The lightness of being light skinned*
May 6, 2011 § 23 Comments
*originally appeared in the Cape Times in 2010
This is an age-old discussion that has gone on in the black community for some time now. Light-skinned people are automatically considered beautiful simply because they are lighter skinned speaks volumes about the insecurities that we have as a community. When I still lived in Cape Town I was surprised to find that these insecurities were deeply and even more profoundly present in the coloured (mixed race) community. In many respects, its manifestations were worse. If one was lighter, or, if one wishes, looked white, then they were held in higher esteem even within the same family. And this is well after the ending of apartheid too.
I found myself getting angry just hearing that as a coloured friend told me about these nuances within the community. He had been the darker child; his sister was lighter. She got better treatment at home when they were growing up. Often, comments would be made about his darkness, and they were never said in the positive light. He even told me about how most people in the coloured community would always reference their European ancestry, and never, ever touch on their African one. It as if they miraculously became coloured.
“Everybody we rolling. We rolling with some light skinned girls and some Kelly Rowlands.” That’s a line from Kanye West’s Power, in his latest album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Those who do not know who Kelly Rowlands is, she was the darker one in Destiny’s Child, Beyonce was the light skinned one. It has to be said that the line is kinda funny because well, there’s this perception in some sections of the black community that a light skinned black person is somehow more attractive than a darker skinned one. Sadly.
Maybe we should start saying, “beauty is in the skin of the lighter skinned.” Funny enough, while black people are trying to be lighter, white people are tanning to get a couple of shades darker. Of course, this must not be confused with white people wanting to be black. That would be the day. Unless of course they were hoping for a tender.
What does this say? Is this a legacy of the past? I guess when William Faulkner wrote, “The past is never buried. It’s not even past,” he knew what he meant. The past it seems is still light skinned, even amongst black folk. I got nothing against light-skinned folk. I mean, depending on the weather, I too become a couple of shades lighter.
Our communities still have a distorted view of what is beautiful. The views are still shackled to the past. One would think that with freedom, and better-educated youth, these views would have shifted to a more educated and wiser expression of beauty. But alas, even with the new generation, we still feed each other with insecure ignorance.
There is this horrible phrase I keep hearing, “Yellow Bone.” It is reference to a light-skinned black person. And 90% of the time, the expression is used to automatically exclaim that the “Yellow boned” black person is somewhat extremely attractive by the virtue of their yellow-boness.
I think we have gone past the era of blaming the past for the way we view ourselves. It is time we learned how to accept different kinds of beauty in our different communities. Beauty is not yet free it seems. Black is beautiful. And so is white. I would know, I’ve dated across the colour lines. And across shades of blackness.
There is a problem with viewing light skin as being the pinnacle of black beauty. Holding those kinds of views says a lot about the black and coloured people who think light skin is superior. It’s an inferiority complex they are unaware they have.
The one thing that must be learnt is that none is superior to another. Light and dark are equally beautiful. Some day perhaps, we will see the end of the terms, “Yellow Bone.” And accept beauty for beauty and nothing else. Black is beautiful, no matter what shade of black.