The Truth about Lightskin and Darkskin


A couple of weeks ago, I saw a tweet that stated that the only reason we created the term “brown skin” was actually to thwart being called “darkskin,” and thus as a byproduct of colorism. This is something I did not know, and never really considered. Whether or not this is the real reason the term was created (I had trouble finding any good scholarly sources), this is an important topic that I want to discuss.

I do see value in some of the twitter arguments I’ve read about many people’s fear of being labeled dark skin, but I also think there are two sides. Limiting to only dark vs. light skin diminishes the discriminations that darker skin people go through. Before I go any further, I want to point out just how subjective all of this is. Determining whether someone is light, brown, or dark skin can vary significantly. It would be great if we could just completely rule out labels such as lightskin brownskin and darkskin altogether. But that would only be a feasible thing to do if the significant privileges of lighter skin people did not exist. Or the prejudices and discriminations of darker skin people. It is not possible or fair, and it likely will not happen. It’s similar to issues of “not seeing color” in a world in which almost everything is determined by the color of your skin. It’s the epitome of pure ignorance. So until we are able to achieve true utopia, this is what we are not going to do.

Using browskin to describe oneself is what I see as an acknowledgement that you do not experience the effects of colorism in the way dark skin people do, or the privileges that light skin people do. Brown skin people still experience colorism but taking on the identification of a dark skin person and suggesting that brown skin people experience those levels of colorism is not only disrespectful, but it silences people with those real experiences. 

Even if this was the reason that the term was created, we have the power to redefine its meaning and significance in occupying an appropriate space and not one that assumes more or less privilege than the actuality. With all this being said, it’s important to note that there are still people who do get offended by being called dark, as well as people who continue to use dark skin as an insult. Those people are adding on to this damaging narrative and use of the term brown skin for detrimental purposes. There are even people who still brag about being light skin in their bios…it’s very embarrassing. But those people are too far gone for me to be wasting time on. Let them be their own category. 

As for people who still consider dark skin an insult and take offense to it, I wish I had the answer on how we can fix this problem, but I don’t. We need to push for better education within communities. And I mean every community. Every single community is guilty of colorism. In my own life, I saw colorism the most when I was in high school, so the sooner that both parents and teachers alike address the issues of colorism, the better. I was never taught or told about colorism. It was something that I learned on my own. Oftentimes, people deem the effects of colorism as not too bad when compared to the effects of blatant racism on the entire black community as a whole. The mindset is that in the end, we are all black. But failing to acknowledge the effects of colorism means failing to acknowledge that while we are all indeed black, some of us are more targeted, more discriminated against, and overall more affected than the rest. The effects of colorism are so much deeper than people realize. In the year 2021, we still struggle with representation among black dark skin women in the media industry. We still struggle with the determinations of attractiveness based on European beauty standards. This all seems like such obvious information, but even my words do not cover just how bad and frustrating not only the reality of it is, but the fact that some people still need to hear it. The only dark skin woman who has been deemed beautiful in the industry that I can think of off the top of my head is probably the same one as you. Lupita Nyong’o. And she is absolutely beautiful.  But to society she is the token. The example that suggests that it is possible for dark skin women to get major roles, and that there is no longer a need to fight. We have a long way to go. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t tired.

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