A Dark Girl On Light Girls » VSB

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A Dark Girl On Light Girls

“When did you learn to be okay with being a brown skinned woman?”

This question appeared in my Ask.fm mailbox and kind of took me aback, mostly because it’s premised on the idea that at some point I wasn’t okay with it. Or that perhaps hating your skintone is part of what you go through when you’re brown or dark-skinned. It was weird because someone, somewhere on the internet, has managed to identify me as a confident person, and someone who apparently has had a personal reconciliation with a feature they (or others) perceive to be a deficit. I can tell you now, on the list of things I’ve ever thought about concerning my physical appearance, the deepness of my skintone has never been one of them.

But that’s not to say that I’m not keenly aware of my skintone, either. And when it does it’s a reminder that even among people who look like me, someone who looks like me can be an acquired taste. I’ve been on the receiving end of that “You’re really pretty for a dark skinned girl” “compliment” quite a few times. My great-aunt used to admonish me as a kid for “being out in the sun too long” in the summer because my already-super brown self was going to be super Black by day’s end, as it happened every summer.

“Look how Black you are,” somebody would say. Depending on the inflection on their voice, I’d know whether or not I was being insulted.

I’ve been the kid you can’t see in the newspaper pics because pixilation and black and white photos with shitty lighting and dark backgrounds means I disappear, and for some reason, that used to hurt my feelings a lot as a kid. To just be eyeballs and teeth in a photo. The jokes sometimes came after that. Especially from boys.

I’ve gotten really bizarre questions about my ethnicity at times because allegedly, dark skinned girls don’t have “nice” or “pretty” hair; in other cases I’ve heard someone refuse to admit that a woman is dark skinned based on her grade of hair alone. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that as some point growing up that I wasn’t oddly thankful to have longer hair. As recently as a few months ago I was told that someone wouldn’t be into me because he “doesn’t like dark chicks.” And I’m an AKA, too, so I’ve also caught a few jokes in the vein of, “I thought they didn’t like y’all.”

These things don’t come up often, but they do come up. And that’s very different from what I knew at home. My family is mostly women. And these women are a bunch of brown and dark people with a few peanut butter colored folks (like my mom and sister) thrown in the mix. I was insulated in a family full of Black-at-a-distance folks, so much so that at around age 6, my precocious self once abruptly asked my friend’s light-skinned mother if she were white in the middle of dinner at their house.

But by the time I got to choose fest known as high school, I wasn’t the first round pick. (This probably has everything to do with the fact that I didn’t fill out until like two years ago.) But it was always clear that the light-skinned curly wavy jawns always got chose first. In a conversation with one of my best friends one day, she told me about life on the other side of the color spectrum and how growing up, she never felt sure if boys liked her for her, or because she was light skinned, which was something I’d never considered before she said it. I’ve always had a thing for the chocolate brown boys, some of whom seemed to gravitate to lighter women as trophies or for the promise of “pretty babies” with “good hair.” And in watching Light Girls last night, there was something really dishonest about how the women who spoke on camera refused to acknowledge that – I don’t discount the experiences that the women did share, I’ve heard people indiscriminately bash light skinned girls – that lighter skin is capital among women, social and economic. There’s power in being chosen. And in the ability to choose.

While the documentary did not really do a great job of creating a linear narrative or honing in on any point well or saliently, I walked away from it feeling like while the Dark Girls documentary centered on the idea that darker women are undesirable, Light Girls honed in on how dark girls are mean to light women. And here, friends, is the jig, delicately wrapped in the tragic mulatto trope, we were supposed to empathize with Light Girls, and pity Dark Girls. Light Girls danced around the notion that darker women are jealous of light-skinned women, mean to light-skinned women, and through the magic of skin bleaching, are trying to be light-skinned. That’s simply not true. Not all brown girls are broken. Not all dark girls are depressed. We’re not all out here threatening light-skinned girls on the schoolyard because we hate some part of ourselves. We’re not longing to be someone else, struggling to make sense of why other people don’t like us. I don’t want what some light-skinned woman has, especially if it’s a color-struck man. This is not to say that the things people have said to me over the years haven’t been hurtful. That’s not even to say that sometimes those things haven’t managed to stick a bit (as I transitioned to wear my hair naturally, I had to check myself about why my hair had come to matter to me so much, and admittedly I think a bit of it had to do with latent effects of colorism) but I didn’t have to learn to be okay with being dark. My color has never been something for me to overcome.

Maya Francis

Maya K. Francis is a culture writer and communications strategy consultant. When not holding down the Black Girl Beat for VSB, she is a weekly columnist for Philadelphia Magazine's "The Philly Post" and contributes to other digital publications including xoJane, Esquire, and EBONY.com. Sometimes TV and radio producers are crazy enough to let her talk on-air, and she helped write a book once. She cites her mother and Whitley Gilbert as inspirations.

  • DG

    “…but I didn’t have to learn to be okay with being dark. My color has never been something for me to overcome.”

    Amen.

  • “I don’t want what some light-skinned woman has, especially if it’s a color-struck man.”
    Dassit. That’s it right there.

    • MzzPeaches

      Here in the still color struck South, it’s a mess. I had a dude expound to me at a bbq this past summer on how he has variables involved with dating women who are “too dark.” This fool actually thought he was complimenting me by saying “you’re right in between plus you got that curly hair, so that’s points.” o_0

      • It legitimately baffles me that those types of men believe that is a compliment that I would take. Of course, I also have to take into account that those types of men aren’t exactly banking on my intelligence, either…because none of that matters.

      • Love.tweet.joi

        I dated an ex-ballplayer who when he told one of his boys that his girlfriend was a black woman, he responded, “Well, how dark is she?” As a dark-skinned woman, I was shocked and crushed by his response.

    • Whocares

      I (a lighty) don’t want a color struck man either. Didn’t watch the show but would expect that to be a common complaint from the light girls. I’m always paranoid that these men really just want a white woman…

  • Sleepy Time Warrior

    “I can tell you now, on the list of things I’ve ever thought about
    concerning my physical appearance, the deepness of my skintone has never
    been one of them.”

    Amen.

    Growing up, there were many a things I was teased about, I too didn’t fill out until I was about 14 and up until that point I was subjected to taunting because of my athletic build. Honestly other than a sprinkling of “tar baby” comments here and there. I was never teased about my complexion. I grew up around my mother’s side of the family who were all for the most part light skinned, yet, they never gave me differential treatment. Actually, I was praised often during early adolescence for my flawless skin (I didn’t see my first pimple until I was 20.) I did get alot of the “you’re pretty for a dark skinned girl” comments, however I didn’t receive those comments until I was in college, and I always responded with some variation of “gee thanks, you’re cute for an a$$hole…” or “Wow, I didn’t know that dumb ish can could fall out of an smart mouth” (my comebacks as a early 20 something weren’t super epic.) Anyway, I didn’t like Dark Girls because of the assumption that ALL dark skinned women experienced harsh treatment of their skin tone or weren’t the taster’s choice…and I didn’t like Light Girls because of the assumption that all dark skinned women envied and hated light skinned women while wanting to be light skinned.

  • iamnotakata

    “I didn’t have to learn to be okay with being dark. My color has never been something for me to overcome.” All of this!!

    I have to say colorism irritates me to no end…The thing that makes me so mad about colorism is I was oblivious to colorism for the first 20 years of my life, until I decided to move from the ATX to Houston. Within the first year of living there I learned I was “dark skinned” And that light skinned girls were heaven and earth to men there.

    Growing up I always just thought black was black, no one hue was ever seen as better to me. And I did not consider myself dark skin, I always thought I was brown! Then Houston…

    Any who, I said all that to say I did not grow up hating my skin color or envying lighter complected women it just was never a thing to me.
    So now being aware of it and dealing with and observing men that only date or deal with light skinned women, or act as if dark skinned women are disgust them really makes me feel some kind of way.

    It also explains a lot of the dumb comments I get and the behaviors exhibited towards me.

    Also, the stupidest thing said to me in 2014 was ” you must not be from here because I only see dark skinned women in the hood” black popcorn store idiot SF…

    Since when does your skin tone determine your socioeconomic status though?

    • Anonymous

      This is interesting to me because I am from Houston and lived there until I went on to college. I consider myself dark skinned, have had natural hair since 1997 and was always one of the “pretty girls.” My best friend growing up was a light skinned Black girl with hazel eyes and blonde hair (naturally…no Beyonce!) and I was never pushed to the side for her.

      We would compete to see how many numbers we could collect at the mall and flirt with boys at football games and stack up Sunday brunch and Friday movie dates (because that is the closest thing to living the Hip Hop glorified pimp life when you are a teenage girl in the suburbs) and never once did we experience any kind of colorism. I was aware that there were color-struck people…somewhere in the world…but I assumed this was a class problem that I would not have to deal with unless I chose to gallivant with hoodrats and bamas, particularly those from the Northside. lol

      The first time that I became aware that this was kind of an issue was when I was in high school and a very fair-skinned freshman girl with blue eyes who I befriended (she was like a little sister to me even as an adult) told me she was surprised I was so nice to her because I was dark-skinned and she and her sister were frequently teased because of their skin color. It blew me away because I loved her immediately and hated to think of someone being unfair to her. But she was also from podunk P.A.T., where I’d heard little girls with long hair were at risk of having their ponytails chopped off (is this an urban myth or has it ever actually happened to someone?) so I assumed that was the reason.

      I was in COLLEGE (in Tallahassee) before I heard the words “You’re pretty for a dark-skinned girl.” C-O-L-L-E-G-E. I had never heard this phrase before, so I did not take it as a compliment at all. I responded with something like “What kinda country bullshit is that to say?? You must be a local.” The girl I was with (who was from Pensacola) seemed shocked that I was so offended by the “back-handed compliment.” And when I told her I’d never heard the phrase before, she was even MORE shocked.

      I have no idea what controls people’s experiences with colorism, but I have always assumed that socioeconomic status does have an impact. I have no idea why I was so insulated from colorism–I didn’t move to the suburbs until I was in high school. I grew up in one of those middle-class-in-the-hood families until I was in high school. Maybe there should be a documentary on that: the factors that control folks’ experiences with colorism.

      Also…this is an aside. Color probably does have an impact on class in the South, which makes sense historically. Most of my upper middle class to middle class relatives in Louisiana are light skinned. This is probably because, before the War, the gens de couleur libres necessarily did a lot of inter-marrying and developed generational social circles, accordingly and this group was disproportionately composed of clearly mixed-raced people. I get the feeling my dad grew up poorer, in part, because my grandma married outside of her color spectrum.

      • uniquebeauty79

        Us dark skinned women hear some of the dumbest ish when it comes to people “complimenting our beauty despite being dark”….I always be like “wtf you mean to be dark?” I love your comeback though “what kinda country shit is that” I have to remember that for next time, lol…

      • MzzPeaches

        I would give up my morning latte fund just to see the look on her face when you said “What kinda country bullshit is that to say?? You must be a local.” lol

      • MsSula

        “This is interesting to me because I am from Houston and lived there until I went on to college”

        That has also been my experience of Houston. I am not from Houston, but lived there from 2003 to 2011 and consider Houston my adopted Hometown (I love this city!!!). And the men I have met and interacted did not seem colorstruck. At least not in my experience.

      • MsSula

        “I have always assumed that socioeconomic status does have an impact.”

        Same sentiment here.

      • KMN

        I agree…it must be a southern thing. I’m from Arkansas but live in Milwaukee, WI and I dont believe I’ve EVER heard anything like that. I’m what I consider dark skinned, folks would call me brown but whatevs…and I’ve ALWAYS wanted to be darker. I have a BFF that is the most GORGEOUS blackbrown…ugh her skin is FLAWLESS…and she had NO problems getting a man lol…
        And my daughter…shes dark skinned…and I think I have colorism issues too…but reverse (?) I wanted to have a child with a darker skinned man…and she came out with the most GORGEOUS dark brown skin…and shes always complemented on how adorable she is (she was just told the other day that she looks like a porcelain doll…and I’ve only heard this said about pale folks )…we’ve heard that shes has ‘beautiful chocolate skin,’ but it has never come with oh she’s beautiful TO HAVE chocolate skin…
        But I do teach her that her skin is BEAUTIFUL, but I also teach her that ALL people are beautiful no matter how light or dark their skin is…
        I was raised working middle class in the hood lol…and the lighter girls did get more guys…but i didn’t have issues…and I’ve never seen all light or all dark skinned cliques in school…folks just hung with folks. I guess that’s a northern thing

        • DiamondIsMyRealName

          I’m with you. I’ve always preferred dark men. And when i had my son i just knew I’d be blessed with a gorgeous chocolate baby…nope, God said nahl yo! lol I joked with my co worker and said God has to have a sense of humor, he thinks its hilarious to FORCE me to love a lightskin man (my son)… and it’s not that I dont deal with light men, i just have a preference.

      • iamnotakata

        Yes I agree socioeconomic status has everything to do with colorism, but I do not believe you can look at someones skin color and say “oh she dark, so she’s from the hood” No… My youngest sister is lightskin and we both grew up in the suburbs so, does it mean I’m from the hood now or what?….

        I was born and raised in Austin, lived in the suburbs of Round Rock from elementary school to High School then went to UTSA (PWI) but ended up transferring to TSU because I wanted to go to school with people that looked like me.
        Houston has a colorism probably I lived there for 7 years before moving for grad school I am pretty confident in the fact that it does.

        In general if you look at couples in Houston dark skin men almost exclusively are dating or married to light skin women. And even when I was in undergrad my guy friends used to sing the praises of light skin women only….

        And the colorism thing goes both ways, I have no skin color preference black is black and if you’re attractive, skin color doesn’t change that. But I only dated two dark skin guy the who time I was there….This was not a choice, mostly light skin to tan skin men talked to me, And they would mention how they love “chocolate women”…. But in general even in conversation with men or women I find that light skin women typically preferred dark skin men and vice versa in Houston..

        I

        • MsSula

          “”oh she dark, so she’s from the hood””

          I think what is meant is moreso that people who are color struck are usually uneducated (that’s what I was taught growing up) or from a lower socio-economic class (which seems to be what Anonymous is referring to).

          • iamnotakata

            I get that…I just think yall misunderstood my last sentence on my original post which is what I was attempting to clarify in my response… My statement was referring to someone assuming I’m from the hood because I am dark skin..not lacking in education

            I was never taught about colorism 1st generation Nigerian its not a thing in our culture…but I came to the understanding about colorism living in Houston that its a hood slave mentality that leads them to believe light skin is better.

        • Anonymous

          “In general if you look at couples in Houston dark skin men almost exclusively are dating or married to light skin women. And even when I was in undergrad my guy friends used to sing the praises of light skin women only….”

          TSU is literally an open admissions college.

          I love it with all my heart. I really do. But, this may have something to do with your experiences. A lot of its attendees do not come from a middle class background. The school provides an opportunity for class ascension for a lot of people who otherwise would not have such an opportunity. Unfortunately, it also attracts quite a number of people who will never ever ever graduate for…reasons.

          TBH, I don’t have any close friends who graduated from TSU, so let that be a a caveat to what I am about to say. But, when I think of married couples I know from Houston, I can think of no trends whatsoever related to color. I am a dark skinned woman dating a dark skinned man. He’s an engineer. My previous bf was an accountant (light skinned) and his ex-wife was dark-skinned, also. So maybe there is something to this opposites attract thing, but I don’t know if that’s a Houston thing. I would suspect it’s just a coincidence.

          I have heard the “something about a dark skinned/chocolate woman” comments from men and heard light-skinned man joke that they’re not in style anymore, also, but I have never ever ever heard a man in my social circle express a preference for light-skinned women. Being “color struck” is such a mark of wackness to everybody I know. It would be like using the phrase “good hair.” lol A brother would NEVER hear the end of it.

          You may need to switch up the social circle a bit if you’re getting an onslaught of this type of thing.

          • iamnotakata

            No i’m certain my social circle is fine considering i’m one of two within my circle that actually attended TSU, I was only there for 2 years and did not date men at my school…so your point was missed; but I do believe you have missed my point…. what I am hearing from you is that you believe your independent experiences are the norm in Houston and I just do not find that to be true. I’ve found that folks that have lived in Houston their whole lives have trouble seeing the reality of their city, and that’s understandable you have a bias…

            Frankly though I find it hard to believe that you have never noticed this bias, I worked in research for 5 years after finishing undergrad and I found even moreso when I was interacting with my african american peers within the field, specifically the ones from Houston that colorism ran strong in their decision making in regard to women they dated…

            Agree to disgree.. I don’t care anymore

            • MsSula

              I am not native to Houston, and I have not noticed that either.

              However, I had a friend who was from Austin too (M, is that you?) who was gung-ho on the fact that Houston men were color struck. She would often use the example of one of her friends as proof. Meanwhile, this friend was mostly approached by athlete types and the likes. When we were out in the “regular” world, we would all be approached equally. But this did not matter to her. Bref. All that to say, that our experiences often color our percpeption. But it’s a bit drastic to paint an entire city in one brush stroke based on our sole experience (which may or may not be biased.)

            • Anonymous

              I am not being petty. TSU has a four-year graduation rate of approximately 12%. That is a fact; not me being petty.

              • iamnotakata

                Again relevance…and you’re petty…girl go on somewhere.

                • Anonymous

                  It’s relevant because I am saying the attitudes you are describing are more prevalent among one socioeconomic class versus another.

                  I’m sorry that you think reason is petty.

                  • Persephone Jones

                    The black middle and upper class have a long documented history of colorism. Remember the talented 10th?

          • DSim

            Gotta agree with you on the colorstruck thing. I am a Houston native and have not noticed it. I also went to TMSL.

        • Eyes4Daze

          i know but many dark skin women are liberal about dating all shades of black men BUT have major issues about black men dating all shades. MAJOR ISSUES. Reread the authors comments about black men with light skin women being color struck. Its ignorant stupid crap but they insist on it.

          • iamnotakata

            What? It appears you entered a conversation for which you do not know what is going on…My response was not to Maya’s post.

            • Eyes4Daze

              I got what you are talking about and my response was in regard to the whining when dark men date women who are not dark skin. There’s a hatefulness inherent in the whine, that suggest its wrong or problematic. Light skin women don’t whine and bish when dark skin women are with men of a light complexion.We aren’t in his face, demanding why because its downright trifling and ignorant. Nor are we on the internet whining and pretending we are done some wrong because a light skin man dates outside his race or someone of a darker hue. Allow dark men the same freedom you have. I’m your sister and I love you but I want us as a people to evolve beyond this ignorant level. If you don’t know, dark skin men are also light skin women’s brother, son, father — they are our family, too. Light skin women knows this and its crazy that dark skin women don’t understand. I’m not confused, I simply choose a healthier and realistic approach to the issue.

        • DSim

          I am from Houston as well (born and raised). I have never noticed the couples here being mostly light and dark. I see a wide array of couples here. There is colorism here (like everywhere), but I have never experienced it either. I’m dark-skinned also.

      • Love.tweet.joi

        OMG! I WISH that I hadn’t heard that phrase until college! That’s amazing! Living in southern California, I’ve heard that phrase my entire life. I had friends in college who were heavier than me that I overheard telling others that if they had my body, they would be finer than me because they are light. California has got to be one of the most color-struck places. Sigh.
        There is this model who I went to highschool with. She ended up marrying a rap icon. She is the prettiest brown skin girl I know. She was treated so poorly in highschool. They called her ugly the entire four years; while during that time, she was being cast in some of the hottest music videos. It was the craziest thing to witness. ‘If someone as beautiful as her could be seen as ugly, what was I’, I thought.

  • I’ve never been a colorist. The only type of people I’ve ever unilaterally disliked are Boston sports fans because they are generally horrible vile human beings that suck the joy out of sports. I did though have a long phase where my arbitrary preference was for light skin women. That’s largely because in my experience they were far more engaging and forthright with wanting to speak with me and I pretty much took the idea/experience of bubbly/sweet/quirky and heaped it onto light skin women en masse because that was narrow experience. I don’t know where I’m going with this comment honestly…

    • iamnotakata

      I don’t either because this “I’ve never been a colorist.” and this ” I did though have a long phase where my arbitrary preference was for light skin women.” have me confused…

      • I never had or associated bad things with being dark skin I’d what I mean.

    • black-a-rican

      “The only type of people I’ve ever unilaterally disliked are Boston sports fans because they are generally horrible vile human beings”

      Preach!!

      • Val

        And, at least one of their teams cheats on a regular basis.

        • Sigma_Since 93

          My wing woman!

  • Tonja (aka Cheeks)

    Great post! Also shouts to your tweet during Light Girls when you made the point against “she think she cute” as a bad thing. Like, um yes when I’m flipping my hair and strutting, I DO think I’m cute. https://www.tumblr.com/tagged/u-mad-bro-gif

    • Maya K. Francis

      Lol. Thanks, doll. I hate this idea that women can’t be impressed with themselves. Like, if I feel good about myself and the way I look and have some extra pep in my step that day I’m a jerk. Like women have to wait to be noticed. Nawl. There are some days where my lay is just right and my hair is dewin’ it and you can’t tell me ish. I’m not gonna front on that, and I want you to be CLEAR that when I flip my hair, it’s not because it’s in my way. It’s because I’m stunting on everyone in sight. And don’t let my twistout pop just the right way. Y’all gon’ catch these selfies.

      • Tonja (aka Cheeks)

        RIGHT. There’s this stank and ashy aura that floats over the idea that Black women can’t love themselves and *GASP* think they cute. Sheeeeeit, women period, but of course there’s a specialized hatred for our self-love. Reminds me of that recent experiment ol’ girl did when men complimented her and instead of being all self-deprecating, she was like “yes i know!” they renigged on the compliments speedier than an excited Jesse Spano.

        • Ms TLC

          WILDLY APPLAUDING THIS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • BeautifullyHuman

    “Not all brown girls are broken. Not all dark girls are depressed. We’re not all out here threatening light-skinned girls on the schoolyard because we hate some part of ourselves. We’re not longing to be someone else, struggling to make sense of why other people don’t like us. I don’t want what some light-skinned woman has, especially if it’s a color-struck man.”

    My fellow chocolate sistren…thank you for addressing this! I’ve never had an issue with my chocolate hue. In fact, my skin color is my favorite feature. I remember, I was once asked if I saw my skin color as a disadvantage, and I was taken aback because for me, I’ve always looked at it as a plus. To have skin kissed by the sun, that doesn’t burn, and is a beautiful deep chocolate…n*nja why would I consider that a disadvantage?

    I will say that I am happy my family taught me how to love myself and embrace my skin color at an early age. Because I was always told I was gorgeous and that my chocolate color was beautiful, I never felt inadequate or in direct competition with anyone. And I think that’s key…it starts at home and it starts early especially when you’re shaping your sense of self and worth. Fortunately, my whole family was supportive in helping me view myself positively and I love them for that, and I know what I must do with my own son and daughter one day. #iminlovewiththecocoa

    • LeeLee

      “Because I was always told I was gorgeous and that my chocolate color was beautiful, I never felt inadequate or in direct competition with anyone. And I think that’s key…it starts at home and it starts early especially when you’re shaping your sense of self and worth.”

      It sure does. My mother got to me first, instilled the value of self love in me first, before anyone else could influence me. It’s actually the best lesson she’s ever taught me. And I”m so glad she did because as I grew older, I saw other girls who weren’t being taught self love at home and it reflected in their attitudes and behavior. Of course, one can learn to love themselves as you grow older, but its nothing like having that foundation set as a child.

    • Love.tweet.joi

      I have a son and he came out light-skinned. It never occurred to me that he might come out light. I always expected to have a little chocolate girl or boy. People were angry at me for being disappointed. I apologize for being biased, but I love my skin. My mother and I are the same shade and we look alike. I guess her confidence rubbed off on me.

      • BeautifullyHuman

        That’s the crazy thing about genetics, you just never know. But that’s why we have to raise our babies up no matter their hue. As long as we let them know that their Black is beautiful, regardless of their complexion, I believe they’ll view their color with pride. People really underestimate the home environment and how we’re socialized to view ourselves…it really does start start at home.

  • DefinitelySmarterThanYou

    I like this.

  • Val

    Great post, Maya.

    • Maya K. Francis

      thank ya! :)

  • great post. although i did grow up wishing i was of a lighter hue i quickly got over my affliction. i’m glad your skin tone isn’t something that you had to overcome.

    • Ray Jefferies

      Sometimes I think folks forget that the 80’s and 90’s were the golden age of the wavy joints. If you weren’t wavy, you wanted to be. Al B. Sure flourished with a unibrow. You couldn’t do that with any other complexion back then.

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