I’ll be the first person to stand up and rant about the systematic marginalization of black men, but my experiences have not left me uncritical. If anything, I wish I was less critical, and quite frankly, I’ve had enough.
While I understand how colonization and institutionalized racism have helped destroy our communities and feel it’s imperative for the greater, white society to acknowledge and help repair this, I immediately become detached from the same understanding and compassion when it comes to being targeted.
In my own conversations and arguments and the ones I’ve witnessed and overheard, I’ve seen a pattern of dark-skinned men vocalizing their “colored” biases and preferences for lighter, more Eurocentric bodies, reflecting the paradox of the “light is right” mentality.
I think it’s outrageous that fair-skinned women have not only historically been placed on pedestals, that plenty tend to revel in their position at the top of the black color hierarchy, and that some of our voices fall silent when challenging the pervasive and negative biases that our darker peers face. Though I cannot say I share these sentiments— I hate them with a passion— I know I have been the target of excessive colorism, anger, and unwanted sexual attention due to my color, because it’s always the first thing thrown out there.
I know that men of all colors exercise hyper-masculine, cheap bravado when pursuing women in the most unsophisticated of places—the sidewalk— but as a woman of color, a biracial woman that’s been pegged as a “light-skinned black girl,” I find these excessive advances especially insidious, because upon rejecting them, without delay, an eager proposal warps into nasty remarks about my biracialness and how I really wasn’t that cute anyway—inevitably leading to exhaustive diatribes rife with malice.
Unfortunately, these experiences have always been at the intersection of black male masculinity, my biraciality, and the streets.
It’s almost as if aggressive pursuits are the ways in which many angry black men counter societal and communal marginalization, and black (e)masculinity by attempting to claim, own and control other female black bodies.
I know black women generally are confronted by street harassment—fools ogling over their wondrous curves, lacking the civility that you’d expect from any house-trained man — but when comparing my experiences to other black women, I’m always the odd one out because the color of my skin makes me vulnerable in a different way. It serves as fuel to a wildfire.
I’m always the light one standing among dark bodies—often wanting to just blend in—and my skin color has made me feel like I can’t establish a respectful, authentic connection with far too many black men unless I give in to unwanted advances.
This has haunted me for over a decade.
Then sometimes I feel like maybe I’ve conflated the negative attention I receive for my “otherness” or “light-skinnedness” with my womanness and femininity, but alas, I speak on it, because the color of my skin is always front and center.
So, while I recognize that not every single dark-skinned black man is trying to holler at me in the street, for the ones who do, you’ll probably never read this, but this is what I’d like to say.
I’ve spent a good decade of my life hating you with a passion—hating you because your hey shorties, hey redbones, and hey light skins, don’t do anything but make me feel objectified, disempowered, and placed on the wrong type of pedestal for nothing that has to do with what’s inside my head.
I hate that you continue to pester me for my number and make lascivious remarks about my hips and the “pretty babies we’ll make” until I’m out of your sight, and/or until I’m visibly upset.
Would you speak to your mother, sister, aunt, or grandmother like this? Would you like it if your friends told your mother she had “great dick-sucking lips?”
I hate that you act like you’re so desperate for my number that you are relentless in your pursuits and absolutely oblivious to and/or unconcerned with considering how I might be feeling and how your words and actions actually make me want to ready my fists, not spread my legs.
I hate that you think that I’m open game for verbal or even physical assault because of something you idolize, and something I don’t.
For something you want, and nothing I’d like to give you.
You’ve pulled my hair, spit on me, humiliated me on buses and trains, threatened to rape me, and accused me time and time again of “sucking white dick.”
I hate that you treat me as property, as if you assume you own my body and I must abide by your every word.
I hate that you think it’s okay to treat me this way because you think I’ve rejected you because your skin’s darker than mine, and for the same reason, I’m therefore fair game for bullying.
I hate that I’ve allowed you to upset me, and even more so that when I’ve decided to ignore you, all these sweet catcalls quickly morph into you “yellowass bitch,” and “you probably like white boys.”
I hate that despite my relatively conservative style, I fear sporting shorts, or a moderately low-cut top on a hot day, and forgo comfort so that you don’t make me feel uncomfortable.
I no longer think about whether or not I’m an attractive woman.
I want to feel safe and secure in my body, and be able to embrace my womanhood and whoever I am without unwarranted and biased feedback from you.
But most of all, I hate that you are the standard by which I’ve fought not to judge every black man that passes me in public, unless he’s well-spoken or wearing a suit.
No Asian, Latino, or white man has ever abused me for my skin color after being denied. I assume with all of you the goal is the same—to get my number and get in my pants. I abhor all of this attention, but notice a particular rancor, venom when the words leave your mouth.
I hate that you’re the only type of man who continues to treat me this way, and I hate that you feel you have to.
I’d also like to say something else…
I’m sorry that you don’t see how beautiful I think you are before you attack me.
I’m sorry that you feel so low, so emasculated by a racist society, that you have reduced your sexuality, your cheap notion of creating intimacy, to badgering me and other black women for our numbers on the street.
I’m sorry that in white society, and within our own communities your beauty is not always uplifted and praised.
I’m sorry that black media too often promotes a Eurocentric standard that subconsciously conditions you to chase women that are light, bright, and damn-near white, reminding you that you should not chase women that are a reflection of you, and that you should not appreciate women that are a reflection of you.
I’m sorry that you assume that because I refuse you my number and time, that you are not “man enough” and feel defeated.
I’m sorry that you think I don’t want you because your skin is darker than mine.
And then maybe I’ve also not escaped the twisted Eurocentricity of beauty ideals in modern society. I’ve been mistreated and abused so badly that sometimes I just forget that I might just be attractive… but I still take issue with the “compliments” that never cease to remind me of the same person I see in the mirror every day.
And when I look in the mirror, never do I feel better, or more beautiful because I’m a lighter shade of brown.
I don’t think dark-skinned men pursue fairer women because they simply believe they’re more beautiful. There is a historical basis for associating light with all things good, and implicit in favoring all things fair, there is the presumption that having dark skin is less beautiful, less valuable.
Ultimately I believe education, nurturing strong family and communal ties, and cultivating a strong cultural identity are crucial to strengthening the self-esteem of dark-skinned black men and women, and black people. Seeing more dark-skinned men in more prominent roles in movies, television, and other forms of media is also important.
As I’ve learned on my own journey, self-awareness is often born out of self-education. No one ever discussed this in a classroom until I got to college, but even then, there weren’t enough of us having this conversation in the same space.
Still, I firmly believe there comes a time when age should foster some kind of personal responsibility.
Knowledge is available outside the classroom, and when I see many black men striving to heal systematic, intergenerational, and emotional trauma, I have faith that all is not lost.
Today I no longer believe that my old biases negatively affect the relationships I have with dark-skinned black men. It took a lot for me to date a black man, and when I did, he helped heal a part of my soul, that you destroyed.
If anything, a self-taught awareness of the interpersonal issues that affect black relationships and communities have strengthened the ones I have formed and seek to create in my adult life.
Nonetheless, in every group, there are always assholes. I’d much rather open up a dialogue, because I’m willing to listen, but I’m not going to be the scapegoat for black men’s insecurities around being dark-skinned in America. I have my own. It does nothing for black people, it does nothing for me, and it does nothing for you.
I’ve done all the work I can do.
(Some of ) My dark-skinned brothers, your move.