Whenever colorism is discusssed, it’s usually in reference to women: the glorification of “redbones” in rap, how Beyonce seems to keep turning white for certain photo shoots, Oprah’s “Dark Girls” documentary. However, colorism is just as prevalent in black men. It took me a while to come into my own, in my 25 years I can’t say for sure if I fully am. My father, brother, and two closest friends were all lighter skinned men, all ladykillers, while I just sat on the outside looking in wondering if something was wrong with me. I looked at lighter skinned women who seemed to be lauded and applauded as the standard of beauty and wondered if I was good enough for them. My feeling of self worth went well beyond my play with the ladies, teachers being taken aback by my intellect, police interactions, just day to day interactions with people, there was always some sort of stigma attached to my dark skin. Sometimes people not even realizing what they’re doing, others being very aware of some unspoken privilege they were granted in society.
I remember one day we was getting ready to go somewhere, he’s looking in the mirror, “You know? Mo girl finds me ugly”. He was good for those type of quotes, his whole persona seemed to be modeled after the Fresh Prince of Bel Air. My mother passed by as he said it, “Why?”. “Why what?” “Why no girl finds you ugly”, he almost answered but even he knew better than to take that bait. My mother, a deep ebony colored women from whom I take after, smiled at me and shot him another look before passing on. In her eyes said everything I need to hear at that moment, she adored both her kings and contrary to his arrogance, we were equals. I tried to internalize that message as years passed when just the opposite was stressed daily.
Fast forward a couple years, there was this girl I would see around the way, she wasn’t like the more…let’s say “unfiltered” women who lived here, she was different. We would develop a friendship and as time passed the friendship grow increasingly more flirtatious. I was way too shy/oblivious to pull the trigger I was just happy to have a girl pay me any mind. Anyway, one day she would somewhat shock me, my best friend tried to get at her. She was flustered describing the scene, she never knew she was his type, “you know how lightskinned dudes be” said. Then of course, came the Leonidas kick to the friendzone: “i mean I still like you, but if I can have him…”. Part of me wanted to point out the irony that she was 50 shades of brown herself, but I was just thinking about this vicious rejection I was getting at the moment. She saw him and saw an upgrade from me, hell an upgrade from herself. Sadder when I think about it now.
The years that followed, I would counter the insults, pretend I perfectly understood how I would “fit a description of a suspect”, and stopped getting annoyed by being told who I looked like. In popular culture, there’s movements of empowerment and the celebration black beauty. They say dark brothers are “in style” now, but trends fade. What’s most disheartening about colorism is the divide within the divide. While my friend would sometimes claim his Italian roots, it didn’t stop authorities from asking him the same questions as me, if my brother were to fall for darker skinned woman and his child looked more like her than him, would he still make that same boast? I might make a tongue in cheek remark about a lightskinned man, but who knows his plight. As if being black in America isn’t already something to overcome.