Light-Skin Privilege Exists
Updated: Mar 29, 2021
As a little girl growing up in an interracial family with a black mother and a white father, I did not think about race that often. My family seemed normal to me, so it never occurred to me that our family was any different from anyone else’s. As I got older, I realized that race had begun to have a larger impact on my life. I wanted to “be black” and fit in with the other black girls in my school, but I could never seem to get it right.
It took me a long time to acknowledge the fact that I was never going to be just a black woman. I am not exclusively black. I am black and white, and with that comes privilege. So often, the only black voices that are heard and uplifted are the black voices of light skin women, who are valid and have valid stories, but cannot give insight into every black woman’s experience.
When we see diversity campaigns in makeup or clothing brands or watch a TV show with a token black character, they are often light skin with 3A/3B hair. Those women do not represent the entire black community. A couple of months ago, I wrote a paper on The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison (a fantastic read to learn more about colorism within the black community).
To give a quick summary, the story is about a dark-skinned black girl who struggles with her blackness to the point where she has a psychotic break and convinces herself that she has blue eyes as a protection mechanism against the hate she receives from her community, which sees her blackness as ugliness.
It is a story with many layers, but one of the biggest overarching themes is how colorism within the black community stems from and leads to internalized racism. I read this book with a sinking feeling, because it brought back many memories in my life where I felt like was not lovable, good enough, or pretty enough, because I was “too black” to be any of those things.
From a young age, black women are led to believe that Eurocentric beauty standards are the sole qualifications for being beautiful. For so long, I wished that I could have wavy hair and light eyes. These feelings were not something that I ever discussed with anyone, because I was ashamed that I was not proud of myself and what I looked like. I was ashamed that I did not have a strong connection to the black community.
Reading this book was very emotional for me, because it was the first time that I had ever really acknowledged those feelings that I had been dealing with and still have to deal with. It is a truly terrible thing to have to grow up in a society where you are told that you are not enough, simply because of the color of your skin.
I have come to realize how much more dark-skinned black girls are affected and targeted in regards to what is considered “beautiful” and “not beautiful” in society. While I have dealt with my fair share of racist remarks about being black or mixed, it is not something that I have to think about every day of my life. Some people look at me and do not even consider me to be black, and with that comes privilege.
As I am growing and learning, my goal every day is to be informed and to speak up about black issues, in a way that I do not speak over dark-skinned black girls. Light-skinned black women deserve to have their stories told, but their stories are not the only ones that have worth. Such stories should never hold more weight in the eyes of non-black people or be used in retaliation when colorism within the black community is called out.
Oftentimes, light-skinned black girls are the main perpetrators of hating on black women. They separate themselves from dark-skinned black women as much as they can and take advantage of the fact that their skin tone is more socially acceptable. They beat down and harass dark-skinned black women and then play the victim when they are not received by dark-skinned black women with open arms when it benefits them.
It is crucial that light-skinned black women recognize their privilege and use it to uplift other black women in the community. It is our job to call out racist remarks that do not directly impact us and to use the platform that we are often given as “the black girl” in the media and elsewhere to speak up about the injustices that dark-skinned black women face.
It is also our job to know when to step aside and to let someone else have the platform that we are offered. Light skin privilege is absolutely real and everybody who benefits from it needs to recognize it and use it to uplift the black women around us who are not given the same opportunities that we receive.