By Charisse Jones
Glamour Magazine October, 1995 p. 127
I'll never forget the day I was supposed to meet him. We had only spoken on the phone. But we got along so well, we couldn't wait to meet face-to-face. I took the bus from my high school to his for our blind date. While I nervously waited for him outside the school, one of his buddies came along, looked me over and remarked that I was going to he a problem, because his friend didn't like dating anybody darker than himself.
When my mystery man--who was not especially good-looking-- finally saw me, he took one look, uttered a hurried hello, then disappeared with his smirking friends. I had apparently been pronounced ugly on arrival and dismissed.
That happened nearly 15 years ago. I'm 30 now, and the hurt and humiliation have long since faded. But the memory still lingers, reinforced in later years by other situations in which my skin color was judged by other African Americans--for example, at a cocktail party or a nightclub where light-skinned black women got all the attention.
A racist encounter hurts badly. But it does not equal the pain of "colorism" -- being rejected by your own people because your skin is colored cocoa and not cream, ebony and not olive. On our scale of beauty, it is often the high yellows--in the lexicon of black America; those with light skin whose looks reap the most attention. Traditionally, if someone was described that way, there was no need to say that person was good-looking. It was a given that light was lovely. It was those of us with plain brown eyes and darker skin hues who had to prove ourselves.
I was 12, and in my first year of junior high school in San Francisco, when I discovered dark brown was not supposed to be beautiful. At that age, boys suddenly became important, and so did your looks. But by that time--the late 1970s--black kids no longer believed in that sixties mantra, "Black is beautiful." Light skin, green eyes and long, wavy hair were once again synonymous with beauty.
Colorism--and its subtext of self hatred--began during slavery on plantations where white masters often favored the lighter-skinned blacks, many of whom were their own children. But though it began with whites, black people have kept colorism alive. In the past, many black sororities, fraternities and other social organizations have been notorious for accepting only light-skinned members. Yes, some blacks have criticized their lighter-skinned peers. But most often in our history, a light complexion has been a passport to special treatment by both whites and blacks.
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