Acknowledging Dark Skinned Black Male Privilege » VSB

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Acknowledging Dark Skinned Black Male Privilege

The word “privilege” is so often used as a catch-all to describe preferential racial treatment that it loses its meaning. When something is used to describe everything, it tends not to describe anything. That said, although darker-skinned Black males don’t possess the type of privilege most commonly associated with certain social, political, and economic advantages given to Whites (White privilege) and men in general (male privilege), there is a definitive intra-racial privilege. As difficult as it might be to imagine or accept, it does exist.

It’s one of the dozens — hundreds, even — of peculiar ways our, um, “unique” racial history in this country has impacted us. And, while it might not provide any conspicuously tangible benefits, when listening to other Black people share stories about their experiences, I have no doubt my complexion allowed for a less hazardous intra-racial navigation. I have no stories about the time some woman I was interested in said she “usually doesn’t date dark-brown skinned men” but made an exception for me. No instances of other Black people assuming I was soft or couldn’t fight or couldn’t fuck just because of my complexion. No examples of people wondering if my strong opinions about race and culture are a result of some racial identity-based overcompensation. No entering a room and having other Black people see my shade and assume I was shady. And, I have to reach back over 20 years for an example of a Black person making a negative complexion-based comment about me.

I’ve been complicit in this as well, using the shield it provides to take advantage of it when it suits me. I often joke in jest about light-skinned Black people because I know I can joke in jest about light-skinned Black people and not receive any real pushback. It’s an act that adheres to one of the first rules of comedy. You can joke about people, but you have much more leeway joking “up” — joking about people assumed to have more privilege and/or social capital than you — than joking “down.” The presumption here being that since lighter-skinned Black people are generally thought to be the most privileged Blacks, it’s more okay to say insensitive things about them than it is for them to return the favor. But — and this is where it gets tricky — within the Black community, brown to dark brown-skinned Black men are perhaps the single most privileged subset of Black people. So while I’m able to get away with saying certain things because I — and other darker-skinned Black men who do the same — am perceived to be joking up, I’m actually joking down; making fun of people who possess less intra-racial privileges than I do. I am, effectively, having my cake and eating it too. (And yes, the cake is chocolate.)

At its worse, this ambiguous but amorphous level of privilege creates a dynamic where (some) darker-skinned Black men feel comfortable openly shading darker-skinned Black women, an act that ultimately shows how tenuous this idea of intra-racial privilege is. It’s a cognitive dissonance that allows these men to recognize that their dark skin gives them a status that dark skinned women don’t often possess. But, by considering lighter skinned women the optimal reproductive partner, they’re subconsciously admitting they would prefer not to create children who look like them. Which, well, fuck America.

I realize this is all anecdotal. My experience as a darker-skinned Black man isn’t every darker-skinned Black man’s, and there are men — perhaps even some reading this — whose relationship with their complexion has been less positive. But, while we often act as if these experiences are the rule, they’re the exception, regardless of how loathe we are to admit it. It’s why any Dark Boys documentary would likely be about how darker-skinned men treat other Black people instead of how other Black people treat us. And it’s why any pre-teen Black male could have the perfect comeback to someone teasing him about his color.

Yeah, well…just wait till we’re 20.

Damon Young

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB. He is also a columnist for GQ.com And he's working on a book of essays to be published by Ecco (HarperCollins). Damon is busy. He lives in Pittsburgh, and he really likes pancakes. Reach him at damon@verysmartbrothas.com. Or don't. Whatever.

  • Behind every dark skinned man is that first curve he got from some chick who is 35 unwed with 5 kids now.

    Its a double standard, in the same way big girls post petty memes and any clap back is “fat shaming”, or single people are able to make jokes about married folk and any response from them sounds haughty.

    • SailorMoon

      Let’s be real, the problem is the GIRLS YOU WANTED were not checking for you, but if there was another dark skinned nerdy girl chances are you were curving her as well.

      • miss t-lee

        Uh oh.

      • LeeLee

        As a dark skinned nerdy girl who stayed getting curved by dark skin men until the late 2000s, I approve this message!

        Seriously, I don’t want to take away from Tristan’s experience. Rejection stings at any age, but especially when you are younger. There would be no dating pool without folk wanting other folk who don’t want them.

        • The girl who came to mind was herself darkskinned and the post I commented on was clearly addressing dark skinned males but you know, whatever

          • LeeLee

            My bad, Tristan. I support chocolate-on-chocolate love. Since we’re being honest. My dating pool comment came from my own experiences and that of my friends as well. We were just talking the other day about our dating options:
            1) Date a guy who’s more into you than you are into them
            2) Be the person jumping through hoops because you like the guy more

            It’s hard out here :(

            • I know what u meant, I did feel like ol girl got a nice shot off and exit stage left and I’m like, wait but like….damn Gina (or should I say Pam, cuz narrative)

      • You’re overthinking this.

        • MeridianBurst

          Have you ever curved a dark skinned girl that was into you?

          • Not due to a lack of physical attraction

            • MeridianBurst

              There’s an obvious bias against them but I somehow don’t think that when you address this on an individual basis, people will tell you that brown/dark skinned women aren’t appealing. When you get down to the bare bones of it, people find them attractive.

      • h.h.h.

        *downvotes*

    • MeridianBurst

      *lovingly trails my hand down Idris’ face* It’s okay if he knows. He can have all of me while he’s telling me he’s the man.

    • Epsilonicus

      Whats hilarious is when they curve you and then come back a few years later talking about they should have seen then what they see now…

    • Epsilonicus

      “in the same way big girls post petty memes and any clap back is “fat shaming”,”

      I really do be wanting to say something back because I find that annoying as all get out.

    • “Behind every dark skinned man is that first curve he got from some chick who is 35 unwed with 5 kids now.”
      Man listen here. I got curved enough times to make a circle.
      But thank God for the curve. My wife got ALLADEM faded.

    • PrettySouth

      What does “curve” mean?

  • like you said towards the end my experiences weren’t the same as yours. as an 80s baby i remember a time when light skin cats were “in”. this whole dark skinned dudes being coveted is actually pretty new. either way i don’t really care as i don’t think about my complexion in regards to intra-racial privilege nearly as much as i think about what in means to be black in a white world.

    • Damon Young

      “as an 80s baby i remember a time when light skin cats were “in”. this whole dark skinned dudes being coveted is actually pretty new”

      I think many of us went through some of the same experiences as a child. But, as an adult, do you think being darker-skinned had been more of a net positive or negative, at least in terms of your interactions with other Black people (Black women specifically)?

      • as an adult i don’t know if it can fall either way. there are women who have complimented me greatly on my complexion but then again like you said if a woman wasn’t feeling it could she really say anything? in the society we live in now that would be punching “down” right? maybe i’m over analyzing it and it really is positive in my adulthood. i guess i can thank lance gross and idris elba huh? lol

        • Sigma_Since 93

          If you’re not an athlete or entertainer, you find other things that “work” for you and you make it do what it do. For example, you’re a Que, and a STEM man. You’ve got pockets of Deltas and NSBE women waiting to jump your bones.

          • “You’ve got pockets of Deltas and NSBE women waiting to jump your bones.”

            excuse me? thanks for letting me know because that’s hardly what it is. i don’t even know what NSBE is. lol

            • Ubuntu Thina Simunye

              ROO to the STEM Ques!

        • Yeah…maybe “of a certain body type” may need to be thrown in there…because all dark ain’t dark and loved just like all “tall” ain’t automatically coveted.

          • wait you’re saying that maybe dark skinned men of a certain body type needs to be thrown in?

            • Yeah. “Dark and short” isn’t going to get the same love as “dark and imposing”, just like “tall and built like a long distance runner” isn’t getting the same shine as “football build”. There’s levels like someone mentioned upthread.

              • i’m confused so football builds have the privilege then?

                • The word “privilege” is a bit problematic, lol. I’m saying that if people are going to like something because, “type” they tend to go full type (I’m speaking in terms of stereotypical attractiveness). “Dark” is usually accompanied by “tall and handsome” (tho handsome is relative if you have the other two), “tall” in a Black Man’s case usually is accompanied by a certain “build” (which isn’t necessarily slight), I mean the same thing goes for women. I’m not the “type” that men that “like Latinas” go for because, full type. My good friend gets no “Asian lovers” because, Malay. But that discussion is likely another topic in itself.

                  • oh ok. i get it. i agree with that.

            • I mean I think if you’re “of a certain body type” (for a man) your complexion doesn’t really matter that much at that point.

              • so i have no privilege then

                • False. You’re still like 6’6″ and in shape.

      • Maya K. Francis

        I, too, remember when light skinned boys were “in.” I ALSO remember when Philly girls had a thing for Ricans from North Philly…

  • Sigma_Since 93

    Dark skin only works for athletes and singers. Otherwise, I have the “privilege” of:

    Fitting the description. normally for something bad
    Being scary
    Being angry

    • Euneeda Nonothen

      Nothing but the truth.

    • Nicholas Peters

      ..All black people are scary

      • Sigma_Since 93

        Come on man. Don’t make me do it……You know this (picture 1) didn’t scare anyone. We all know this (picture 2) gives folks pause

        • Nicholas Peters

          One Drop…
          As a card carrying member of team yellow…you should see the looks I get from white people, even in places like U St and Columbia Heights

        • Rachmo

          Number one also has incredible bone structure…

          • You saying dark skin men can’t have incredible bone structure?!!?

            • Rachmo

              Shyt I actually LOL’d at work. D@mn you Ricky!!!

            • Sigma_Since 93

              @rachmo:disqus look what you don did….Now @madlark:disqus is going to start uploading pictures!!! lol!!!

              • Rachmo

                Complexion wars?

              • Naw I ain’t dark skin. One of my favorite models is Dominique Hollington and he had great bone structure.

          • Wild Cougar

            I only saw “incredible” and “bone”

            • Sigma_Since 93

              tee hee

          • Lola K Francis

            So does #2…

          • Kenroy Cherrington

            Yes, he has sex appeal.

        • miss t-lee

          If I saw either one of these ninjas I’d make sure my door was locked.

          • PunchDrunkLove

            BOL

        • TeeChantel

          So what are your thoughts on Jayceon Taylor (aka The Game)? He’s a liteskint but scares the bejeezus out of me.

          • Sigma_Since 93

            Let me ask you. Does his complexion scare you or is it the tattoos? If Jayceon got them removed tomorrow, would be be as menacing to you?

            • TeeChantel

              Hmm. I see where you went with this. I’m pretty sure if he removed his tattoos I’d still be afraid. Partly because he’s known to be the gritty and gangster type. It’s the same way with Suge Knight, too.

              EDIT: I don’t agree that all black people are scary though. I think some fit in more with the scary-looking/menacing type as do others.

            • SororSalsa

              Indeed. I don’t find Gucci Mane scary because he’s brown skinned. I find him scary because he tattooed an ice cream cone on his face. Because…..cray.

              • PrettySouth

                LMFAO!!! If I actually saw Gucci Mane in public, I would ask him to take a selfie with me. The icecream cone on his face IS CRAY!!!

          • IcePrincess

            He not lightskin, he Red. Just felt like splitting hairs a lil bit today ????

            • TeeChantel

              Noooooo! He lightskint! I thought I had this complexion thing all figured out!

        • PunchDrunkLove

          Is that a prison jumpsuit in the second pic? Well naturally, he’s got a headstart on being scary…if that’s a prison jumpsuit.

          • Well I mean the first guy IS #PrisonBae.

            • PunchDrunkLove

              I LOL’d at this….You have been on a roll today.

        • WORD! #2 could get it all though

        • SororSalsa

          #1 looks like a cleaned up zombie from The Walking Dead.

        • Jeff

          As a random white guy who found this article, #1 gives me pause if either one does. #2 just looks like some dude. He actually looks pretty nice.

        • Kenroy Cherrington

          So horribly true your statement!

      • Kenroy Cherrington

        Yes, but, still even in the Black community, dark-skinned brothers and (even
        worse probably) sisters are mistreated. To be honest, I have a prejudice against darker sisters at time.

  • miss t-lee

    “At its worse, this ambiguous but amorphous level of privilege creates a dynamic where (some) darker-skinned Black men feel comfortable openly shading darker-skinned Black women, an act that ultimately shows how tenuous this idea of intra-racial privilege”

    This is what I can’t stand.

  • MeridianBurst

    I was thinking about this last night. People were joking about the male commentary on the documentary, some men were expressing their own experiences with colorism, and some were hoping for a male version of Light Girls. I’ve never actually thought about how I perceive skin tones because it just doesn’t consciously register to me. I was thinking about what I think of light skinned men and dark skinned men but I couldn’t think of anything. But, I do know I have a preference for brown skinned guys. Sort of like a peanut butter if you mixed in a few drops of milk chocolate. That tends to be the skin tone of the guys I go for. I also thought about how a solid 80% of my homeboys are all dark skinned. So, I tried harder to think of a reason that may be but I really have no clue why that is and I don’t think it matters much. It just is and that’s okay with me. The one thing I CAN say that I specifically feel about darker skinned men is that I inherently feel safer around them. Other than that, even though I clearly have a bias towards darker skin, I have no conscious idea of why that is or a notion of what a dark man is vs. a light one.

    • LeeLee

      “The one thing I CAN say that I specifically feel about darker skinned men is that I inherently feel safer around them.”

      Hmmm. You know what? My fair skinned friends say the same thing! My father and my brother, the two men I love the most in my life, are both dark skin. I’m very close to them. But I can’t say that I feel more or less safe around darker skinned men. I feel the same level of safety, which is high, around black men of all shades.

      • OSHH

        I feel safe around dudes that I would classify as thorough, no matter the complexion.

        • miss t-lee

          Indeed.

        • camilleblu

          #werd

        • MeridianBurst

          lol. Pretty much. Maybe I just like chocolate men and I feel safe around my homeboys because of how I choose my friends.

          • Sigma_Since 93

            Wouldn’t that be a privilege? You are hoping, that the darkness of their skin would cause someone looking to do you harm a moment a pause?

            • MeridianBurst

              I’m not ready to admit that to myself but it crossed my mind when I was trying to figure it out. I’m not quite sure if that’s it. If people pause at my friends it isn’t because they’re dark guys, it’s because they’re just the kind of guys you take seriously when you look at them. Or because it’s usually 3 girls to 15 guys or some ridiculous looking ratio of dudes that’s the deterrent.

      • MeridianBurst

        I didn’t realize I felt that way until I thought about it last night. I don’t think if I’m in a group of people that I consciously think I’m safer around the darker guys, but I just think I’m more comfortable around them so I tend to reflect that in the people I hang out with. It’s really about the guy. My brother in law is probably the guy I look up to most just because of how he is as a person and how he looks out for all of us. He’s light skinned but still sort of brown.

  • Euneeda Nonothen

    That’s wild. I’ve seen the dark skinned plight (as an outsider) all my life. Could you imagine
    the s-storm following a real documentary on how darker skinned people are treated. Coming from a family with hues that span to both ends of the Black people color reel, I always accepted
    everyone. To my benefit colorism for me has been distorted-I can remember wanting to be dark skinned so bad I got sunburned. Lol @ Tristan-it’s sad but true.

  • fuzzydred

    “It’s why any Dark Boys documentary would likely be able how darker skinned men treat other Black people instead of how other Black people treat us.”

    Maybe it’s a regional thing (I’m from the South), but I do recall a whole heap of dark boys being dumped on by others for being too dark for others liking. I can recall being in elementary school in the 80s and a few really dark-skinned boys attended. This was a 98% black school. Everyone treated them as if they had the plague. No one wanted to deal with them. Why? They were just too dark. They never had square dancing partners because no one wanted to touch them. Even I thought if I touched them, some of their blackness would rub off on me. I could kick myself about that now.

    Ask my husband about his own mother and sister hating on him (still after 40 years) for being dark skinned. Needless to say, there’s not much of a relationship there.

    • Damon Young

      “Maybe it’s a regional thing (I’m from the South), but I do recall a whole heap of dark boys being dumped on by others for being too dark for others liking. I can recall being in elementary school in the 80s and a few really dark-skinned boys attended. This was a 98% black school. Everyone treated them as if they had the plague. No one wanted to deal with them. Why? They were just too dark. They never had square dancing partners because no one wanted to touch them. Even I thought if I touched them, some of their blackness would rub off on me. I could kick myself about that now.”

      As I said down thread, I think many of us have had those types of experiences in elementary middle school. But, although there are some exceptions, the paradigm tends to shift once we get older. The same complexion ridiculed at 8 gets praised at 28.

      • T.Q. Fuego

        Plus kids’ only standard for ostracizing other kids is that said kid has a recognizable trait that makes them different, nothing more and nothing less. The difference is, as they age, the dark-skinned jokes go away for men as it becomes an asset in the eyes of most black women, but the short jokes only get worse.

      • Brass Tacks

        Agreed. There was a mention in one of the documentaries about how nasty middle school females could be. I think the term “rattlesnake vicious” was used lolz. That being said; I definitely remember as a youngin growing up on the Eastside of Atlanta; when females would gravitate toward the light skinned wavy haired ninjas. Bonus points if their eye color was light brown, green, etc. And if they had some type of Spanish in em, it was like: “Yo, Brown Skin! Stand over there and hold this L.” -Kanye Shrug

        • I work in an afterschool program at a middle school. vicious ain’t the word.

  • As a short, medium Brown complected, non-bearded babyface that always looks unassuming, I can’t in all sincerity ever say I felt any privileges or denials outside of general racism.

    • taliacadet

      I definitely understand where you’re coming from, Ricky. Watching these two documentaries, I couldn’t identify with one more than the other. As someone who considers herself middle of the road…I’ve never faced either extreme–being rejected or being put on a pedestal.

    • Rachmo

      I’m just hanging with you today.

      • Miss #skinnygirlprivilege over here.

        • Rachmo

          I’m chilling hard in my privilege today.

    • Lea Thrace

      How tall are you? Inquiring minds and all that…

      • Ricky is like 5’9″. Not incredibly short or tall.

        • Lea Thrace

          Yea. That’s average height for a man. Not short at all.

          • Mr. Average and unassuming over here. :)

          • It’s only not short if you not looking to date. In the mating game tho?

  • Rachmo

    I got nothing here bc it’s something I’ve never had to think about. But this is an interesting perspective.

  • Excellent point Champ. I’m still mentally in my pre-teen years where I was straight mocked for being dark skin. Since I had coarse hair and stereotypically “African” features, I got it even harder than the average dark skin kid. Even now, I can count the number of light skinned women I’ve ever shown romantic interest two on one hand, while I’ve dated the freakin’ rainbow. It’s just all those memories of those light skinned girls poking fun flooding back.

    On the flip side, I know that my Blackness is never, ever, ever challenged, despite doing some very non-Black ish on the reg. In a weird way, it gives me freedom among other Black people that a light skinned dude wouldn’t have. No one assumes I’m soft or shady from sight. And any wariness about dating a brother comes from my interracial relationships, not my intraracial ones.

    Still, I’ve never been on the hating on dark girls program. I never quite got that one…

    • Maya K. Francis

      I remember the boys who used to talk the most smack were always the dark ones. And I’d be like, “Bruh. REALLY?”

      • Hey, I didn’t have time to tease anyone. Between being awkward and dark skin, I had plenty of shade to deal with on my own.

    • Yeah, me neither. I always preferred them actually.

      • Save for like 2 over the course of my life, every Black girl I’ve ever dated has been solidly brown skin or darker. And it isn’t like there haven’t been light skinned options. It’s just the way it works out.

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