Dark Skin Vs. Light Skin: Why Can’t We Get Past Skin Complexion?

dark skin black woman light skin black woman

What will it take for the black community to finally move past the skin complexion divide?

By: Jason Perry


It’s a well known fact that lighter skin slaves were favored over darker skin slaves. Light skin slaves were allowed to work in the home, rear the master’s children, eat better and dress better. Not to say that they were any less a slave than their darker peers , but one must agree that working in the fields and living in poor conditions as a dark slave, was clearly embedding a message in black culture that still exists today. No one is exactly sure why the division occurred between dark and light skin blacks, as we can only speculate. The common reason is that slave masters would often visit the slave quarters and have their way with the well endowed slave maidens, and due to lack of contraception at that time, lighter skin blacks were born. The practice of allowing light skin blacks to live in the main house, may have been a way of slave masters easing their conscience and taking care of their off spring, after all they were Christians. Regardless of how light skin blacks came to be, the fact that we say light skin blacks and dark skin blacks is a clear indication that a negative separation does exist.

Unfortunately the division of our people was carried over into the early 1900’s, but it was not carried by our Caucasian brother and a sister alone; blacks also had a major role in the planting of the light is right seed. During the early 1900’s, the most common social group an educated black person could be a part of was a black fraternity or sorority, and it seemed that all blacks that met the basic qualifications should be accepted. But some of these organizations would host events called “bag parties” in which a brown paper bag would hang on the door, and if a potential member was darker than the bag they were denied entrance into the organization. Although some of these groups exercised the paper bag test, it was not limited to them alone. Even some of our favorite HBCU’S would require applicants to submit a photo along with their application, in an effort to weed out dark skin students. Some feel that the acceptance of light skin blacks was a necessary step in getting all blacks accepted into main stream culture. One Caucasian woman I spoke to said this “I had no idea that there was division among light and dark skin blacks, I see them as the same”. This really poses the question, who is still planting the seed of separation among blacks and why can’t we move beyond it?

It’s very common to see a light skin girl in the video of our favorite rappers or singers, even some of our favorite black actresses are light skin, but were they given those opportunities on talent alone or did they just have the look that was considered less intimidating? Even in the new millennium, we are still battling with this issue. During the Super Bowl, Acura aired a commercial with a black actor as their car sales man, but no one knew that this is what the casting called for” the role of African American car dealer would be played by a “Nice looking, friendly, Not too dark African American car dealer”. Although Acura has since apologized and stated that they hired a casting company and were not aware of the specifications, it still left a bad taste in the mouths of consumers. I am sure many of us have told or heard a ‘You so black” joke, and some may feel that among our ethnic peers the joke is okay and not harmful, but what about that little dark girl or that little dark boy who will grow up hating the skin they are in? We can never know who internalizes the things we say or do so it’s important to treat all black as beautiful. This discussion has been going on for generations and has not yet been deleted from minds, maybe it’s fact of being black or maybe it’s a result of a lingering ignorance that has no real root to kill. We may not be sure who planted the seed, but we are in control of who is helping it grow.


  1. Another well written article. I do think we as a people need to get past the whole light skin vs. dark skin thing, but sadly it’s hard to do that when so many of us still lack the knowledge of our own history. The other problem is the belief in the European standard of beauty which is causing dark skinned black women to be treated inferior by their own people. It just needs to stop.

  2. I agree with Queen, it starts with knowledge. Then we have to stop letting other people tell us what’s beautiful. What we see on tv isn’t real, hence all these celebs getting plastic surgey and being photoshopped in the magazines. We have to see it for what it is…propaganda.

  3. Great article! Im darkskin, and I must say I love my complexion BUT it wasnt always like that at first. I did have low self-esteem but as I got older I started listening to positive people in my life. I feel beautiful everyday. Alot of men do find me attractive and I get just as much hits from men as a light skin girl.

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