Complexion: The Great Divide


Another day has come and gone and I am still the curious, creative Soul I’ve always been.  Just out of curiosity what do Rolo, Twix, Milk Duds, and Snickers all have in common? Can anyone tell me? No worries, I’ll wait…These candies seem to be one of the few places that you can find different shades living in harmony.

For whatever reason in 2013 we as a collective people we cannot seem to get past the dissension among people with varying shades of beauty. I was hanging out with a friend a few months ago who is a makeup artist and there were several of us standing around trying on makeup. One young lady with a beautiful dark chocolate complexion tried on the most vibrant fuchsia lip gloss. She looked at us and said,” This color is gorgeous, just imagine if I was light skinneded.” (Yes I said skinneded. I know I know, but I am quoting.) WOW, I was floored to say the least. Comments like this never cease to amaze me. Why I am not sure considering this has been going on for as long as I can remember.  

I recently asked some of my friends and associates to share their experiences with me and this is some of what was shared with me:

“I don’t even look at dark girls but you’re cute.”

“She thinks she better than us because she’s a light bright.”

“Do you and your sister have the same mom and dad? She’s caramel toned.”

“She got good hair, she must be mixed.” 

“You are too dark for me.”

“I only date light skinned men, they are more attractive than dark guys.”

I have had my share of ignorant encounters with people that have ranged from the slight to the extreme. I’ve been told by men, “You are too dark for me.” Who says that out loud? If you have a preference, it is so much more tactful to just say, “You aren’t my type.” I have also heard people say they would never wear their natural hair because it looks unclean and unprofessional.

For those of you who may think these incidents are isolated, like LeVar Burton, don’t take my word for it. Again and again the idea of dark versus light has been debated, written about and recorded. Recently Bill Duke directed a documentary entitled Dark Girls.  If you have not seen the trailer, please click the link and watch when you get a chance. It chronicles the stories of women of dark complexions and their experiences with the great divide. Toni Morrison also addresses part of this issue in her book The Bluest Eye (it’s an awesome read), as well as director Spike Lee in the movie “School Daze“. For centuries in the United States complexion has been the Great Divide. House slaves versus field slaves, and the paper bag rule. The “Paper Bag Rule” was a guideline for people of color stating that you were only accepted into social circles, and sometimes events and venues if you were lighter than a brown paper bag.

So where does all this deep rooted unrest stem from? It stems from the outlandish idea that dark and knotty is inferior, unclean, unacceptable, and inept. It stems from the desire to assimilate so one can be accepted, because let’s face it, who likes to be rejected? No one wants to feel undesirable or unattractive. For far too long as a society we have fostered the deepening divide by allowing a small few to dictate what beauty is. Long flowing, frizz free, limp hair, fair complexions and eyes with brighter pigments is the standard of beauty for far too many. Not to say that these traits can’t be beautiful, it is to say they are not exclusively beautiful. The reality is good percentage of the people on the planet do not have the traits that have been deemed worthy. I call it the “Illusion of Inclusion”…Women across all cultural backgrounds (not just black women) spend countless dollars on products to alter their skin and hair to accommodate the ideal of only a fleeting few.

Growing up, I always wanted to be of a darker complexion. I was envious of girls darker than myself, even though I am chocolate already. I wasn’t aware that my dark skin bothered people until I started school. Then I began to notice the dolls never looked like me, the girls on the commercials don’t look like me. Movies would show the woman of the lighter complexion with the happy relationship and the darker woman being the single, loud, pushy, baby mama.  For black women with darker complexions being depicted in this manner isn’t uncommon. Then if a woman of dark complexion is successful, they are angry, pushy and still loud. For my counterparts of fair complexion the idea that they are conceited, well mannered, superior, with better hair is still unfair. The common thread is they are all human. Oprah did a show in which she had the opportunity to speak with the women of India and even there, she discovered that having fair skin is preferred to being of a darker complexion.

On both sides of the scale the only thing being accomplished is dividing people who should be united. There is nothing that can be accomplished by allowing an ideal that was CREATED to divide us to continue to divide us. This undying epidemic does not just take a toll on adults, but our children. Things such as this lend to bullying and isolation. When does it stop? When are women going to stop huddling up in dark corners at the club to make snide remarks about a woman of fair complexion because her hair is of a fine texture and the length is natural? When are men going to stop buying into the idea that having a woman of fair complexion on their arm is more socially and corporately acceptable? All this stops when we say enough. Why add fuel to a fire that will spare no one?

Elle Varner is beautiful, Gabrielle Union is beautiful, Queen Latifah is beautiful, Michael Michelle is beautiful, Jill Marie Jones is beautiful, Grace Jones is fierce, Alek Wek is gorgeous, Amel Larrieux is fabulous…Obviously all these women are different, but what is the common thread? All of these women are talented, beautiful women. To shorten the common thread, they are all human.

I strongly urge all of you to re-evaluate your ideals, your hurts, misconceptions and challenge the not so unattainable goal of unity. The fact of the matter is our life, growth, and success depends upon breaking the bonds of depressive behavior. Compliment people for their personality not their pigments. Don’t dislike based on whether their hair is tightly curled or lying lengthy across their back, but celebrate the diversity of our features. Wide nose, dark skin, thin lips, or wide hips, cannot dictate how a person will love you, teach, care for or be compassionate towards you.

I hope that something I have said has moved you to outrage and discussion and closer to a path of change, because aside from being passionate about change I just flat out do not want to repeat myself. (I know that is a bit impatient but I am a work in progress.)

I want to know what you think, feel and what your experiences are, negative or positive. 

Til the next experience!

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