Alex Holmes is appalled by descriptive phrases like ‘black or black black?’ It assumes a light-skinned supremacy and a hierarchy of racism.
At school, there was this overwhelming sentiment of light-skinned supremacy rippling through the corridors and classrooms, manifesting its way into our subconscious actions and further more inflating, and more fatally, destroying self esteem.
These feelings of preference over dark-skinned black people by their light-skinned affected both sexes, yet as a dark skinned black man it would be fitting of me to speak about what I have experienced and how that changed my perception of my own identity.
First, let me talk about a documentary called ‘Dark Girls’ that I watched over the summer. This documentary was about the overwhelming inferiority, internalised racism within the black community and the destructive result it has on the self-esteem of young black women growing up in a society which favours light/white skin over dark.
Sitting down with my sister and watching this powerful documentary it was hard not to feel a strong hatred to society, and as an older brother I wanted to shield my sister from the harsh truths that this world can deliver. She had to watch this documentary.
She was upset and confused as to why people would hate being a certain hue, have kinky hair and even go to the great extent of relaxing and bleaching young children’s hair. I smiled at her, because I could see a spark of indignation manifesting within her, and somewhere inside of me I just knew that she would be just fine.
When I was fourteen or fifteen, dallying in playground politics and other nonsensical customs, I realised something strange among the circle of friends I chose to keep. It was subtle at first, but being the relatively self-conscious guy that I was I noticed pretty quickly that girls attitudes towards me and some other boys were changing.
Patience was shortened; time wasn’t to be wasted on us. It was subtle at first because the conversations would be getting shorter and shorter until there wasn’t any at all, an animosity I couldn’t understand—so I began an investigation. I began to pry into what the black girls in our group were talking about, and it was then that these words could not have rung truer: ignorance is bliss.
The black girls in my year were remarkably cutting out a group of us darker skinned guys and focusing all their attention on the lighter skinned black boys who, I imagined, they felt to be more of a masculine group of men. They liked the hue, the hair, the devil-may-care attitude. The light skinned boys in my year, and a few dark skinned who capitalised on their popularity, were the womanisers, the roadman, the young guys who would be rapping in the playground with their groupies and an audience.
The rest of us? We were on the outskirts, wondering why we couldn’t be apart of the group.
I had been told by one of my friends before previously, after making a flippant comment, as was common in those days, that I was never going to be like one of those other guys because they ‘just look nicer’. Imagine what that could do to my ego and my self-esteem as an adolescent boy and as a result I began to build up a vendetta against light skinned and mixed race people, because I instantly thought that they believed that they were better than I was, they had black girls on their side and I needed someone to hate. This, come to think of it, is probably why I have such a preference for darker skinned women than fairer skinned women in our community.
To add to the hate, I was stopped at a bus stop on the way home from school with my friend who was mixed race, and verbally abused by an African woman who shouted at me on the street telling me that I was too black, that my nose was too big and that I should bleach my skin to look better. This woman bleached her own skin, wore weaves and had a broad nose—I was ashamed for her.
I associated fairer skin with envy, ego, greed and generally having everything that I ever wanted: attention.
It wasn’t until I left that environment and ventured out to university that I discovered that there was more to the story. When I hear white people commenting on the state of black people and the prevalent of colourism, I stand amused and appalled by the opinions I hear.
I’ve heard them say that they ‘can tell’ when someone is mixed race, or adhere to the notion that mixed race and light skin ‘looks better, no offence’ or even when you’re describing a black person they question ‘black or black black?’
When I hear comments like these I cringe and something inside of me wants to grab hold of ignorant throats and make sure they can never utter such words again. Why? Because it’s views like these that caused my ancestors to amplify colourism to the degree it is at today.
As I am now, I am a proud black man standing strong at a majestic six-foot-three who has had to develop his confidence with age.
To reach this stage was a journey that so many cannot afford to make. There needs to be an addressing of these issues that young black people face. The media and social constructs have engaged the black community in such an abyss of self hate, that it is no surprise that young black males have such a huge identity crisis, implicating our black women and consequently our children.
Oh and what happened to the light skinned boys from school? I don’t know. They all seem to have become the latest statistic in a society that does not work in their favour. A shame, really, that there couldn’t have been something better to say.
Photo: Roberto Trm / flickr