She’s Too Black!

Coming to grips with the colorism faced by Black Women.

Will Samuels
Momentum

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Dark-skin black woman, courtesy of Unsplash

Two years ago, a friend from home hugged me out of nowhere. I jumped but smiled when I realized who she was. “I hardly recognized you,” she said, noting that my skin looked darker. I told her I just got back from a beach vacation. She responded that she “avoids the sun in the summer” because she doesn’t want to get “any blacker.” She joked about how ugly she looks in the summer when she gets darker and a few other stereotypical dark-skin jokes. As a dark skin Black American man, I’ve heard them all. I could tell she was attempting to cushion her genuine feelings with humor about her complexion, and unfortunately, this is not the first time I’ve seen this. While I offered a smile in response, it was more out of discomfort than amusement because it represented the harsh truth that there is a relentless grasp on black women regarding colorism. So much so that my friend didn’t realize she was beautiful no matter the season.

Photo of fashion model Doria Adouke, “How To Take Care of Dark Skin”

Growing up, I was surrounded by Pan-Africanism and teachings of black empowerment by my activist parents. We traveled and lived throughout Brooklyn and Harlem, places with a rich tapestry of black history. My family embraced African and Black American culture and are of many shades of dark and brown complexion. My family didn’t grow up seeing a separation of complexions, and I was the proudest black dude in the city (my words, and I’m standing by them). Our skin, for us, was like a superpower and the essence of civilization’s roots. We understood that our people had suffered the last four centuries at the bottom, but our skin represented resilience. Unfortunately, as I got older, I found out this ain’t how many of us think.

College is where I first saw the self-prejudice of colorism, especially towards dark skin black women. Hearing phrases like “She’s too black” or “I only date light-skinned women” was ridiculous and prevalent. I had no clue what colorism was and found out quickly my upbringing shielded me, or I was just ignorant. It irritated me to hear black men say these things. How could we have disdain for women who likely resemble the women in our own family because of their skin tone? The same women who stood by our side through war, colonization, resistance, and slavery. How could a community, which had endured four centuries of oppression, internalize the beauty standards of its oppressor? Even now, years removed from college, I’ve encountered black men who hold these sentiments toward darker black women.

Black Women protesting, Wikicommons

Colorism is not natural. It’s not something we came to the Americas with. It has its roots in colonialism and slavery, where white enslavers showed favoritism towards light-skinned enslaved people over darker-skinned slaves. This sowed seeds of division on the plantation, creating a hierarchy that still persists today. Hundreds of years later, colorism didn’t disappear; it adapted. Instead of being enforced on a plantation, it now creates division and hierarchies in workplaces, schools, and the black dating pool. Society’s Eurocentric standards dictate that the closer a black woman’s features are to whiteness, the more attractive and valuable she is perceived to be. This ideology has disproportionately affected Black American women, subjecting them to immense prejudice outside and, more unfortunately, within their own communities.

Studies have shown dark skin Black American women are more likely to be seen as masculine, more likely to be discriminated against in the workplace, and educated and wealthier Black American men tend to marry or favor light-skinned women. Remember when Lil Wayne rapped, “…beautiful black woman, I bet that b*tch looks better red”? When a dark skin black woman confronted him and reminded him his own daughter is dark skin, he replied, “My daughter is a dark-skinned millionaire; that’s the difference between her and you.” He then went on to tell the fan he made sure the mothers of his other children were light-skinned. Damn! Other entertainers like Kodak Black have also made buffoonery remarks or lyrics toward dark skin black women. I’m not surprised because the entertainment industry is rife with colorism, but I was surprised how blatantly direct these black men, with huge platforms, were in their colorist beliefs.

All of this can psychologically affect black women, as seen in the multibillion-dollar skin-bleaching community where black women are using dangerous products to lighten their skin. During a poll conducted by NBC, women using lightening products were asked why they used skin-lightening creams. They all reported being victims of colorism, especially in the dating arena, resulting in traumatic social experiences.

Black women should not have to live up to Eurocentric beauty standards to be loved, protected, or valued. A black woman’s skin color should not even factor into any beauty standard. Some may disagree, but I don’t give a damn! Our community has to be cured of a colonized mind, and as black men, we can do more to provide spaces for black women to feel comfortable about their skin. We can reframe from repeating white supremacist comments about skin color and stop marginalizing dark skin. We have to look into ourselves and wonder why we favor light skin so much. Some say, “it’s a preference,” I call bullshit and ask what is that preference based on? Given our history in America, you would have to be ignorant to believe simple “preference” is the sole reason. Remember the paper bag test?

When it comes to this topic, I’m happy my parents raised me the way they did. I have never seen a black woman I considered unattractive because of her skin tone. It’s so foreign to me that it’s difficult to imagine how others do. I’m not saying this to receive a pat on my back, I am saying we can raise our men and community to accept and cherish the features of black women, regardless of their shade.

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