“Excuse me miss, can I have a second of your time?”
It was early, my hair was not in a suitable style and my eyes were mascara-less. My first instinct was to ignore him. I wanted to shake my head ‘no’, and continue walking across Broadway towards my date: my 6:30AM personal training session. But instead, I remembered my best-friend’s words of me not being approachable, and so I stopped and gave him the second that he had asked for.
“You’re absolutely gorgeous. A gorgeous dark-skinned woman,” he paused to admire me in my gym attire, and then continued, “So beautiful for a dark skinned woman. And I’m not just saying that.”
“For a dark skinned woman?” I’m sure my eyebrow was raised, and my attitude must have dialed up a notch or 10. Needless to say, I didn’t allow him to finish his explanation. In mid discussion I put my headphones back in and continued on my way.
I hear a variation of “You’re pretty for a dark-skinned chick” quite often. If it’s not used as a pick up line, it’s a comment on one of my pictures. I’ve seen discussions of skin tones on my twitter timeline followed by someone mentioning me as an exception. An “Except Yetti, she’s a dope dark-skinned chick”. It’s even a joke with people I interact with, I become inferior simply because of my skin-tone.
I’m not sure if anyone has made the world aware but a compliment followed by “for a dark-skinned chick” is indeed an insult. It’s an insult disguised as a flattering remark. A backhanded / left-handed compliment. It’s asteistic. All of it. Being pretty isn’t dependent on one’s skin tone. I wouldn’t even completely pin pretty on features either, it’s pretty much subjective but for some reason in our society, black is still not considered beautiful. Well it is… but only when it’s closer to a lighter hue. “Beautiful dark-skinned women” has now become a fad, a facebook or tumblr page, where I am still yet to see “Beautiful Light Skinned Girls,” or “Beautiful White Girls,” in hashtag form because it’s not needed. It’s considered the norm.
I think what irritates me more is that people do not see these statements as insults. You may call it whining, or call it unappreciative of a compliment but I see the effects of these ignorant statements. The impact is my 10-year old sister stating things like, “I’m dark like T.J, I want to be pretty like you.” Do you know how painful that is to hear? Especially when my baby sister looks exactly like me. And at the mere age of 10, she’s already questioning her beauty based off society teaching her that her skin color equates to ugly. Colorism aint no joke.
It’s as though we’re cultivating self-hatred, holding onto beliefs from the age of slavery. I used to ignore the ignorance, give the compliment the benefit of the doubt. But I am a believer of speaking intentionally, there is life and death in the power of the tongue. So choose your words carefully, phrase it exactly the way you meant it to be taken.
And just in case you needed clarification: I am beautiful, pretty, gorgeous, breathtaking and all of the above. Hold the “dark skin”.
“It was their contempt for their own blackness that gave the first insult its teeth. They seemed to have taken all of their smoothly cultivated ignorance, their exquisitely learned self-hatred, their elaborately designed hopelessness and sucked it all up into a fiery cone of scorn that had burned for ages in the hollows of their minds — cooled — and spilled over lips of outrage, consuming whatever was in its path.” – The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison.