The life of a light skinned Black female can be an amazingly confusing place. The fact of the matter is that I didn’t necessarily understand my complexion to be something so, er, complex.
My earliest memory of reference to skin tone was made by my Grandma Hill when she explained the three major races to me; the Whites, the Blacks, and the Red. I wasn’t concerned with skin tone, all I knew was that friends, family and the people of the neighborhood came in various shades and each of them were absolutely beautiful, normal and loved by me as a child. People were like crayons in a box to me; different and pretty but essentially the same.
My dark skinned mother had a habit of referencing people by their ethnicity. She had a friend who lived in Africa, “where everybody is Black”. And then there was the neighbor who thought too highly of herself because “high-yella women think they’re better”. Better than what I did not know but she would accuse me of the same in the very near future, and maybe she was right.
My foster mother is a dark mocha brown with pretty straight white teeth, of which she explained she hated because the kids would pick on her as a child. She often told me how lucky I was to have light skin, it was this light skin that would afford me the opportunity to marry ‘a White man’ because Black men ‘ain’t shit’. I remember that point in time in which I vowed to never date a White man since I had already learned to distrust my mother’s advice; her motivations came from strange and unknown places.
My foster Dad, Big Jessie, was a mocha colored man, who was tall, charming, polite and easy going. My mother was a SAHM and I was a private school princess. It confused and hurt me to hear my mother speak so poorly about ‘Black men’ since I was sure my Dad was a Black man and he was beyond amazing (as I think many little girls think of their fathers).
Black men made up my Dad’s social circle, men who would show up to help lift and move furniture, to celebrate the holidays or to assist with fixing something around the house. Black men in the pictures on the walls, and in the Jet and Ebony magazine as they accomplished great things in civil life, entertainment, sports and business. Black men were men in general, until they weren’t.
“Don’t let them touch your hair”
I, like other light skinned kids with ‘good hair’ was taught to never to let those without good hair touch it. She would occasionally find me sitting still while I allowed other girls to touch, caress, and finger my hair. I enjoyed having my hair touched, and I still do but I was told they would ‘mess it up’, either by untangling my braids, or cutting off my hair, or maybe even transfer their nappiness simply through touching me. I had been put on admonished on more than one occasion. She made me fear what the Black girls would do to me.
People still reach out to touch my hair, with and without permission. They look amazed and intrigued by it. Back then Black males would sniff my hair and wrap their fingers around the coils. They would scratch my scalp, and gather it up in their hands to watch it fall wherever it may. They did it back then and they still do it now.
Should I be ashamed to say that I very much enjoy it? I still feel conflicted by knowing Black men’s interest in specific details of my aesthetic is also a political statement on how they discard the aesthetic of females who look more like them than I do. I’m loved and rejected for this difference. I don’t know how to be proud of what I look like because what I look like celebrates what other women DON’T look like.
I feel Black woman ugly by association. My pretty determines their un-pretty and it’s a strange place to have to live in.
I’m very accustom to my lovers mentioning how much they adore my hair, and the ability to touch it, mess it up and not have it be a huge thing like some Black girls make of their hair. My Black male lovers appreciated having access to all of me instead of a list of rules of when parts of me were kept tightly wrapped, pinned down and made to conform for reasons that had nothing much to do with Black women’s pride. Hair is symbolic of freedom and decisiveness. I don’t spend hours getting my hair ‘done’, and I don’t come to bed with a headscarf on, both of which has been celebrated by the men I date. Not that they have voiced a specific dislike for such maintenance but some do find it time consuming and silly.
My hair is symbolic of my willingness to be what the other Black girl’s won’t or can’t. When I hear the anger and resentment attached to Black women’s conversations about their hair and bodies I can’t contribute to the dialogue since this is not my reality. I swim, and play in the water at will. I tan and turn a burnt ruddish brown.
I don’t run from the sun, I hear Black girls warning each other of becoming ‘too dark’ and this confused me.
I am different. I am freer. I am accessible, at least in perception. I am approachable. I am harmless. I am non-threatening. I am an alternative. I don’t have to fight to exist as a female and maybe this perception and my subsequent treatment by others has shaped my reality. I don’t have to fight to be a woman; I do have to fight to exercise control over my womanhood.
I don’t feel so burdened by “Black women” issues and tissues. I can pay attention, acknowledge and choose to care or not care, Blackness doesn’t own me part and parcel.
Black women have looked at my hair in envy, some of them even said they wished they had hair like mine. I often heard Black girls talk so poorly of their own Brillo pad hair, naps and kinks that I learned to be grateful to be the recipient of ‘good hair’. I would feel bad when they said such things. A compliment for me and an insult to themselves. I would hurt from their lack of self love. I was saddened by their wanting to have hair like my own; they wanted this specialness instead of their own. I thought them all beautiful, unique and special.
Though my mother’s warnings may sound ridiculous to you now, I witnessed first hand how darker girls would use eggs filled with NEET during ‘mischief night’ to hit the light skinned girls in the head, ultimately removing whatever hair she had on her head. This ritual was common during my years spent in a urban public school. Some girls opted to stay home, others wore elaborate scarf/baseball cap contraptions to protect their hair, and I just wished a mutha fuka would and wore my usual ponytail.
Everyone stares at me as I walk down the street. I hear the girls who taunt that ‘you think every man wants you’, and in Blackistan I know they do. Before Puerto Ricans and other lighter complexioned people hit the shores of the U.S, the unicorn in the neighborhood were always the lighter skinned Blacks (probably Native American mixed) with good hair. In my town, such families were legendary with most men having knowledge, either through rumor or first hand accounts of ‘pretty light skinned women’ who shared a certain last name. Obtaining one of these such women was a huge accomplishment that earned a DBR cool points. I think the accolades come from his ability to convince her to not have better options even though her complexion could have been bartered for the love of a better man.
At some point, I accepted the fact that my complexion made me different from other girls. At about age 13, I understood that I was disliked by neighborhood girls, and it took the insight of my Black male guy friends to help me realize what I did to deserve such treatment. “They’re jealous of you”, I laughed it off but was still hurt and confused at their hatred of me.
How can that be? What had I done to any of them?
Jealous of what? The charges made no sense to me since I saw my Black female peers as beautiful, dark, thick, honey colored, mahogany hued, pretty smiles, and I loved the intricate braids and beads the girls got to wear. I asked my mother if one of the neighborhood girls could do my hair in such a fashion, but I was told that my hair ‘didn’t do that’, and would not keep the tiny braids or the beads. I wasn’t sure what my hair did or did not do, I just know I wanted a head full of bright beautiful beads like the other Black girls had.
I am just like you, except, I’m not just like you. We are Black girls. We are beautiful. I am a Black girl or so I thought. My Black girl card gets revoked at will, my light skin and their Blackness, like oil and water, didn’t mix. I am not Black enough sometimes even though I carry the Black girl ‘ugly’ on my shoulders since I identified as Black. I obtained an ‘ism I am still working through.
The first question is, ‘What’s your name?’, and the second question is, ‘So what are you?’ Over and over and over again until I began to wonder why people couldn’t see that I am Black. What do you mean, ‘what am I?’, silly question!! Can’t you see I’m a Black girl?
I am Black.
I am Black.
No, you can’t be Black. Look at your hair. Your face is different. You can’t be Black, you speak so well.
They argue with me. They shake their heads, they are in disbelief about my race. I’m either lying or confused.
They suggest possible races that would better suit their perception of me. Spanish made more sense, so at one point learned enough Spanish to speak a very basic dialect and the art of code switching became my new weapon against public perception. I am whatever you want me to be, but I am not a Black girl, anymore.
I have always had my choice of men, Black boys from around the way, Latino boy concentrated in ‘their’ neighborhoods of which I would mingle when I walked across town to visit friends in a different enviroment, and White boys in the neighborhood where my school was located had their eye on me. I don’t have stories of male neglect and invisibility. I am highly sought after. Pursued. Chased. I’ve been hunted by DBR’s since childhood.
I’m light skinned and this makes me acceptable to nearly everyone. I’ve learned this and I’m so sorry that this is a fact of our society, and I use this benefit to my advantage. I do not apologize for controlling my own Matrix with whatever tools I have available.
Fighting the power from my section of the peanut gallery by declining the opportunities afforded to me as an ambiguous person does nothing for me as an individual. I acknowledge the differences in experience, but I too, need to be chosen by the men in power if it means the best chances of my survival. I know other races dismiss their racist and colorist perception but it’s true. Everyone, including Blacks, have something negative to say about Black; I don’t want to be on the receiving end of hatred.
I know I’ve been hired by jobs that favored the hiring of Latinos over Blacks, and no, this isn’t a myth. I know I make Whites who are not accustomed to being in the presence of Black people more comfortable, both due to my appearance and mannerism. I have sat and listened to nearly every race tick off a list of the ills of Black people as I tucked my own Black identity far far beneath the surface.
Dark black women are seen as masculine, I not only was afforded the space to be a feminine girl, I was encouraged to be so, since lightness is equated to femininity, I presume. I wore dresses and fancy coats, matching gloves and hats in the colors pink, lime green and bright yellow. I love the color red, but was told how I should not wear red because only ‘whores’ wear the color red. This sounded like nonsense to me since my dad favored me wearing red. I was never without frills, puffs, lace and other princess like accessories during childhood. Black girls couldn’t wear colors, especially not the color red, or anything else bright.
I didn’t understand why Black American women aren’t comfortable with wearing colors but I have learned that Black women don’t feel carefree. And that they don’t think its okay to smile, to giggle, or be light and girlish. I’m grateful that this was not my experience, and I didn’t know the extent of the madness until recently when I began to read and study Black women’s experiences on blogs such as this. My dark mother was very feminine, poised and elegant. I wonder at what point in time did this change, and why?
I know light skinned Black men are considered ‘soft’ and punks compared to the stark contrast of dark skinned Black men who are automatically considered to be tough and strong. The fact that I know Black men who are light skinned and ruthless and dark Black men who are sensitive and kind means little. I have observed the strange conflicted messages that Blacks/Whites/society in general gives off based on complexion and nothing more.
Light skin is so valuable to certain Black men that they will come to blows after having tried to get my attention when I am clearly with another man. I’m an object to obtain, not a person with free will, the Black men that chose to be with me did so at their own peril. Though I don’t understand how some men thought I would be with them by omission if they scared off my other romantic suitors.
I spent a considerable amount of time listening to potential romantic partners envision how beautiful their children would be if we would go on to get married and have kids. Their prefered gender was always girls, the colorstruck Black men want to populate the world with light skinned women. In my mind, I wanted nothing more than to give birth to a healthy boy or girl, who would favor either or both the father and myself. I am partial to dark skinned Black men, my daughter is a beautiful brown, like her father.
I have been put in my place by a White man, a much younger one who responded to my fear of dating him, not because he was much younger but because I feared he wanted to ‘test a black girl out’. His response, ‘if I wanted to test a Black girl out, don’t you think I could find a Blacker girl than you?” left me questioning what the fuck I was thinking? And at this point
Complexion and race. Perception and favoritism. We are all guilty of it.
I vet Black men to find out if I am their ‘type’ but there is a fine line between a man that prefers light skinned women versus hating dark skinned women. Is it a preference, or is it all self hatred? Does their desire to pursue me eradicate the beauty of darker skinned Black women?
The words tell me what I need to know. If he refers to the hair of other women as ‘peasy’ and turns up his nose in distaste at the mention of darker women then I’ll take to mean he’s colorstruck and not the type of man I bother with. If he’s dated an array of colors of women than he’s on level ground and I’ll take his attention to mean that he likes women in general and I just happen to be in his crosshairs.
Black men know they are valued because of their complexion. Some, like my friend, get disgusted by the colorism. He understands his value is based on something he has no control over, his height, and his dark skin. Other men will happily inform others of how many women, of all shades and colors, will break their necks to get in their good favor. Some Black men want to be seen as human first but they can’t get beyond certain women’s fascination with their implied sexual superiority and fearless power of which they do not necessarily posses.
I pity the women who chase behind these types of Black men; they pay a high cost to have a coveted rare animal on their arm. They experience abuse, disregard, exploitation, emotional manipulation and straight B.S. to the nth degree. I also understand it is the self esteem of these women that motivates them to try so hard to create the illusion of love and partnering when their relationships are really just a test of endurance. Black intimate relationships can sometimes be a circular mind fuck; I decline to participate in the madness. I’m not going to compete for a man and I’m not jumping through hoops for a man; that’s not what’s required of me.
Black men don’t step so easily to me. They put their best foot forward when it comes to me, or light skinned girls in general, whereas they will dog the Hell outta a Brown skin girl who will over do it when it comes to turning the other cheek and forgiveness. Color struck Black men give a light skinned or Latino woman the world but won’t lift a finger for a woman who looks like his own mother. It’s true, their hatred of you is a reflection of their discontent with their own mother’s. They hate the ugly way in which Blacks live, so they blame their mothers but often have no reference point or guilt available for their Black fathers.
Many light skinned women I know don’t take no shit, could it be because they understand this complexion represents option for them?
Do dark skinned Black women take extra shit because they think they can’t do any better? What would happen if Black women opened their eyes?
Dark men will push back a dark skin Black woman to make way for me to board buses and trains. She and I will exchange glances, her of pain and humiliation, me of frustration at her having to experience such cruelty due to my presence and a DBR. I just want to board a bus, I don’t need random interactions to become social science experiments gone wrong.
Dark men give me things without my asking. I am the spokesperson for all DBR favors and requests, regardless of the level of friendship, everybody knows I have a better chance at getting over on people than would a darker complexioned companion. We use each other and we abuse each other and we tweak the system for our survival as females.
Dark men allow me to abuse them in incredible ways, to the point where I am curious as to the level of abuse they are used to from the females in their lives if they think I can love and hate them at the same time and it be a healthy relationship. I will be defended, I will be fought over, and I will be protected by DBR men if the situation calls for it. I use what is at my disposal because the urgency lies in the daily hustle to satisfy immediate needs. I twist and bend the stereotypes to serve me; dark Black women should learn to do the same.
I can easily get random Black men to scurry to assist me in whatever issue I am having. They try hard to impress me, I put them to task, I made demands, I bitch and complain and behave like a spoiled child at times. Obtaining my favor satisfies some level of accomplishment with them. My skin represents lighter children who can avoid the pitfalls of Blackness. I honestly believe those who seek to lighten the world do so as a way of improving the quality of life of their offspring. It must be a terribly ugly and hateful place to cause a person to wish themselves eradicated.
The taste of colorism is so steeped in the Black American experience that grade school kids observe the cost and benefit of complexion. My daughter who has been uplifted and groomed by my hand so imagine my surprise when she one day stroked my hair and wished she had ‘good hair’ like me. I was hurt she felt that way and started to reinforce her beauty to her, pointing out the beauty in brown skin, but I can’t say that I erased the Black girl ugly from her entirely.
Black girls expect Black boys to be cruel and mean, from what I’m hearing, younger Black girls are fed up with the mediocre life potential of partnering with Black males. As a pre-teen my daughter declared that she would not date Black men, this bothered me since she was making a sweeping accusation of all Black men, but it was hard to defend them when she had seen their abuse with her own two eyes.
‘They beat the girls and kick them into the gutter. I don’t want no boyfriend that will do that to me!’
Dark skinned Black girls have a lot going on, and all I can say is that I’m grateful to not be dark skinned. I’ve got my own set of problems and identity to cultivate. I’m not your enemy, and sometimes I can’t be your friend, but I’ll always be a sistah in the colorism struggle. Your blues ain’t like mine, but don’t think I’m without shade, or hope for a rainbow after having survived a storm.