Hazel Trice Edney, Louisiana Weekly, Apr. 26
WASHINGTON (NNPA) — Akia Dickson, a student at Howard University, was headed home from work on a Washington, D.C. subway last month when a 25-year-old brown-skin Black man slid into the seat beside her.
“This guy was trying to talk to me. And he was saying, ‘Oh, I bet you have a boyfriend.’ And I was like, ‘Yeah.’ And he was like, ‘All the pretty light-skinned girls do. All I need in my life is a pretty light-skinned girl,’“ recounts Dickson, 23.
“And I said, ‘Are those your only requirements? You need to look a little deeper than this.’ I was very nice and I explained to him, ‘This just can’t be it.’”
But the interloper was not deterred.
“He said, ‘I try to date brown skin girls and it just doesn’t work out. And I brought one home one time and my grandfather said I’d better not do that again.’”
Dickson was dumbfounded.
“I was like, ‘Are you serious? They still make you?’”
Yes, even in 2004, African Americans still have a color complex, explains Julia Hare, a psychologist and executive director of the Black Think Tank in San Francisco.
“It’s alive and thriving,” says Hare. “Black men, when they went to professional schools like Meharry or Howard, the thing that assured that they would be successful to themselves was a Cadillac and a light-skinned woman on his arm. She was an ornament on his arm. It was to be sure that his children would be socially acceptable and that his children would not look like him, to suffer the same punishment that his dark-skinned sisters and his mother suffered.”
That suffering has its roots in slavery, when the white slave master showed preference to light-skin slaves, giving them jobs as “House Negroes” while their dark skin counterparts labored in the fields. And more often than many people would like to admit, slave owners and their sons would take sexual liberties with defenseless black women, producing near-white offsprings that were neither acknowledged nor accepted by the slave owner’s family.
“You would have thought that this thing would have ended after the so-called free movement and slavery supposedly was over,” Hare explains. “But black people have taken on the same patterns as the slave master. Wherever you go, I don’t care if it’s in the church, I don’t care if it’s in the bar, I don’t care if it’s in the corporate rooms, I don’t care if it’s on a cruise, color still comes up among black people.”
Dickson a Chicago native with natural blond hair and gray eyes argues that being light-skin does not make her immune from insults.
“In Chicago, they’d say stuff like ‘light skinned,’ ‘blondie,’ ‘goldie locks’ and all that stuff. They think it’s like a compliment almost. But it’s not a compliment. It does not flatter me at all. I think it’s so ignorant.”
And some members of the unofficial color club bring some things on themselves, according to Dickson.
“I know girls who’ve tried to be my friend because we’re all light-skin. And I’m like, ‘I don’t vibe with you like that. I don’t get along with you like that, so that’s not going to be our sole connecting factor.’ I have friends who are like every shade of the rainbow and we vibe off of personality and who we are.”
Dickson says her complexion has sometimes caused her to alter her personality.
“I would kind of play myself down and be nicer or friendlier or more outgoing than I already was,” she explains. “So, it kind of compromised my self-confidence because I was kind of feeling like there was something wrong with me and I had to change it in order to be liked by my peers. I guess that was my thing, my little problem.”
The problem is no easier for people who identify themselves as bi-racial.
According to the 2000 Census, there were 36.4 million black or African people in the U.S. who said they were mixed with another race (13 percent of the total U.S. population of 281.5 million). Marriages between blacks and whites, contrary to popular opinion, totaled only 784,764, less than 1 percent.
Tiffany Reynolds, 21, born to an African-American mother who reared her and a White father whom she has never met, knows how it feels to be judged for something over which she has no control.
“Some people question my identity with black. They’ll say, ‘Oh, you’re not really black. You’re this, that or the other.’ But, me, I’m black. If they question how black I am, I just wonder if they’re comfortable with themselves.”
Regina Romero, a Washington, D.C. psychologist, says the black community has a responsibility to end these kinds of superficial pre-judgments and hostility.
“It is painful and it is ugly,” she explains. “I don’t think we do enough to protect, in particular, our girls, but also our boys from that kind of hostile assault. And the truth of the matter is that it hurts more when it comes from your own.”
Romero, who is light skin and has green eyes, recalls her college experience at Howard University, arriving from the Germantown section of Philadelphia in the early 1970s. She said she was reluctant to tell fellow students that she was from West Mount Airy — a section of Germantown known for its light-skin, middle class population — for fear of being stereotyped. And even today, she is aware that some people try to judge her by her outward appearance.
“I don’t want to be known for green eyes. I’d like to be known for having some brains or for having something to contribute to the universe or something else,” she says. “I don’t want ‘green eyes’ on my tombstone.”
To get away from that color fixation, many argue that the issue must be dealt with at an early age.
“From what I see in movies, they don’t show many dark people,” says Candice Holland, 13, a brown-skin, middle school cheerleader in Washington, D.C. “They show, like, light brown and they show just creamy, buttery looking people.”
By discussing the problem openly, there is hope, says Romero, the psychologist.
“This thing isn’t going away. You know, ‘Black is beautiful’ came and went in the 60s and it was great, but I think it by-passed a lot of folks. Or, what actually happened, I think, was that people got the phrase in their heads, but didn’t necessarily get it in their hearts,” Romero says. “I think we’ve got to be honest with each other and say this is one situation that we might not have created it, but we’ve certainly got to fix it and figure out how to embrace all of us.”