by Nina B.
Growing up as a dark skin black woman, the topic of colorism, and the light-skin vs. dark-skin rhetoric has played an active role in my life, starting from early adolescence. I first started to notice the divide between the lighter-skinned and darker-skinned black girls after observing conversations that transpired amongst the boys in my class. The black girls with lighter skin were seen as more popular, were given more attention, and offered more leadership opportunities in regards to extracurricular activities--and in contrast, the darker-skinned black girls were degraded, gossiped about, and even punished more harshly by school staff. I chose to cover this topic because it has been an underlying issue that has consistently presented or manifested itself in my life, and is still prevalent in media and pop culture.
Black people with lighter skin, straighter hair, and more Eurocentric features have always been more likely to be given the paltry number of opportunities to access white spaces and institutions. This current situation is a reality for black people in the United States, and its roots come from slavery. On plantations during slavery, the light-skinned black slaves were usually assigned to work in the house, while the darker-skinned black slaves had to work in the fields. That same mindset has been internalized in black people, with the black community’s general praise for black people who are light-skinned. If one considers all the successful black female entertainers, such as singers like Beyonce, Rihanna, and Mariah Carey, or actors such as Zendaya, Zoe Saldana, or Amandla Stenberg, one could deduce that they all have something in common--and that is that all of them have light skin and European features (Davies).
Darker-skinned black women rarely get as much representation as to their lighter counterparts, and if they do, then there are usually negative stereotypes surrounding their character, or they face harsher discrimination. Stereotypical figures such as the “angry black woman” or the “loud and sassy black friend” are not only present in reality, but also black-made media. This is evident in different black sitcoms, a good example being the 90s TV show, “Martin.” In this comedic show, there is Martin’s wife Gina, a light-skin black woman, who is seen as beautiful and successful; her darker-skinned black friend, Pam, is often made fun of or called ugly. When I think of a show that follows that archetype, I think of the show “The Proud Family,” where the main character Penny was the embodiment of light is better, while her best friend Dijone was loud, ghetto, and jealous of Penny. Dynamics like the ones represented in this show reinforce the idea that light is better, and reinforces the created divide between light-skin women and dark-skin women.
This divide is further enforced by black men, especially in the entertainment industry. Dark skin women are rarely in any music videos and are not generally included in that scene. I am a part-time music video model, and I have noticed that a lot of the casting calls request “mixed women” or women with natural loose-curly hair. Even when I am booked for a music video, I find that I am the token darker-skinned woman. In the casting call for the “Straight Outta Compton” movie, the directors requested “A-models” and “B models.” The A-models were described as being beautiful with natural hair, while the B models were supposed to be ugly, and had to range from medium to dark skin tones (Cadet).
Colorism towards darker-skinned black women consumes the music industry as well and is encouraged by different black musicians. For example, the rapper Kodak Black, who is a dark-skinned black man, said he wouldn’t date a woman who is his skin color because they are “too gutter,” while claiming that light-skin women are “more sensitive” (Pimentel). Though his statements were controversial, they shed light to the praise that light skin women receive, and the discrimination that constantly impacts darker-skinned black women, including me. Dark skinned women are seen as more aggressive, loud, and angry, and are seldom represented as good, normal people. The black community needs to confront the light-skin privilege and colorism hierarchy in the black community--especially the black men and women who reinforce the ideology that light is better than dark. At the end of the day, we are all black, and none of us are exempt from discrimination or racism. It is important that there is a representation of all shades of black people in black entertainment media, without any negative connotations being placed in order to divide the black community. The rhetoric surrounding dark-skinned black women has to change in order for black people to be cohesive as a community.
Cadet, Danielle. “The 'Straight Outta Compton' Casting Call Is So Offensive It Will Make Your Jaw Drop.” HuffPost, HuffPost, 7 Dec. 2017, compton-casting-call_n_5597010.
Davies, Jordie. “Why We Need to Talk about Light-Skinned Privilege.” The Black Youth Project, Cathy J. Cohen, 2 July 2016, .
Hochschild JL, Weaver V. . Social Forces. 2007;86 (2) :643-670.
Kerr, Audrey Elisa. "The Paper Bag Principle: Of the Myth and the Motion of Colorism." Journal of American Folklore, vol. 118 no. 469, 2005, p. 271-289. Project MUSE, .
Pimentel, Julia. “Kodak Black Says He Doesn't Like Dark-Skinned Women Because They're 'Too Gutter'.” Complex, Complex, 30 Jan. 2020, kodak-black-doesnt-like-dark-skinned-women-too-gutter.