Light Skin Privilege


Alise Maxie , Editor

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Society has heard about racism and sexism, but yet the topic of colorism really isn’t spoken about in the community. Colorism is prejudice or discrimination against individuals with a dark(er) skin tone. This colorism is the very root of light skin privilege. Anyone whos lighter skin benefits from light skin privilege  , but is greatly noticed upon women.


Light skin privilege is shown when society favors lighter skin African-Americans over darker skin African-Americans. This is not new and society could date it back to the times of slavery. When the darker slaves were put in the field to work because it was a known stereotype that. The darker you are the better you deal with hard labor, while the lighter skin slaves were put into the house to deal with more intelligent and domestic labor.


According to an article by ThoughCo. “colorism has roots in slavery, because slave owners typically gave preferential treatment to slaves with a more fair complexions. Slave owners were partial to light-skinned slaves because they were often family members.”


Even as society progressed into history towards the future, there is no doubt that it was slightly easier for a lighter skin African American. Lighter skin African Americans had a better image during post slavery times as they were seen as the “good blacks.” While their darker skin peers were seen as lazy, unintelligent, unattractive, criminal and aggressive. Society saw this in movies such as Birth of a Nation (1915), Caricatures like Mammy, and many more late 1800’s- early 1900’s cartoons.  When it came to the performance industry the lighter skin African Americans had the upper hand.


“The paper bag would be held against your skin. And if you were darker than the paper bag, you weren’t admitted,” explained Marita Golden, author of “Don’t Play in the Sun: One Woman’s Journey Through the Color Complex.”


During the 90’s, life for the darker African Americans didn’t get any better. On popular t.v. shows in the black culture such as Martin and The Fresh Prince of Bel Air light skin privilege and colorism were highly shown. On Martin, society were given two female supporting characters who happen to be friends in the show. Gina, the light-skinned one who was the main characters love interest and Pam, the darker skin best friend. Gina was seen as beautiful, classy, and the smart, charming trophy wife, while her darker skinned best friend Pam was seen as loud, mean and unattractive because of her color. While in shows such as The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, characters such as Aunt Viv were switched out for a lighter skin version. This was not the only show where a darker skin character was switched out for a lighter skin person of the same race.


Even in black culture today, African Americans see the lighter skin African Americans as better. To be called light skin is a compliment, and this is all because if you’re light skin you’re considered more Eurocentric. All of their life, since slavery, they have been told and shown that the lighter skin gets treated better, so why wouldn’t it get seen as better in today’s society. Listening and watching pop culture by young African American artist today, you can see how society greatly hears rappers highlight how lighter skin and mixed raced women are more beautiful and how the darker skin black women are always angry and ugly.


“My daughter is the first and last dark skin child I’m having. The rest of my baby moms (are) light skinned chicks. I even got an Asian baby moms to make sure I have a daughter with good hair. Too bad we had a son,” said Lil Wayne. A known rapper in the black community.


As society progresses with this trend, it seems as the only individuals that get stuck are the women. African American women are put up against each other because of this social standard. Light skin women, dark skin women, brown skin women. In this transition from African American shaming as a whole, it just became African-American woman getting shamed and shaming each other.


Again, racism and colorism are two different issues. Racism goes for the entire community, while colorism and light skin privilege mostly just happens to black women.


Artists such as Halle Berry, the first black actress to win the Best Actress Academy Award  and Lena Horne, the first black actress to sign a major studio deal, society can see something common. Lighter skin African American females and often mixed race African American females, have broken many social barriers and changed history first. Not to say they weren’t hard working and didn’t deserve it, but black women with lighter skin, straighter hair, and more eurocentric features are more likely to be given the paltry number of opportunities to access white spaces and institutions.


Research by Stanford psychologist Jennifer Eberhardt found that darker-skinned black defendants were twice as likely as lighter-skinned black defendants to get the death penalty for crimes involving white victims. It was also discovered that more than 12,000 African-American women imprisoned in North Carolina found that lighter-skinned black women received shorter sentences than their darker-skinned counterparts.


Light skin privilege is being accepted even when their darker skin peers are not. It’s being able to be black, but not be seen as threatening, unintelligent or unattractive.