I am a dark skinned Black woman. Or at least I think I am.

Not that I often define myself as such, nor do I’ve ever remember being defined thus. Which is to say I try not to think about it. I was never teased for not being particularly light, nor is my skin so obviously dark that it is ‘blue-black’ like my younger brother, my father, or the complexion of my grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins on my dad’s side. Theirs is skin with a gloss finish, it sucks in all surrounding light and sends it back out as a flat glow, mine is a much plainer, matte. I know that by popular standards of beauty and in the unwritten rules of women invited to grace the covers of magazines, dance in music videos and appear as love interests in general releases I am dark. Which is to say, the ladies that regularly occupy those roles are usually much lighter than me and if I ever found myself in a room with them I would know for sure I was the dark one.

I don’t care that Kevin Hart likes to make ‘jokes’ that women the same colour as me have bad credit. Just as I didn’t care that Lil’ Wayne mused in ‘Right Above It’ that a certain black woman would ‘look better red.’ I don’t care for Young Berg’s pool test. Or that Tyrese believes going with the best means omitting black women. Or that Ne-Yo thinks “all the prettiest kids are light skinned anyway.” Taken individually these slights seem too ridiculous to consider. I don’t take them personally; I tut at them; I brush them off.

But when I think about what these single ideas add up to, of course, I care. How could I not?

I’m crushed by caring. Because they perpetuate an understanding that to be a dark skinned woman is to be less. These ideas build themselves into assumptions and ways of treating women with as much melanin as me. I care because I already know dark skinned women are likely to receive longer prison sentences and less likely to get jobs when qualifications are equal. I care because too often our bodies are used as backdrops or props (i.e. Bella Padilla on the cover of FHM, ‘emerging from the shadows’). Think of how often you see women the same colour as me as surly, head rolling, loud-talking, finger-snapping comic relief (think Pam from Martin). I care because grotesque representations like Makode Aj Linde’s cake/performance art seem to be the only consistent representations of dark skinned black women. I also care about light skinned black women, who are women of colour too, and I do not want to continually feel set against them.

I think of all the dark skinned women I know. I think of how regularly they are excluded, insulted, mistreated. I see them all suspended in a place that isn’t a place, stranded it seems. I’m eager to watch Bill Duke and D. Channsin Berry’s Dark Girls documentary, and I’m holding out for its kinship.

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