By now you guys know the rules, make sure to watch the video below BEFORE reading any further. It is important to put things into context by seeing this video. It is literally 1 minute and 49 seconds. Do yourself a favor, not a disservice, and watch this clip before reading any further.
I have wanted to write about this topic for a bit over a year, but a couple of things stopped me from taking the leap and writing about it. 1) It is such a complex topic to write about in such a short amount of time and 2) I can't really truly place myself in a category based on my skin tone. And if I boil it down even further, reason number 2 was more of the driving force in my avoiding this topic. Why?
Well, as my mom used to tell me growing up "you're not too light and you're not too dark." I think this was her attempt to make me fee like I was "just right"during those awkward teenage years. But the truth of the matter is, that supposedly "just right," is what made this topic even harder to write about. You see, I don't view myself as a light-skinned Black woman, not even a little bit and I'm proud of that for my own reasons. I proudly view myself as a dark-skinned Black woman, but if I am honest, I am not truly TRULY dark-skinned. This realization has been confirmed by my own self comparison to others, as well as comments made by other Black people. And although I have come to terms with the fact that my skin tone falls in the middle of the color spectrum for African-Americans, what does this color spectrum mean and say about the complexities of Black skin?
Literally A Direct Reflection
The variety of skin tones within the Black community are a direct reflection of slavery and colonization. I can hear you now: Narissa please with the slavery talk! We must address this again? The answer is YES! YES! And once again YES! As I always say, Black people continue to talk about slavery because we are still affected by slavery! And one way we are still affected is by our skin tone. We are clearly a people that are mixed, which can easily be seen in the range of colors within our skin. For example, I have a bit more melanin in my skin than my husband. So when you see his skin tone, although it is generations later, you are seeing the result of a slave owner who most likely raped one of his female ancestors. That's not to say that my ancestors were not raped too, its just to say that sometimes generational trauma can skip a generation when it comes to skin tone.
And speaking of generational trauma, it follows us not just in our skin tone, but sometimes in the life decisions we make. I will never forget a conversation my husband and I had after about our second date:
"If you were any lighter, I would have never approached you." I thought I heard him wrong. . .
"You mean darker?" I asked, being that's what is normally accustomed in the Black community (more on that later in this newsletter).
"No," he said "lighter. If we have kids, I want them to have some melanin in their skin."
Although he was talking too far in the future for me in that moment, I found his comment to be a very high compliment. My husband appreciated my darker skin tone, which is something that isn't always valued. And because of his light skin, he wanted to ensure that if we got to the point of having children, our children may have a chance to have a reflection of the African skin that was stolen from them so many years prior to their birth.
The trauma of his children possibly not reflecting any Blackness was one of the driving forces in my husband selecting me as his girlfriend at the time. And now years later, as his wife and the mother of his child, we are excitedly waiting to see how our daughter's melanin settles in.
I give this personal example to show the complexities of skin tone in the Black community, how it affects us, and how these complexities continue to show up years later. However, keep in mind that this is just my example, one example. It is important for you to know that there are a plethora of skin tone conversations out there in the Black community that demonstrate the deep rooted dynamics regarding skin tone among African-Americans. So despite what people think regarding the conversations Black people still have about slavery in 2019; the effects of slavery are unfortunately continuing to affect the Black community today, especially in the area of skin tone. That brings me to my next point.
House Slave vs. Field Slave Mentality
As mentioned in the video, there were house slaves and field slaves during slavery. A lighter African-American would be a house slave (housekeeping, tending to the slave owners children, etc.) and a darker African-American would be a field slave (doing hard manual labor outside). Although nothing about slavery was easy, house slaves were allowed access into the slave owners home, giving them "protection" from extreme weather conditions and difficult manual labor. However, please don't interpret my comments as something else. I repeat, NOTHING about slavery was easy for Black people, because even though a house slave had access to the slave owners home. A slave owner now had direct access to the slave, especially the women, which is a conversation for another day. What does house slave and field slave have to do with colorism Narissa? Let me enlighten you. . .
America continues to have this mentality regarding light skinned versus dark skinned. As I have mentioned in many of my newsletters before, the way the media portrays African-Americans is pretty biased when we look at it from a skin tone perspective. Often we see lighter skinned versions of ourselves on the tv screen as positive representatives for the African-American culture, and darker skinned Black people as negative representations.
Unfortunately, we as Black people continued this house slave/field slave mentality. In the past we had the brown paper bag test, which compared our skin tone to the color of the bag. If you were the same color or lighter than the bag you would be granted access to certain social situations. If you were darker, access was denied. This trend continued with historic Black sororities. Some sororities engaged in discriminating against those wanting acceptance into the sorority. Based on an individuals skin tone, they were either denied or granted membership within the sorority. To this day, African-Americans still engage in this form of discrimination, we just do it in different ways. You see it clearly in media, especially the hip hop culture, we often see lighter skinned individuals represented as attractive in music videos. And even in everyday life, the comments we make about one another regarding skin tone simply adds to the problem of colorism. In my opinion, these behaviors simply show the deep rooted negative thoughts we have accepted about our race. Bringing me to my final point.
Changing Our Outlook On Skin Tone
It is important that we as Black people begin to really challenge these negative messages we have been fed for generations on top of generations. Challenging the idea and notion that you can only be considered beautiful if you are lighter skinned. Challenging the thought that if you are light skinned you are not considered "black enough." Challenging all these negative perspectives that were taught to us by slave owners and some White Americans. We must unlearn these ideas because they simply are not true.
Not only do we as African-Americans need to do the work, but non-Black people need to also assist in doing the work. Pay attention to how colorism plays out in your daily life. Do you recognize it at work? At school? On the tv screen? Wherever you recognize it, make sure to remain aware of the differences in how Black people are treated and/or portrayed based on their skin tone. And when appropriate (always use common sense) speak up on the issue that you see playing out. Help us as Black people educate others. Because at the end of the day, ALL shades of Black are Black enough, ALL shades of Black are beautiful, and ALL shades of Black deserve to be recognized equally. Until May. . .