinned women’s lives, like all women’s lives, don’t revolve around men. Colorism shows its self in other places. For example, dark skinned women with the same work experience as light skinned women are less likely to be hired. Dark skinned women who commit the same crimes as light skinned women serve longer prison sentences. Colorism is institutional. Just like white people do not experience racism, a hurt feeling on a playground isn’t comparable to what dark skinned women suffer through.
Colorism is just a function of racism. It’s racism’s black cousin, and as a black person it should offend you. At the root of it, when people complain about someone being too dark, when they compare dark skin to dirt or to roaches, what are they saying? Blackness is ugly. Blackness is stupid. Blackness is wrong. People say dark skinned people are “too” black, but what’s wrong with being black?
You should be offended by colorism because they are insulting your blackness. They think you’re an “acceptable” level of black but don’t stay in the sun too long girl, or they’re coming for you too. Colorism should offend all black people, and we are the last ones who should be perpetuating it.
Everything I know about colorism I learned from listening to the experiences of dark skinned women and nothing I’ve said here hasn’t been said before by a darkskinned women. But often times when dark skinned women do share their experiences they are often labeled as being bitter, petty, or jealous. So light skinned girls, we need to step up! What can you do? Well for one, delete #TeamLightSkin from your twitter bio.
Don’t make colorist jokes, don’t laugh at them, call someone out if you hear them make one. If you’re getting into a relationship with a black guy who says he’s only into light skinned girls or tears down dark skinned girls when he has the chance, then get out of it. He has his own internalized racism issues he needs to work through.
Most often, black women are the only ones supporting black women. That’s why it’s so important that light skinned girls don’t let their dark skinned sisters get thrown under the bus. Every time you silently let a colorist joke pass you by, you co sign your approval. You agree that blackness is ugly. Blackness isn’t ugly. Black is beautiful. Dark skin is beautiful. We need to help to make sure everyone is recognizing that.