Dark Skin vs. Light Skin: The Color Complex

Color classification is a still a huge deal around the world and seen more prevalent in the African-American, Indian, and Asian communities. The color of one’s skin can be linked to social status in the community.

While many people of non-European decent typically think of  their own culture as being plagued by the stereotypes and negative connotations associated with darker vs. lighter skin, the truth is you can find it in almost every culture or group of people.

The Indian community has long suffered from the caste system and connections to skin color. It’s still typical to see fairer skin Indians marry each other and darker skin Indians marry each other, than to see a darker and fairer skin Indian couple marry; it’s frowned upon by the couples’ families.

Additionally, many Asians, women in particular, invest in bleaching and lightening products to make their skin fairer or whiter. If you’ve ever spent time in any Asian country you’ll notice television commercials and advertisements cast with the lightest skin women.

In the African-American community, stereotypes continue to perpetuate the idea of lighter skin being better than darker skin.  Just recently on an episode of  VH1’s Love and Hip-Hop, the rapper Consequence defended his lyrics in a song referring to the skin tone of women.

Light skin is the right skin, so you, you, you and your white friend

Maybe lighter complected skin is most attractive to him, which is fine to have a preference but to say one is right denotes that anything else is not.

One of the problems I see is that this conversation seems to evoke a feeling of black or white. Not in the sense of African-American or Caucasian but in the sense of one extreme or the other. What happens if your skin tone falls somewhere in the middle? How should you be classified? I don’t think that in the black community light skin or dark skin are sufficient adjectives to describe the many shades and hues that we bless the world with. Chocolate, latte, mocha, caramel ..we’ve relegated our color to coffee flavors. I don’t think it’s a bad thing because you actually get a better understanding of a person’s hue with those descriptors.

Color and complexion distinctions are made clear for most during childhood years. Hollywood actress Gabrielle Union depicts an all too similar experience as a ‘brown girl’ growing up  in her letter to her younger self displayed beautifully in the October 2012 issue of Ebony magazine. I read it when the issue was released and thought that it was so wonderfully and beautifully written that I cut it out, added it to my journal and was inspired to write my own letter to my younger self.

In the letter Union wrote:

Your deep Mahogany skin may not resemble that of the others in your family, but it’s just as gorgeous and you’re just as worthy….One day you’ll appreciate how much your brown skin shines in the moonlight, glistens in the sun and ages ever so slowly.

This resonating with me so strongly because I too had feelings of inferiority due to the images on television and personal experiences. As I got older I learned to accept and embrace my chocolateness. But those images that portray lighter skin as perpetually equaling beautiful still exist, so it becomes even more necessary to be confirmed in who you are, as to not compare yourself to anyone.

Through every example of skin tone revealed above and others not mentioned here, it is obvious to see that the underlying factor in the skin color debate is the lack of self-love and acceptance. No matter who you are, where you were born, how you were raised,  every person has some complex with themselves that either they don’t like, want to change or are just not comfortable with. If you find the love for yourself from within, and don’t allow other people’s opinions or judgement to dictate your beauty, stereotypes will not be an issue for you.

ETA:

Oprah’s OWN network recently aired a documentary entitled “Dark Girls” highlighting the degradation of darker skin [black] women. It depicts to a broad audience something that so many suffer from silently. I think it was pretty well done and honest. The documentary can be viewed here.

ETA:

This upcoming January 2015 Oprah’s OWN network will be airing a follow-up to the Dark Girls documentary entitled Light Girls.  I’m interested to see the juxtaposition of these two points of views.  Here is the preview:

Now that Light Girls has aired, stay tuned for my thoughts on the similarities, differences and perception.

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10 Comments

  1. I keep trying to leave a like, but for some reasons my like disappear. So I thought I would comment and let you know I like your article and your blog in general!

      1. Hello. I somehow stumbled onto this article and found it very thought-provoking. One thing it made me think of as a white woman is growing up trying to soak up the sun as much as possible, because heaven forbid we go out looking pale and pasty. We planned to marry someone tall dark and handsome. Jokes were made about people who were very light, calling them powder, casper, and light bright. Or my cousin would say to my sister, “oh my gosh your blinding me!” So as i read your article, it made me wonder, is lighter really what folks are after? Or is it a shade in the middle, perhaps a beautiful caramel or bronze color. You know the old saying….opposites attract…perhaps that is why we choose someone the opposite shade. Not because we dislike darker or lighter. I believe it would be amazing if we can continue to stop focusing so much on color, love who we love, and maybe someday we will all become that somewhere in the middle shade…only then will we become one race, the human kind 😉

        1. That is an interesting perspective…The idea that the grass is greener on the other side.

          And maybe the only point we’ll stop trying to be something other than who we are naturally is when we are all “one race of people”.

          Hopefully, we don’t allow our differences to prevent or divide us from the freedoms or biases to be whomever we are naturally. And not who society decides is the closest ideal to the model of perfection.

  2. Reblogged this on and commented:
    Love this! I’m mixed race (Black & Guyanese-Indian). I know for a fact that the racial clash between my parents was frowned upon by their families (mostly the Indian side). I can relate to this article.

  3. I’m still amazed at how influential skin complexion can be in how we are perceived. This is a short documentary exploring why people are more attracted to certain complexions.

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