Five Reasons Being a Light Skinned Token is Complete and Utter Trash

It’s 2017, and colorism is clearly alive and well. We know this, although some refuse to acknowledge or admit it for a variety of reasons, whether they be self-serving or ignorant bliss. Some don’t think it’s important because at the end of the day, to most, being black will trump the color of your skin, or maybe it’s guilt, maybe it’s a lack of empathy on both sides. Regardless, it isn’t going to go anywhere if we cannot have open, honest, and respectful conversations about the topic without discounting one another.

As a light skinned black woman, colorism isn’t often a bridge I like to cross because it seems as if I’m “damned if I do and damned if I don’t.” I’ve been told that I only think colorism and light skinned privilege exist because it makes me feel superior, and on the other end of the spectrum I’ve been accused of ignoring the plights of darker toned women and ignoring the reality of privilege. I honestly don’t know how it can be both, but I’ve learned that sometimes I just need to listen. It’s like when someone confides in your about their problems and you instantly make it about yourself after quickly dismissing their anecdote. Other times, I think I’d be selling myself short if I didn’t speak up about how light skinned women are sometimes treated in the black community. When someone calls light skinned women ugly and believes the only reason we are seen as desirable is because of our lack of melanin, some people may quietly side eye them, but it mainly doesn’t receive attention because we’re seen as the group of privilege, and no one is willing to put themselves on the line when you aren’t the oppressed party.

What’s more, there seems to be a blatant exclusion of light skinned women when compiling images or stories of black women. I’m not even demanding to be included because there is still a lack of representation of brown skinned women in media and a plethora of industries, and I understand and respect that, but how many articles am I going to see that highlight black women without anyone who looks like me? Are we not not black as well, or just not black enough? In addressing this pattern, I’ve been told that it isn’t necessary for me to be represented among black women because I’m already represented in the mainstream. While there’s no question that lighter toned women are often used as a “safer, more acceptable” representation of black women in mainstream media, a lack of understanding is revealed to assume that many find this flattering, a win, acceptable, or something that replaces unity within your own race. I can only speak on my personal experience and those around me, but I don’t know any light skinned women who cheer when we’re so obviously (and often awkwardly) placed in a sea of white women to show “diversity.” So, allow me to break down the reasons why being a token is more harmful and vile than anything.

  1. It increases resentment within the black community, especially among women. You think that people care that I don’t like light skinned women being paraded around as ambiguous representations of black beauty? Of course not, we likely won’t even get to that point of the conversation. There’s a misdirected resentment towards light skinned women due to colorism when we have no control over the color of our skin. I actually believe there are specific reasons to promote this division that has roots in slavery, but I’m trying to keep this article semi-short, and the concept is nothing new.
  2. People tend to find it more acceptable to say racist things around you. Sophia Richie expressed this some time ago (and people even threw her a side eye because she apparently doesn’t look black enough), but people don’t have to think you’re white, they just need to think you’re docile or have a reason to be less militant (ie, privileged). “Oh, you aren’t a real black person, I wasn’t talking about you.” Last time I checked, being black wasn’t a processed burger from a fast food joint compiled of artificial materials. My blackness is real, it matters, and I don’t play that shit.
  3. Colorism exhibited by the mainstream (white society) is anti-black and strips away our identity as black women. I fail to understand why I would be happy to see someone who looks like me be a representative of the black race when I know that the reason explicitly is rooted in not looking “that” black or being “acceptable” black. What kind of victory is that? This is more of a convenience to the media but a complete disservice to everyone in the black community, not just those excluded.
  4. You sometimes question whether an opportunity is the result of your skin color rather than your skill or talent. I remember years ago asking others if they were okay with accepting an opportunity that they could confirm was the result of privilege, and while I’d like to think not, everyone isn’t that blatant about it. Whether the opportunity is minor or major, it’s a nagging thought and unacceptable for anyone to feel that way.
  5. Some believe that looking a certain way excludes you from racism that brown skinned black people experience, especially when the media’s definition of inclusion is a fair skinned black woman with loose waves. Months ago, I saw a combative and divisive meme circulating the web that challenged light skinned women to relay their stories about being called a monkey and the like rather than simply feeling insulted because we may be bullied out of jealousy. Hate to break it to you…but to a racist white person, a “monkey” is a beast regardless of skin tone. Not to mention, skin color doesn’t exclude one from having black features that are often ridiculed in society, such as “soup cooler” lips, “nigger noses,” and the like.

Let me be 100% clear, this is not an article that is meant to compare light skinned and dark skinned plight. The experiences are completely different and the nuances are incredibly deep and complicated. But to assume that light skinned folks are floating around on cotton candy and soaking up all this “privilege” like champs is naive and misinformed. Intended to harm and divide, colorism is a perpetually toxic poison that infects us all.

5 comments

  1. You know, when I was about 9 or so, my mother and I were out and about in San Francisco. All of a sudden, some white boy passed by us and blurted out: “Nigger!” My mother paused for a moment before letting out a tiny laugh and saying, “Did he just call me a–Hmpf! The nerve!”
    My mother is as light as you, Elle. It was in that moment that I realized that, even as (some) of the black kids at school were still playing the “color game” (AND putting my mother on a pedestal), HATE saw us all the same. That was definitely an eye-opener for a naive brown girl from the midwest now living in the big city in the early 70’s. I think it was the moment I starting moving away from accepting all those insignificant nuances that keep us divided.

  2. Thank you Elle. This is our truth, whether anyone believes it or not. Often, our very real experiences are dismissed. Black women are ONE BODY, and until we get THAT PART, we will never get anywhere.

  3. It is truly the hater’s problem – not yours. If other blacks judge, why hang with them? :\ And it is no longer RACE that segregates people; it is class and breeding that matter! Best to live live and excel to overcome! You lower yourself otherwise… Just sayin’. Anger breeds anger in others! πŸ˜‰ [Anger only breeds anger in others.] Hang with those can can love you for who you are – not the color of your skin. If the color of your skin still matters, move on!

    1. I think people are divided by a variety of things. And no, I don’t hang out with people who treat others in that manner. πŸ™‚

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