Denying your light skin privilege is harmful to the Black community as a whole
March 22, 2017
“Stop dividing us!” “We’re all black at the end of the day.” “There is no #TeamLightSkin/#TeamDarkSkin!”
Let’s cut the crap—nothing is as simple as “We’re all ______.” It’s nice to be reminded that we’re all in this together, human solidarity and back solidarity are beautiful things. They’re just not the only things. And when we don’t acknowledge the realities of the bad stuff, we let them fester and we leave others, the people we claim to be in solidarity with, more vulnerable.
People of color can never fully separate themselves from their race and what it signifies to ‘others’, of course, but let’s not pretend that light skin blacks do not receive privileges that are at the expense of dark skin blacks. Every hip-hop reference, every magazine cover, the ease of crossover success for the ambiguously brown while darker skinned folks (especially women) somehow seem largely underrepresented, and subsequently under-valued.
Society at large places a very high value on the perceived proximity to whiteness. I knew this as soon as I began to understand what my race signified to other (read: white) people. I was 8. 8-year-old me thought it would be easier for people to see who I really was if I didn’t overwhelm them with my blackness. Light skin to me meant, “Hey, I’m sorta like you! It’s not a big deal! Just a little extra browness!” I knew I was black, and I knew it didn’t (or shouldn’t) matter. But it did and it does. That’s the cold-hard reality of it. And pretending otherwise not other neglects the problem, it fails to celebrate the positives of why it does matter.
Light skin women like Beyonce and Halle Berry are considered to be two of the most beautiful women in the world. And while that thrills me as a black woman with a similar complexation, the universal acceptance of their beauty might just have something to do with their European facial features. It’s almost as if this makes them more agreeable to a wider range of people. On the inverse, we have people like the Kardashians who benefit from ambiguous complexations that allude to the ‘exotic’ and exploit the aesthetics of women of color. They do so with exponentially more success than actual black women because they’re white. They don’t need the perception of a proximity to whiteness—they are whiteness.
Light skin people have a responsibility to call out colorism and be honest about the privileges they benefit from. For example, I’ve never been racially profiled by the police. I’m afraid of the police. I’ve been pulled over by the police (I mean, I was speeding). But the police have not treated in vicious ways that I know and have seen them treat darker folks. I can walk into a lingerie store and find nude undies that are actually nude on me. Or go into a makeup store and find foundation in a shade that isn’t hidden from the display or “only available online”. I don’t have to experience what its like to feel totally invisible. And it’s my responsibility to say something, to do something, to prevent others from being treated that way. If I/we aren’t willing to do that, what’s the point of black solidarity in the first place?
By Erin White*, AFROPUNK contributor
Photo: PeopleImages / Getty
*Erin White is an Atlanta-based writer and AFROPUNK’s editorial and social media assistant. You can follow her on Tumblr or friend her on Facebook. Have a pitch or an inquiry? Shoot her an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.