Last month a promoter here in Atlanta billed one of their events as the light skin vs. dark skin affair. I’m not really sure what the “vs.” entailed because I didn’t go. Maybe there was a line of color demarcation for the different shades of folks who arrived. Folks on the lighter side of the spectrum were on the east side of the club, the darker folks were welcome to the west.
Maybe there was different music for the two halves or possibly a special dress code for each. They may have even had some red against chocolate Jell-O wrestling. Sounds silly I know, but so did the concept of the affair to begin with.
I brushed it off as an innocuous attempt at raising a couple of eyebrows. In a city full of night spots, a shock value approach at promotions is needed to stand out from the other 15 clubs on your block. However, as the chatter began around town and folks called the promoters out for their ignorance, I tuned in. I hadn’t thought about the black community’s struggle with colorism in years. Probably because it had been that long since it affected me.
I dug deep into my memory’s hard drive and tried to call up any instances in my life where my complexion was an issue and I could only remember one. When I was a teenager, one of my friends told me the only reason this lil rusty butt boy liked me was because I was the color of piss. Wow. Piss? Really? I mean there were times I had to plead my case before others would validate my brownness, but nobody ever said I looked like the contents of a spot-a-pot before. I didn’t argue with her. I figured she had a chip on her shoulder that I wouldn’t be strong enough to knock off. So I let it go. She never spoke to me again. I assumed it was because she liked that guy, but it wasn’t.
I found out later that as she evolved from child to adult, she developed a keen disdain for the melanin challenged. She took the angry road to self-acceptance, cultivating her self-esteem through her contempt for her paler sisters. I found it unfair and deplorable. I’d never done anything to her to warrant her looking down the barrel of her nose at me. I’m not sure now though if it was me she was seeing.
The darker sisters I’ve talked to about this explained this was not a personal attack necessarily. This young man’s interest in me may have been the straw that broke the camel’s back in a long line of distressing situations for my former friend. She may have found herself longing for an acceptance that she perceived was only allotted to fairer women. It’s crazy to think this is still an issue in 2009, but if people are constantly bombarded by suggestions that they are inferior based on an aesthetic attribute they should be proud of, the defense mechanism is going to kick in. So she was simply defending herself; not from me but from the idea that her color made her unacceptable.
We know that rape by the slave masters ribbons through our lineage. We know that the illegitimate kids produced by master’s indiscretions were allowed to sleep in the basement or the attic with the rats. We know that those children identified with their owners because their identities outside of being slaves were taken from them. Since then, a European standard of beauty that has been beaten into our psyches and perpetuated in our own community has been able to mutilate the esteem of little black girls for over 100 years. Some of us have even helped.
There are some folks who don’t believe colorism exists anymore. In a Hip-Hop world full of chocolatey video girls and songs about brown skin and the like, some see the color barriers diminishing and all pretty ladies being accepted equally. Yet, as long as my beautiful dark brown co-worker tells me her toddler believes his mother would be prettier if her skin was light and her hair was long, we have a problem.
The solution to this issue is buried in a muddy convoluted quagmire of centuries of abuse at the hands of others and a legacy that has led us to abuse ourselves. Dialogues have been opened. Documentaries have been done. People have talked about this until they are breathless. However, the trouble remains. At this point the only thing we can consider is self-love. Not the type that allows you to stand a bit taller by putting your foot on the neck of the girl you find way down at the other end of the shade spectrum, but the kind that allows for acceptance of you, her and everyone in between. It sounds like over-simplifying, but self-love is beautiful in its simplicity. Its getting there that’s complicated, but you cant if you don’t plot your path and start walking.
Do I believe these promoters had all this in mind when they rolled out this ill-conceived event? Of course not. They wanted to pack the club and sell some over priced drinks. None of this even occurred to me when I saw the flyer. However, its clear to me now that we have a lot of work to do before its as innocuous as I originally thought.
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