By Electra Telesford
My best friend tagged me in a photo on Instagram adding the words, “this is you” to her message. The photo showed a honey colored hand, holding a heart-shaped piece of ice. The caption for the meme read, “A rare pic of a lightskin girl’s heart”. I have to admit, I giggled. I was not well versed in “lightskin girl” stereotypes, but after a simple search of the hashtag #lightskingirlsbelike, I became enlightened—no pun intended.
I discovered in my search that light skin girls are reported to not answer text messages in a timely manner. Their hearts are colder than Buffalo, NY in winter. They “stay winning” with slick down Chili edges and MAC light pink lipstick. All of the jokes about light skinned black women that create a caricature—a self-righteous black women who is superficial, snooty and affected.
I don’t readily identify with any of those traits. I’m not particularly superficial, my edges are never laid, and I don’t wear makeup. I don’t answer text messages because I have the attention span of small child, not because I feel superior to another. Alas, stereotypes come from somewhere and this one has its roots in the colorism that plagues the Black community. *
*The black community is large and global, but I am focusing on African Americans.
Colorism, the discriminatory practice where lighter skin is considered more admirable has an array of complications. From shorter prison sentences, to the fetishization of light skin bodies, both within the black community and beyond, we are considered more attractive and are more sought after both romantically and sexually—giving us the ability to ignore those pesky text messages, I guess.
All of this lends itself to the existence of light skin privilege and a palatable tension that exists between black women on the color spectrum. “She’s not even cute, she’s just light skin” or, “If she was dark skin, no one would think she were pretty” are comments said in passing and in shade.
There is no denying the existence of light skin privilege. It’s what I call a flexible reality. There are differing levels of light skin privilege and some women receive more agency from it than others i.e.. Lupita has none, Halle Berry has some, and Vanessa Williams has a lot.
Recently, social media nearly lost its mind when teen star Zendaya was cast to play Aaliyah in the now infamous Lifetime biopic. Zendaya is talented, but looks as close to Aaliyah as Wendy Williams. The most common critique given was that Zendaya was far too light for the role. She dropped out of the project and Alexandra Shipp took her place. Another example of Hollywood-don’t-even-try comes from Zoe “White people are pink” Saldana was cast to play Nina Simone, getting Blacker-faced and a prosthetic nose to look the part.
There are several questions begging to be asked: Why can’t dark skin women portray themselves? Or, in the case of Aaliyah why whiten an already light historical figure? Will Paul Mooney’s prediction come true? Will Tom Hanks play Malcolm X? #EmmaStoneAsShirleyChisolm?
It makes some of the vitriolic commentary on light skin women understandable. I turn on the television and see white people who don’t look like me, and it is annoying. However, every once and a while I spot a woman that does reflect how I see myself and how the world sees me. Tracee Ellis Ross on Blackish. Joy Bryant on Parenthood. Jada Pinkett Smith on Gotham. Hell, Claire Huxtable on The Cosby Show. Uncle Phil’s light skin wife who never talked. I am not made to feel ostracized every time I turn on my television. The media shows me ‘blackness,’ and it just so happens to looks like me.
The depictions of light skin black women in the media only affirm the convoluted hierarchy in our community. It says, “Only this kind of black is acceptable/beautiful/smart/worthy”, and that is messed up. However, the #lightskingirlsbelike memes? Also, messed up.
Tensions between light skin and dark skin is house slave versus field slaves 2.0. Colorism brings neither group any closer to autonomy. It distracts us from creating the cohesion we need.
Electra Telesford is a young writer from Brooklyn, and the creator of the podcast Brooklyn Wise. When she’s not crying into her steam cap, after failing at her 8th attempt at the ‘Halo Protective Style’, she’s thanking god for memes, black twitter, black instagram, and Idris Elba. Catch her and her one-liners at on twitter @Electra_Teles