The Color Theory
A critique of colorism amongst millennial women.
This isn’t just another race conversation or gender conversation, but a human conversation. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. dreamt that his children, one day, would live in a nation where they wouldn’t be judged by the color of their skin but the content of their character. We yell, scream and cry about racism all day long but colorism is an issue too — not greater or lesser but an issue nonetheless. There’s this general idea that your skin color/tone says a lot about you- or everything. We often joke about it but we also apply these preconceptions to the way we interact with people. It’s really ridiculous but we’ve made it real.
In the last 5–10 years, the ‘lightskin — darkskin’ comparison has gotten out of control. Granted, this issue is historically embedded in our culture but I think it’s time to let it go. It might start out as all fun & games but when it gets to the point where, as a people, we are still rejecting subgroups of our own people- its a problem! “She’s pretty for a dark-skin girl” is a statement that has been made historically but it should not ever be an acceptable statement. Black women with lighter skin should not be generalized as crazy or stuck up. Black men with darker skin should not be generalized as thugs, just as Black men with lighter skin should not be generalized as weaker or emotional. DEATH TO THIS SOCIAL/CULTURAL DOCTRINE! Whether you’re male, female, Black, White, other, a mixture of all of that … whatever … stop this shit! Yeah sometimes “it’s a joke” but think about where that joke came from and what it’s doing to our people.
When hearing people using these stigmas more and more on a daily basis, I couldn’t help but to think about what it meant to me. I’ve been approached with the ‘crazy light-skin girl’ assumption before (it doesn’t help that I’m a Gemini smh). But I feel like now, more than ever, people are giving real weight and value to these really shallow assumptions. That scares me. Long story short- I started reflecting on how these generalized statements were making me feel. As a Black woman, I think about it from both aspects- that’s my perspective. While reflecting, I started noticing other shit. As I’ve recently graduated from college and entering the ‘real world’, I’ve had a few ‘professionals’, in various fields, address me as “just another pretty face.” One individual actually used that exact phrase. Nonetheless, they were each my elders, so I kept my manners. However, after about the third encounter, it raised a few questions; sparked a few emotions. Now, being called “pretty” may not seem like a huge deal but in the context, I was being called dumb before even getting a chance to prove my intelligence. I guess reality kind of just set in that I will always have to prove myself. Not only am I Black- but a woman. There’s plenty of disadvantages here, that I knew about all along but hadn’t been much of a problem for me … until now. Maybe I’m late, but I’m now VERY conscious of how I’m perceived (not that I’m altering myself to alter these perceptions, just hyper-aware of what they are). So, I began to wonder how other people (particularly women, for now) are handling these issues because I know I’m not the only one, right?
We already have so many outside forces that weigh us down as women, as Black women. Then, we attack each other; weigh each other down. As I looked at the diversity within my own small group of friends. I wondered how they saw it; if they think about it at all. So I asked . But I also wanted to capture it; to put on display and to challenge the stereotypes … the stigmas they’re faced with daily despite the content of their character. I kept it simple with this one- minimal editing, minimal clothes & makeup, just them on the surface; exuding their inner confidence so that you can see youreself in them. I hope they know I adore them . Khris, Cait, Kristi … Thank you for everything!
Alright. This wasn’t meant for me to preach. This isn’t an attack on men or anyone else but a reflection on what dialogue is really happening (despite who said it). I just ask that we continue to celebrate each other & not put each other into boxes.
“But, She’s White”
Since I was young, I’ve been surrounded by Black people. I went to a high school with more Black students than White students. Today, three of my best friends are Black women. My boyfriend is Black. But I am not. And that simple fact matters deeply in these relationships. My White privilege allowed me to experience school, sports, and relationships in the world different than many of these people I love so much. I didn’t get pulled over constantly in my neighborhood, and I never had to have “the talk” with my parents about police interactions. My White privilege shielded me from so much, despite my parents’ efforts to expose me to diverse people and situations. Just because you have Black friends doesn’t mean the monster of White supremacy isn’t still doing its dirty work. I definitely had my share of flubs along the way, and I’ll continue to get it wrong sometimes. And just because I’m White doesn’t mean my life is perfect, but I also don’t want anyone to think I feel entitled. Understanding and acknowledging my privilege has been so crucial to my relationships and social awareness. And I still have a lot of work to do.
Dating a Black man, I’ve encountered a few types of folks: the starers, the whisperers, and the outright rude people. Overall, unless there’s an opportunity to educate someone, my significant other and I don’t stress too much about these encounters. Frankly, there are more important issues. I worry about him . I worry all the time. I worried when he got pulled over for speeding and texted me from his parked car; my heart raced when I waited for a text back. I worry when I see people lock their car doors when he walks by. I worry when I hear people ask, “Who’s dating the Black guy?” at functions. As a White person, I walked through most of life not being reminded I was White. But the man I love is Black, and he’s reminded daily. And sorry everybody, but love isn’t blind. I repeat: love is NOT blind. Dating this man has been work, and let me explain what I mean. We’ve had honest conversation after honest conversation about culture, family, race, and privilege.He checks my White privilege when I need it, and I check his male privilege. We made conscious decisions to love each other and to value each other, which means learning the intricacies of every part of our identities. Sometimes it’s deep, challenging, self-deprecating work. We all carry our personal identities with us and value our backgrounds, yet we must know we are greater than the sum of our parts.
With the amazing Black women in my life, I’ve seen color prejudices manifest in a different way. As a feminist, seeing colorism affect some of the women I love the most is heartbreaking. I’ve seen the light-skinned/ dark-skinned divide affect them firsthand. As women, if we aren’t our own advocates, we all lose. I’m a firm believer in Ann Friedman’s Shine Theory. She says that instead of being intimidated by amazing, successful women, we should befriend them and encourage them. We push each other to be better and break down the ways society tells us we don’t belong. In short, “if you shine, I shine.” I want my dark-skinned friend Khris to feel beautiful just as she is. The White patriarchy is already doing enough to value lighter bodies more than darker ones, so we better not help it along. I just pray that Khris, Ashlee, and Caitlin know their shine inspires me as a woman beyond words. I hope everyone is blessed enough to have Queens like them around when life leaves you feeling so far from valuable.
“So Stuck Up”
People assume that being a lighter-skinned woman would put me at many advantages in life. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been apologetic for my caramel complexion. I’ve been teased by family members, kids at school, strangers who don’t know me from a can of paint, because of my melanin-makeup and what society dictates about women and men who share the same skin tone as me. As a kid, my cousins would bully me because my skin would get pink from the sun and they felt that I thought I was “too pretty” to play, so play dates often resulted in bruises and scratches from falls and concrete impact. I never thought anything of it; I felt I was proving that I was just as carefree and rough enough to play with them, even if that resulted in me falling down. In grade school, many of my classmates thought that I felt I was better because I’m “light-skinned with a white girl name”. It didn’t help that my parents raised me to speak with proper diction. The kids would make jokes about me, call me “white girl”, or think that I couldn’t relate to particular stories, scenarios, familial make-ups within the African American community because of my skin tone.
During my first semester of undergrad I pretended to share common interests amongst my colleagues just to escape the “light-skin stigma”. I even joined particular social groups/ clubs opposite of what people expected of me just to prove a point that didn’t matter. I’ve been told, when I meet new people, that they didn’t expect me to be as “laid back” or “down-to-earth” as I am. I used to think that people were learning qualities about me that they didn’t expect, but really they had preconceived notions about me before learning my true self. In laments terms: I’m not “black enough” for the general African American community, yet I still get profiled from the white community. For a decent portion of my adolescence, I felt as if I existed in a lose-lose situation. On top of not being myself, I was trying to defy odds that were completely artificial. Why can’t I find myself pretty? Why do I have to weaken my decisive nature? Why in hell would a little girl like to voluntarily bruise and mark herself? Makes no sense. This stigma has even affected relationships, one that’s incredibly dear to my heart. One of my truest, bestest friends is a darker-skinned woman, but she’s been told for so long that she’s only pretty for a “dark-skin girl.” I hate that I think she believes it. It’s heartbreaking for me. I’m attracted to people for who they are. I’m not perfect and people are entitled to their preferences but I hope people challenge themselves to judge by character, and not complexion. I have no idea what my offspring will look like, but I pray that my daughter is seen for her character, integrity, essence, and not where her shade falls on the color spectrum.
“Pretty For A Darkskin Girl”
Every since I can remember, I have always been the darkest out of all of my friends. My friends were always lighter than me- or another ethnicity. I always thought and sometimes still do- that lighter or women of another race were more beautiful. However, I never hated myself or the color of my skin nor had self-esteem issues because of it. I considered myself “cute” or “not ugly.” Of course, I’ve heard the typical offensive jokes like “darkie,” “black ass,” etc. I say it so casually because live become use to it. It doesn’t phase me. I’ve heard things like “I can’t play with you because you’re brown” to “if I was to see you and your friends walking down the street, I would naturally been drawn to them because they’re lighter.”
The most offensive thing I have been told is the infamous line: “You’re pretty for a dark-skinned girl!” When I was younger, I just smiled and said “Thank you.” Not really realizing what it meant. Thinking being told I’m “pretty” was the good enough part. As an adult, I make it a point to let people know that that comment is offensive even though the intention might not be. I get that a lot in the black community. Other races and cultures simply say: “You are so beautiful!” “You are so pretty!” It makes you think. Why do other people accept my melanin more than my own? Maybe if we stop, correct others with love when that comment is made and love ourselves a lot more, then others will too.