The light versus dark skin topic was one I never really paid attention to until I came to Johannesburg. I come from a very remote area in the Northern Cape where the majority of people are coloured or “baster” (derogatory term for person of coloured and Jewish/German combined origin) so everyone was automatically lighter than me. In my neighbourhood we were one of only two black households and I was one of less than 10 black learners (three being my cousins) throughout my entire schooling. When I got to Gauteng I was suddenly not the darkest anymore despite not being a “yellowbone”.
Just the other day on twitter Miss Nonhle asked whether people looked better in person or in their pictures and automatically most people looked at their skin tone as a reference. I was one of a few people who said I look the same, but probably a shade or two darker. Someone was taken aback by the fact that I would even mention it as it seems like light skin is something that many people aspire towards.
I decided to read up about it and came across this movie called Dark Girls and it basically unpacked all the myths that have developed over the years regarding this particular subject as well as issues such as skin lightening and hair extensions which come as consequence. With more and more focus on this subject and the rise of dark skinned public figures such as Lupita Nyong’o it is clearly evident that the issue goes far back.
In an interview with India Arie, Oprah once mentioned that during slavery the slaves of lighter complexion were usually the house slaves while the darker ones worked on the plantations. The divide came when the house slaves considered themselves better as they were treated better by the masters. What also emerged was that many of these house slaves owed their light complexion to being victims of rape by their masters. A combination of these inherited features as well as the notion that they were better as they were found desirable by the masters further worsened the divide.
Considering all this it is upon us as black people to change the perception. We have been conditioned from as far back as those times to believe that white is better and that subsequently the features that come with being white make being light skinned better. The perception won’t change when we continue to entertain light skin versus dark skin jokes. The perception will not change when we still see the artificial form as more beautiful than the natural form. A lot of work needs to be done it simply won’t do itself.
Check out the Dark Skin movie HERE.