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The Dark-Skinned Woman: Achieving Self-Love in a World of Colorism

“When you do see a woman of color onscreen, the paper-bag test is still very much alive and kicking. That’s the whole racial aspect of colorism: If you are darker than a paper bag, then you are not sexy, you are not a woman, you shouldn’t be in the realm of anything that men should desire. And in the history of television and even in film, I’ve never seen a character like Annalise Keating played by someone who looks like me. My age, my hue, my sex. She is a woman who absolutely culminates the full spectrum of humanity our askew sexuality, our askew maternal instincts. She’s all of that, and she’s a dark-skin black woman. Some people who watch TV have acknowledged that and understand that. But I encourage you to search your memory and think of anyone who’s done this. It just hasn’t happened. I hear these stories from friends of mine who are dark-skin actresses who are always being seen as crack addicts and prostitutes.”

- Viola Davis

COLORISM: The discrimination of people based on skin tone within their own ethnic community.

I've written a few blogs on the topic of colorism to which I'm usually met with crickets, but I try not to take it personally. This topic has been notoriously difficult to speak about in the African American community for several reasons:

  • Some people are victims of it and discussing it becomes too painful

  • Some have benefited from it and may feel guilty acknowledging this

  • Some may unknowingly be colorists themselves and see no need for a conversation

  • Some people do not believe it exists

For those who don't believe colorism exists within the African American community, I've collected a few quotes from people in mainstream media speaking on this topic. I will continue with a series of blogs on the subject in my quest for ALL women to love themselves unconditionally, but also taking the time to speak directly to my African American sisters. Those who have experienced colorism have often felt alone, unheard, invisible, and discouraged by the rejection of our own people. As descendants of slaves, we have all grown accustomed to acknowledging the existence of racism and have often banded together to shield each other from the painful blows of that type of oppression. But when it comes to colorism, African American sisters of a darker-hue have been left on our own and in some cases, attacked when attempting to bring this issue to our communities to help find a solution. I have heard that we are "just jealous of light-skinned women" or that we are "complaining" or that it's our "bad attitudes" that keep us from experiencing some of the things that are offered to our light-skinned sisters. But this is not (I repeat) NOT a message to say that light-skinned women do not experience forms of discrimination as an African American woman in this country. This is instead a hope that the African American women of a darker hue who have spoken out about this will know that they are HEARD, they do have a VOICE, that colorism is NOT just in their head, and that they MATTER.


“I remember a time when I too felt unbeautiful. . . . I got teased and taunted about my night-shaded skin. And my one prayer to God, the miracle worker, was that I would wake up lighter-skinned. . . . And when I was a teenager my self-hate grew worse, as you can imagine happens with adolescence, when around me the preference for light skin prevailed. To the beholders that I thought mattered, I was still unbeautiful…"

-Lupita Nyong'o, Actress

“When I was like 5 years old I used to pray to have light skin because I would always hear how pretty that little light skin girl was, or I would hear I was pretty to be dark skin. It wasn’t until I was 13 that I really learned to appreciate my skin color and know that I was beautiful.”

-Keke Palmer, Actress

“I remember being there, and I instantly knew that Miss Miller did not like me because of the color of my skin. I was too dark and I was a nappy-headed colored child, and Miss Miller would say it. And my half-sister Pat was five years younger than me and she was light skinned and my mother was staying there because Miss Miller loved my half-sister. And I was put out on the porch to sleep."

-Oprah Winfrey

“As a black woman, as a light-skinned black woman, it’s important that I’m using my privilege, my platform to show you how much beauty there is in the African-American community,” she said. “I am Hollywood’s, I guess you could say, acceptable version of a black girl and that has to change.”

-Zendaya, Actress

“I love black African-American women; it’s just not my forte to deal with a dark-skin woman. I prefer them to have a lighter complexion than me. "

-Kodak Black, Rapper

“We got some light-skinned pretty girls we got to raise. We in trouble my nigga, what we gonna do?”

-YG, Rapper (comment at Nipsey Hussell's funeral, referencing he and Nipsey's children)

NFL player Jahleel Addae pictured with wife and son. The link below shows Addae, his wife, and their friends making a toast to "more light-skinned babies"

I'll end it here for now. If we never address it, we cannot fix it. Colorism is a poison in our community and the sisterhood will never be fully bonded until we openly discuss this and devise plans for solutions TOGETHER.

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