A few weeks ago a friend forwarded an article from the The Guardian newspaper titled “Why dark-skinned black girls like me aren’t getting married”. I don’t remember ever wondering why dark-skinned black girls were not getting married or if in fact there was any issues with dark-skinned girls having relationships but I was reminded of the messages I received growing up including the ones I heard well into my 20s.
Although my parents did wish that I was darker (more representative of their skin tones) and actively encouraged me to sit in the garden when the sun was out, I do remember hearing (from other sources) that I would go far and had a sense that my complexion would afford me certain privileges that I may not have otherwise experience if I was darker. Sitting here today I question if I ever thought that being darker would disadvantage someone in anyway.
If I am being truly honest with myself I’d admit that I used to be more attracted to lighter skin men thinking that they were somehow more beautiful than men of a darker complexion. I guess the messages I got as a child played a big part in unconsciously forming this framework however although my levels of attraction have changed I must say that in some ways I wasn’t that surprised by what I read in the article.
Growing up I was seen as different because, within my immediate family unit I am the lightest in complexion, to the point where others would question my parentage asking if I had one white parent or if someone else was my mother because that women (a family friend) was closer to my complexion that my mother is. My younger brother even asked (when he was about 5 years old) why was I so ‘peachy brown’ when everyone else was dark. So whilst reading the article I found myself dealing with so many mixed feelings around this topic that I decided to send the article to some friends and asked what their experiences were/are around this topic. These are some of the comments from the discussion that ensued…
Disclaimer…. the following comments are from a small group of friends and do not represent the whole of the black community….
“Colourism is a real thing, and I believe it exists in terms of casual dating. But in terms of darker women marrying less than lighter skinned women? No. There can be so many other factors at play.
Also, if you believe nobody wants you because you are too dark and then someone says they like dark skin women and your immediate thought is: fetish, you won’t find anyone.
People who judge your worth as a wife based on the tone of your skin colour aren’t deep people and not worth your time.”
“What a sad world we live in. 😢😢 I don’t want my 2 beautiful girls to have ANY part of their lives hindered because they are “dark skinned”. 😞😞😞 Right now they don’t see it. I’d love it to stay like that.“
“Growing up in the states in the 80s I can 100% say colourism was there. I was always made to feel I was too dark, especially by black people! 😳 My confidence in my complexion was not there and having a mum with a fairer complexion didn’t help. But moving to the UK I began to embrace it. It was not as bad here. Not sure why….. but if it ends with our own people then there will be more chance of it ending full stop.”
“Colourism is definitely a problem, we may not have started it but our communities have to be the ones to address and end it. I’m glad that people are starting to talk about it.
In the US it is worse than in the UK. African American men do predominantly go for the lighter skinned women just like the more petite or “exotic” women are preferred. I believe that darker skinned women are probably less likely to be married here. It’s sad if we look at our celebrities we see it all over. Even in Africa lighter skin is looked at as more beautiful. The question is what would it take to change it?””…. we as black people really do stereotype when it comes to the different shades.”
“Growing up I saw that a lot in Jamaica and even to this day you have black ladies bleaching their skin- as society makes it seem as if it’s more acceptable… I even had members of my family laughing at me when I’d visit Jamaica from London and would sit in the sun because my legs were too pale. When I said I needed my darker complexion back…. I was told I’m crazy”
“It’s gonna take the black community to stop hating themselves enough for others to take note.”
“I’ve seen two siblings who look exactly alike but people think the lighter complexion was more beautiful.”
“I think about the images that the media puts out there. They are the ones who set the standards of beauty. We’re conditioned to think of the European standard of beauty to be the absolute best. I can count on one hand (actually 3) dark skinned models that I know by name.”
“It’s existent even in Africa, at least in my experience. People of a lighter complexion are considered more beautiful and given more opportunities than their darker counterparts. I just wonder how all this started?“
“To be fair he (the white man) may have started it but we have been doing it to ourselves for a really long time“
“I agree that colourism is still there and going strong even with some of the steps forward we have taken. I follow a lot of black and black hair pages on my socials but even then when I see black women like my shade or darker with my type of hair 80% of the time it’s a video of them taming their hair with copious amounts of gel to look smooth and then adding in loose curl extensions to seem like they have the attributes of their lighter skinned counterparts. Even when we have the platform we are still conforming to a “whiter and lighter” beauty standard to an extent. It started with the white man but we are allowing it to be perpetuated which allows others to think its still ok.”
“Yes it started with slavery and I believe that slavery lives on in our genetic memories and the messages that have been passed down from generation to generation. I don’t think that the cycle will break unless we acknowledge this and talk – yes it starts with us being able to discuss that and find solutions for ourselves. ‘It’s gonna take the black community to stop hating themselves enough for others to take note’ “
Reflecting on these comments and having watched a video where black women discuss politics of light and dark skin I was amazed at how much this reminded me of my own past thoughts and experiences. I am aware of the unconscious conditioning that we have experienced as a race and believe that we are (generally) accepted (by white people) because of the parameters that we fit into, whether its the way we speak, how we dress or how we wear our hair making us more acceptable (and safer) in their eyes. I have experienced white men dating black women where, the women were not necessarily of a fairer complexion but they did have a more European look that, to me, represented ‘white-ness’ and acceptance.
Personally I do not think it’s just about how we see ourselves (although important) but about how we are perceived (by white people) and what that then means for us. From my own experience and the research I’m doing (with my work around the WoC experience and infertility) black women are negatively stereotyped. I myself have been treated like I’m ‘the angry black woman in the room‘. In my 20s I was told that I would have been a house slave and that I’d get far because of my colour/ shade. I also suspect that I’m where I am (on the public forum) because of my complexion and the general ‘safeness’ that I represent. I think as a race we (men and women) need to be conscious of the generational messages that has been passed down so that we can break this cycle within our own race. If colourism plays out in our everyday lives (unconsciously or not) how much is it playing out in our personal or professional relationships? I can’t say that darker skinned black women are less likely to get married but I’m painfully aware that black women are low down on the pecking order. Even writing this blog and expressing my feelings in this way I feel like I will soon be labelled/ stereotyped as the ‘militant black woman’ but if I was a white women talking in this way I would be described as passionate about my beliefs… 😖