The Hate We Receive: On Colorism & Anti-Blackness Among Black People
When I was a child, having dark skin was a flaw. Dark skin was considered ugly. I can remember slinging insults that were nothing more than describing how dark a person’s skin was. It was cruel, and now that I know the damage I was doing, I am ashamed.
At the time, I had two best friends, B and K. B was on the lighter end of the brown spectrum. Sometimes people referred to her as redbone. Her hair was a softer texture, her eyes were a lighter brown, and everyone thought she was gorgeous. Boys constantly asked me to help them get close to her. Men, boys, and white people were generally nicer to her, all because she had light brown skin.
K, on the other hand, caught hell all the time. The boys would call her names and throw rocks at her. She had more issues in school, and was thought to be a troublemaker. Ironically, B was the one who was sneakiest and a much better liar than both of us, yet K was the one people singled out to blame. Sometimes K and B would fight – K could see that people treated B nicer than her all the time, but K couldn’t lash out at them. B was accessible. Over time, they became less close; at the time, I thought K was jealous, but honestly, I’d get tired of being mistreated in such close proximity to someone who wasn’t. And in a society where attractiveness is currency, it doesn’t make sense to stay near someone who would always be perceived as more attractive for the superficial reason of lighter skin. To survive, she distanced herself from someone whose presence invited attention from those who would assault her and this was her normal.
B had her own issues. Having sexual attention from boys and men foisted on her before she was 10 years old is some nonsense. Having to learn to avoid and escape sexual predators was challenging. We all had to, but her lighter skin, hair, & eyes made her highly sought after and she was put into dangerous situations and forced to make adult choices. I know they affected her and her life is finding joy in managing the fallout. To survive, she had to learn to manipulate those drawn by her looks and this was her normal.
Regardless, we had two girls, both sexually objectified and terrorized by men – B was pursued as a sexual conquest while K was a verbal punching bag and it was all based on the perceived attractiveness of their skin color. And this is what I think of when I hear Rickey Smiley say hateful things about Black women. This is the very dynamic we see in all media - Casting Gurl Wonder wrote a thread discussing how casting agents specifically request racially ambiguous women for Black roles. We see it when dark skin performers like Leslie Jones are attacked by racists. We see it when Black women are removed from our own narratives and replaced by women of color who are not Black.
We are constantly erased from our narratives, from our history, from media, and from any representation of daily life. We are constantly told we are ugly. Sick. Unworthy of respect or love. The features we’re told are ugly become beautiful when grafted on paler bodies. Our hairstyles ridiculed until they are adopted by whiteness. We get it - the darker our skin, the less deserving we are of human treatment.
You’d think that people who shared our range of hues would understand. You’d think that Black men would understand and relate to this issue. Instead we see them experience pleasure and obtain success in exploiting this anti-Blackness toward Black women and femmes. We watch them participate in the negative perception of Black women and profit from it. And the ones who can’t eek out a living by beating the drum of misogynoir settle for the emotional orgasm they receive from being the oppressor instead of the oppressed. They capitalize on ridiculing our looks, our bodies, our ways of speaking. We are blamed for the ills of the world whether we choose to have children, need public assistance, or are financially independent. We are found wanting regardless of how we wear our hair, makeup, clothing. Somehow, we consistently find ourselves subjected to criticism, ridicule, dismissal, and erasure.
I’m not sure when I realized I’d never be good enough and stopped trying. I’m not sure I ever really did. I do know I go through periods where I seek outside validation…then I realize that validation is fleeting and a form of control I don’t need or want. But what I’m talking about isn’t only about me. The only space I have in this conversation is how I’m “average” Black. I’m the Black woman who is the troublemaker next to the light-skinned Black woman and the “good one” next to the dark-skinned Black woman. And yes, this happens. My worth and attractiveness is dependent on who I’m around and when I’m around white people, I’m just that Black woman who is to be silenced or ignored.
But, again, it’s not just about me. It’s about watching assholes like Charlamagne the shithead interact with loud, ignorant, belligerent white women and then say Black women should aspire to be like her…because a thin, blond white woman makes the “angry Black woman” trope palatable. I guess it’s because the Black was removed. It’s about Black men like Gilbert Arenas straight up saying that dark-skinned women aren’t attractive. And it’s about shitty jokes like the one Rickey Smiley made about a dark-skinned Black woman. The message is everywhere and its messengers are disappointing on every level.
It’s fucked up watching this continue to play out over and over again. It’s fucked up knowing that Black women and femmes are being hurt and killed because we’re considered easy targets who are punished when we protect ourselves. It’s fucked up knowing that the only people who care about Black women and femmes are other Black women and femmes.
But it does make it a lot easier to stop caring about the people who don’t care about us.