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We spoke to some dark-skinned women and had them recount their colourism experiences. Through their narrations, we can share their lived experiences and understand the dynamics of colourism better.
“The experiences I’ve had with colourism aren’t very overt. I can’t say I’ve ever been hurt by it because I’ve just never been bothered about being dark-skinned. The ones that stung though, were the constant comments on my uneven skin tone. I have like 30 different shades of brown on my body. I like to think of it as a melanin-themed rainbow lol.”
“A friend once took tissue paper and wiped it across my face and told me I was so dark because I was dirty. The tissue paper was dirty; obviously, because it was afternoon and I was sweaty. I’m no longer mad at the person but the thought of that event still makes me sad because she’s dark-skinned too. I wonder who made her believe people are very dark because they’re dirty.”
“One that stung was when I was explaining light-skin privilege to one of my best friends (who is light-skinned) and she just wasn’t getting it.
For the most part, I think people just hate being told that they might be complicit in oppression, it’s not like she decided to be born light-skinned.
That’s why people get so offended when you point out their privileges.”
“I was called charcoal by Mrs Enamegbai in primary school and when I was 11, I had this light-skinned friend who straight up told me “boys are typically attracted to fair girls, that’s why more boys follow me than you.”
“Today I saw a call for a modelling gig and the advert had “caramel (not dark-skin!)” written boldly on it. Most times when ushering agencies are recruiting ushers they ALWAYS specifically say they want “TALL FAIR GIRLS”. It’s very common in that industry because they believe fair girls are prettier, so they usually don’t accept dark girls.”
“I tend to remove myself from uncomfortable situations so I don’t have any particular colourism experience. However, I noticed that in pageants in my school (and we have many of those), light-skinned or not-too-dark women win everything. They also do this thing where they make entirely new categories to pander to us. “Miss black and beautiful” as if all the contestants are not black women. Why do you have to create a new category? Why do you have to classify my beauty separately because I’m darker?”
“One time I was talking to a friend and he started talking about his preferences, which was light-skinned girls, UNPROVOKED. It felt really weird because apart from the fact that I had no interest in him, it was uncomfortable given the fact that I’m dark-skinned and had never thought there was anything wrong with my skin tone before then. Funny thing is that he was dark-skinned himself which made the entire thing feel so unreal ‘cause how can you speak all that trash when you look exactly like what you don’t want?? It was probably at that point I realized that colourism was more prevalent than I’d thought, especially around me.”
“When I was in Nigeria, I’d get comments like “wow your skin is so shiny, your own black is fine, not dirty black”. Those compliments always bothered me because they imply that the default for black skin is ugly and dirty. Now, I’m in America and the pecking order for beauty is very different. Black women aren’t high on the scale of preference, talk less of dark-skinned black women. What annoys me most is the hair thing. The natural hair movement’s disregard for 4C hair. 4C hair is never good hair to them.”
“I think I experienced colourism the most in secondary school. I had idiots call me ‘blacky’ or make jokes about me and my significant other at the time (who was light-skinned) & they’d call us ‘eclipse’ or something stupid. I have had people talk about being dark in front of me, as though it were a disease. I have also had people, especially men, compare me to my light-skinned friends, saying that they are finer than me because they are lighter. If I was insecure and decided to bleach my skin because of their foolish remarks, it would be these same idiots that would talk poorly about my skin and how the colour has changed. I love me & God forbid I change the colour of my skin to please idiots :)”
“My mum is light-skinned and I’m dark-skinned so you can imagine all the comments I heard growing up. “You’re not fine like your mummy, you’re so dark” meanwhile, my mum and I look very alike. A family member once said (jokingly of course) that I’m ugly, unlike my mum. Painful stuff.”
“I remember one in primary school. We were supposed to present a play for the end of the school session. So I guess every class was supposed to bring two students or thereabout. Then my class teacher told me to join only for the headteacher to say she needed “attractive people”. Apparently, she just needed fair people.”