I was six the first time that I was made to feel that having dark skin was an issue.
One of the kids in the playground said something about me being as dark as night and laughed at me. Unfortunately this experience would not be the last time that my dark skin was used as a weapon against me. The interaction I just described is not unusual for dark skin people. It was not a unique experience in the slightest. But this is bigger than singular negative interpersonal interactions. There are systemic connotations of colourism in which dark skin people globally tend to be less educated, more underpaid and more at risk of state violence than their lighter skin counterparts. On a psychological level, colourism can be deeply emotionally corrosive and can seriously chip away at one’s psyche.
In the past few years, social media has been awash with revelations of prominent Black influencers and celebrities who had a colourist past. Anytime offensive old tweets have resurfaced, dark skin Black women have been the butt of the joke. The degradation and humiliation of these women has regularly been positioned as some kind of ‘rite of passage’. A necessary stepping stone in which Black men (& women) have had to go through in order to learn and become better people. Conversations around dating politics normally feature in social media conversations about colourism. These discussions are usually framed from a heterosexual perspective. However colourism and desirability politics play a massive role in queer dating too.
We often view queerness as existing in a vacuum on the fringes of heternormative ideals. Whilst this can be true in queer experiences which aim to activiely challenge and exist beyond what most of us have been programmed to view as the norm, this is not true for all cases. Queerness can still perpetuate the very racist, white supremacist ideals which colourism is born out of.
Growing up as a dark skin Black girl in North West London, there were no visible queer people for me to turn to in my everyday life so I looked to TV and films. I found the L Word.
A six season show about a group of American lesbian friends and their dating entanglements. While most of the cast were white, the very few Black women on the show were normally always lighter skin. Through watching that series repeatedly (even before I realised that I was queer) one thought permeated in my mind…maybe only white and lighter skin women can be lesbians. This was a thought that made it harder for me to register that I certainly was not heterosexual. The complete invisibility of darker skinned women in arguably the most popular (at the time) lesbian TV show was one of the first indicators to me that colourism was not only a heterosexual issue.
When I started going out clubbing in my early 20’s, most of the couples I saw tended to be light skin. I looked around and saw the women who were the most sought after and the most desired in queer spaces and they were all either light skin or white. The more ingrained in the Black queer community in London, I have become the more darker skinned queer women I’ve met. This is mainly because I sought them out on social media and in my own dating experiences.
I believe that there are ways in which we all can unlearn our colourist biases.
In order to unlearn my internalised colourism and self hate I have questioned my own attraction. Living in a world where everything is programmed in favour of the lightest, looking deep inside ourselves and doing the necessary work to unpack what and who we deem as attractive (whatever your sexual or romantic orientation) is one of the first ways to decolonize our desires.