She's Really Pretty for a Dark Girl

02 Oct 2006

A Black man's take on love, race and the angry black woman - PART II

“Okay, I admit it: I love light-skinned Black women. I also love women who are chocolate-beige, inky black and a deep dark Hershey's brown. But for some reason I've always had a weakness for tall coffee-colored women who are heavy on the cream. … Today beautiful is deep dark skin with naturally kinky hair. … Don't get me wrong, I think that's all wonderful. My girlfriend, one of the most attractive women I've ever met, is the color of a Nestle Crunch with a nice short haircut. Still, I always do a double take when a Vanessa Williams type walks by. And just for that, brothers and sisters are calling me a sellout.

Why do I like light-skinned women? Maybe because I had an encounter or two with light sisters during my formative years. Maybe because up until the past several years the only Black women American society has allowed to be presented as beautiful have light skin and European features. Maybe because many of today's largest Black superstars are with light women, including Michael Jordan, Spike Lee, Ice Cube, Eddie Murphy, Will Smith, Ice T and John Singleton.”

- Jesse Washington "A lighter shade of black - African American man prefers light-skinned Black women - Column". Essence. Jan 1995

Any brother reading the above quote can only have one thing on their mind: “That brethren has some serious courage disclosing those innermost feelings in Essence magazine of all places.” But one would be hard-pressed to find any Black man who doesn’t have some, or most, of those thoughts in their mind. It’s the result of centuries of slavery, colonialism, history, popular culture and modern-day media images bombarding us with a certain type of beauty ideal.

Or could it be just a matter of personal preference? As Jesse Washington also points out in his Essence piece, could it be: “no different than why I like chocolate ice cream instead of vanilla, or rap and jazz instead of R&B and gospel?” Even some of the most radically pro-Black brothers I’ve known in my day were not immune to that either. In fact, I’d say they were sometimes the ones most likely to seek light-skinned women. Does that take anything away from their commitment to their community and culture?

On a personal level, I have always tended to prefer bronze-colour to mocha-chocolate skinned women. But before I pat myself on the back, along with that has often come a preference for long hair. Not to say, again, that I have not dated and loved mocha-skinned women with short natural hair but I would be a liar if I said that I wouldn’t take a second look at a sister with long wavy locks walking in a room. It’s always been one of those subconscious things, more often than I’ve even realized, which has played a role in most of my dating life.

If there’s one thing that at least the last three of my girlfriends can say about me is how I could spend literally hours playing with and caressing their hair. Where does this quasi-obsession with “good hair” come from? It could be the countless times growing up when a new baby would be born somewhere in the family and one relative or the other would say: “I wonder if the baby’s soft hair will stay like this or “go bad” with time.” Or how the mothers would keep an eye on the ears of the baby for any signs of darker pigmentation. Since, as the saying goes, if the ears get dark, so will the baby’s skin.

“Wouldn't they be surprised when one day I woke out of my black ugly dream, and my real hair, which was long and blond, would take the place of the kinky mass Momma wouldn't let me straighten? My light-blue eyes would hypnotize them ... “

- I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou.

More often than we’d like to think, those issues of hair texture and skin tone play a determining role in our choices of mates. I’ve also known of dark-skinned sisters who would only consider light-skinned brothers, or even White men, as potential husbands because they did not want their daughters to experience the harsh realities of exclusion that they‘ve gone through their whole lives. Black women certainly have to contend with a biased world where the hierarchy of beauty starts at the top with the blond-haired and blue-eyed European aesthetic ideal -- down to the dark-skinned and coarse-haired Black woman. The psychological effects of perpetually living as “the other”, the further down the ladder she finds herself in, certainly can’t be negligible.

How may times have I found myself out on the week-end with my boys scoping out the scene and not heard that proverbial comment from someone in the crew saying: ”She’s dark but she’s beautiful.“ In most cases, that meant she was dark but had long straight hair. She was dark but had nice (read European) features. “She must have some Indian in her” is another popular comment.

I guess the important thing is to be aware of our own internal prejudices and be prepared to ask ourselves some hard questions. Are our choices really our own or simply reactions to society’s imposed standards?

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