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Colorism: Light-Skinned Black Girls Aren't Black Enough and Not Light Enough Either

Updated: Oct 18, 2019

"They probably don't even know what you are," is what someone said to me recently as they tried to explain issues concerning black people.

I zipped my lips and shook my head in agreement. No point in trying to defend my blackness when the perception has already been made.

But it bothered me. These types of comments always do.

Here I go again being dropped in the middle bucket labeled, "You're not black enough to be black and you're not light enough to be anything else."

Some dark-skinned girls see my light skin, pressed hair, unique facial features, Asian husband and think I'm not cultured, that I'm not for the cause. I don't have a stake in any claims and any problems I have are minuscule compared to theirs.

They think they've had it harder and rougher and though they may have, there is a belief that the darker the skin the deeper the struggle (and roots).

I'm an Uncle Tom who is innately submissive, obedient and in search of white approval.

White people have seen me and I tell you, they aren't looking at me like a sister. Some have looked through the light skin, pressed mane and uncommon facial appearance to see what they want—an angry black woman who is lazy and lacks intelligence and morale.

"You nigger. You nigger bitch. They should just get rid of you all," is what a white man once yelled at me after he cut me off on the freeway and slowed down to get on the side of me just so he could spew his hate.

"Nigger" a term I'm familiar with and a term my ears have heard before.

Those same ears have heard, "I'm tired of light-skinned black bitches trying to act black, trying to act like they get down with the get down."

That phrase was told to me in a concert restroom after I remarked that the bathroom line was long as shit.

Perhaps if I left the "as shit" part out of my speech, I would have fallen in line with what she expected of me. The addition of those two words caused that girl to project her own insecurities on me.

She's dealing with years of trauma from being told or showed by others that her skin color isn't beautiful enough and that it holds less value in this world, that it puts her at a disadvantage in life.

She's been called a nigger, bitch, and ghetto like me, I'm sure. She's been viewed as angry, lazy, unintelligent and lacking in moral fiber too. People may have judged her, seen her as a welfare case, alcoholic and/or pothead.

Some may have never seen her at all. They saw right through her as if she didn't exist.

That girl was fighting to retain her trauma, to hold on to the stripes she earned and happily pinned to the chest pocket of her shirt. Badges of honor from all the crap she's been through.

Did she think I was trying to steal some of her black stripes? Were there only enough for her and women with the same complexion?

I had offended her not so much with those two words—she sized me up before that—it was my presence.

She saw a light-skinned girl (it could have been anyone) who others compared her to or rated as being better positioned in the world than her. A girl who has it easier, who doesn't get labeled or discriminated against.

A girl who has more access to things like jobs, money, men.

I'll never understand what it's like growing up in the hood, being poor, being scratched off by employers or society, being mistreated by men, being fatherless, or even being single.

I'll never know what it's like to drink and smoke to cover up pain and past trauma. I'll never know what it's like to feel so low and insignificant that you want to take your life.

That just simply doesn't happen to people like me—not us light-skinned black girls.

Well, it does.

I've experienced all of those things, except I was father-less. Dad was present in the home but didn't play the daddy role.

I grew up off of 60th and West Boulevard (main streets Slauson and Crenshaw) from 1982 to 2000. Gang bangers on our street, on the one in front of us, on the one in back of us, on the side streets. Drug dealers pushing out of the house on the corner of the block.

There were a few raids of that house.

My family and I have laid on the floor when bullets flew. We spent the night down there during the riots. Trained ears knew how close or how far bullets were. No cause for alarm until there was one.

The Birds (helicopters) hovered over our homes and shined their blaring lights on the streets and yards and when at a good angle, right into our homes.

I saw a neighborhood hustler drag one of his girls out into the street and beat her like she was nothing. I remember sobbing from the window because I could do nothing about it.

I remember unlocking the doors or being in the living room when my brother was chased home by Rolling 60's Crips who wanted to put him on.

I had my heart's eye on a few dudes around the neighborhood.

I went to hood parties off Slauson Avenue and Denker and throughout neighborhoods in Inglewood.

Once I got my car at 16, me and my friends rolled the 'Shaw nearly every weekend, starting from Martin Luther King, Jr. and going up passed Century. We posted up in hot spots along the way.

Little fast butts trying to talk to guys, smoke weed, drink, and chill.

I had a shooter mouthpiece and triggered temper too. You weren't going to disrespect me and get away with it.

That mouth got a gun pulled out on me. That mouth got a knife pulled out on me. That mouth got me close to many fights that I doubt I would have won—being honest.

Just because I don't look like where I came from and no longer act or talk like where I came from doesn't mean I've forgotten what it is to be black.

My bloodline says otherwise. My mom's bell pepper nose says otherwise. My dad's course hair and mahogany skin say otherwise. My straightened hair that when wet shrinks up and kinks up, erecting the Frederick Douglass in me, says otherwise.

And every day when I stare in the mirror, I see a black woman staring back at me.

I also see something more, something greater. I can look through my blackness like you do but see a child of God who is a light and who has been cleaned up by way of grace and mercy. She doesn't look like her trauma though she is still traumatized.

Thank God for it. And it's nothing I have to feel ashamed about, so please stop shaming me—the light-skinned black girl.

We are for you, not against you. When I see you I see God's color spectrum on magnificent display. I see how your color shines even more with pinks, greens, and yellows. It's a beautiful sight.

Hair course and strong like you. Hairstyles ever-changing to reflect the variations of your eclectic personality. Some days it's sassy, some days it's sexy.

I don't see a hurt person, though you are. I see a warrior who has fought many of life's battles and still stands.

It's all of you and your story. It's also ours too, the light-skinned black girl.

I admit I didn't always see it this way. In middle school, I teased dark-skin girls, calling them "darky," "midnight", "crunchy black", "nappy head."

They teased me so much for being light. I was serving them the hurt they served me.

It's sickening to think about it now, us going toe-to-toe, one trauma arguing against another.

We didn't grow each other, we just worsened each other's pain. We deepened one another's insecurities and created a battlefield in which we were opponents.

In that field, we stabbed the hearts that only wanted love and acceptance. Our punctures told us we could never receive those things from each other.

And wounds from other races told us we couldn't get it from them either.

Sadly, many of us are still bearing the marks of black-on-black hate and self-loathing that have been perpetuated by us and society, when it's very possible for us all to unite in the sisterhood of Christ.

When it's very possible for us to uplift each other and promote one another's healing. When it's very possible to love on each other and see one another as God sees us.

Beautiful. Strong. Smart. Fit. Worthy. Capable. Unique. Victorious. Motivated. Determined. Desirable.

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