I was reading a conversation on For Harriet between the sites founder Kimberly Foster and author/professor Yaba Blay. They were discussing colorism and the documentary Light Girls. It was a very interesting exchange, but one thing in particular got me to thinking. The two women briefly discussed a desire they have as dark-skinned Black women to have light-skinned Black women acknowledge their privilege in discussion around oppression.
As a light-skinned Black woman, I get that. It is very difficult to have a productive, non-damaging exchange of ideas with a privileged person that doesn’t even recognize their own privilege.
It has only been the last couple of years that I have been learning about white supremacy, patriarchy, intersectional feminism, etc. I still have a long way to go in that learning, but just those few years have given be a better understand of the way the world works against oppressed people, particularly Black people. Particularly Black women. This new information has been instrumental in giving me the vocabulary and concepts to express things that have always troubled me.
Prior to this new understanding and vocabulary, I’d say maybe 17 years ago, I became acutely aware of colorism (although I couldn’t yet name it) and how I benefited from it. Things that used to feel like compliments then began to feel backhanded. Being called “redbone”. Having people fawn over my perceived beauty while dismissing my similarly featured, but darker, relatives. Getting unwanted, but always complimentary, attention from men who were always anxious to mention my complexion or my hair.
Once I began to see this treatment for what it was, it soon became apparent the obviously negative experience of my darker cousins. They were told to avoid the sun because they would get “too Black”. As soon as new growth was visible at the roots of their relaxed or hot combed hair it was derided as being nappy. The discussions overheard where Black was always used as a negative against someone.
I could go on and on.
I then looked back on my youth. I could remember grown ass men, men my father’s age, talking about what a heartbreaker I was gonna be with my pretty (straightened) hair and my light skin. I mean…I was just a kid. Wasn’t calling me cute enough? Ugh.
Anyway, after noticing how I was treated compared to darker skinned women, I felt obligated to call people out on it. I also felt obligated to ALWAYS give them extra love and praise. Just to let them know “I see you girl, and you have value”. I even do it with strangers. And don’t let it be a natural with hair only slightly courser than my course hair. Shoot, I’m counteracting some of the negative the world projects on them with my sincere adoration!
I sometimes wonder if I’m overdoing it. But I know this world has standards that tear Black women down. But I know as bad as it is for me, it is different and often worse for darker women.
Loving them like they should be loved feels like the least I can do.
But maybe I am doing too much.