A Response to ‘The Color Game’: Is Black beautiful or pretty?


Actually, this is a response to The Black Snob’s post on “The Color Game” that spoke about the duality of blackness in regards to skin color. 

Day after day we see more and more instances of racism and racialized prejudices, for every one Barack Obama or for every one Oprah Winfrey.  And I remember when I had my own color crisis.  I was about 12, give or take a few years and I remember going through my period of wanting straighter and lighter hair and hazel, or light brown, or even green or gray eyes.  Oddly enough, I was quite content with my skin color, go figure.  However, I remember the reason why I wanted my light colored eyes and straight hair, I remember how all the girls went goo-goo gah-gah over the light skinned boys and how “he had pretty eyes” and all I could say to myself was “Damn, am I not pretty enough for these girls?”

Oh yes, I was there, all the way there, colorstruck like the rest of us.  I wrote short stories, spinoffs if you will from my Illinois Young Authors’ Program characters, and all of the characters, I made sure to go into detail had hazel eyes, and these had brown eyes, and these had long hair, and these had long light brown hair, and these were pecan colored, but the others were walnut colored, and these had family from Louisiana which explained this and that and the other.  

Oh yes, I was there, all the way there, colorstruck like the rest of us.

Thankfully, I just outgrew it, and got more confident in what God gave me.  But as I went to school in New Orleans for three years, I saw the Color Game on an even larger level.  And I heard my friends, college age mind you, talking about “marrying a girl with good hair…so my kids can come out pretty” and other derivations seeking the same means to end.  And by that age, I had just given up that argument.  I was shocked the first time I heard my friend from Carencro, outside of Lafayette, Louisiana tell me that.  I was even more appalled because he actually was VERY serious.

However, often times, we hear it from the women’s perspective in their quest to have long pretty hair and light colored eyes and how it’s preferable to be light.  This response was really more to say that it’s really not a black female thing, but it’s yet again one of those things that gets stored in the Closet of Silence that is black maleness.

Trust me, many of us know that we’d get some breaks if we were light skinned and/or had straight hair and/or had lighter colored eyes.  As men, it’s not considered manly to talk about these things, but oh, we notice “that high yellow nigga” who took our girl, or “that nigga who think he pretty” who always has the ladies attention–and moreover we snipe about it.

I think women do it as well, but here’s the male perspective.  Granted a lot of light skinned people can be conceited as a result of their light skin, but hell, others are conceited for many other reasons.  Be that as it may, many of us darker hued brothas are, miffed, to put it gently, when we see a light skinned brotha getting action, and for whatever the reason, often times it is as a result of “cuz he’s pretty” and it leads the rest of us to believe that there is something wrong with us.  Counter-transferrence displaces our real angst, with is with the female for putting the brotha in that position, and we take it out on him.  I mean the Haterade flows freely amongst darker skinned brothas with regards to light skinned brothas.

So, the question is how do we break the cycle?  It’s really real.  Whereas us darker skinned children, and even teenagers and early young adults don’t get called “pretty” as much as the lighter skinned children by the adults, the light skinned children face resentment on behalf of us!  I mean it’s REALLY bad all the way around, there are no winning sides to this situation. 

However, I have swung the opposite way.  I happen to have 360-waves, and many times people look at it and say “Oooooh, you got that good hair.”   To which I reply, “Yeah, any hair that covers my head is good hair.”  And I consider myself an equal opportunist when it comes to skin colors and hair types–if you’re attractive to me, you’re attractive to me; big, skinny, short and tall, and different colors included.

More pointedly to the Black Snob’s claim that “Black is Beautiful” is a myth when it comes to praxis, I not only second it, but given the nature of this claim, I even question what is black then?  Is black  only beautiful when it’s the color or mahogany wood, deep dark and red, or is it only beautiful when it’s the color of pine, light, with just a hint of color?  I’d futher like to press the issue on “pretty” vs. “beautiful”: is “pretty” only reserved for light skinned women like Halle Berry or Alicia Keys and “beautiful” for bigger and darker women like India.Arie and Queen Latifah?

Think on these things.

Keep it uppity, and keep it truthfully radical, JLL


16 thoughts on “A Response to ‘The Color Game’: Is Black beautiful or pretty?

  1. I hear what you’re saying. I grew up with that same thing all my life. With even my own family saying I talked white and people commenting on my “good hair” too. Now that I’m a mom I want to teach my daughters the importance of loving and accepting everyone inside and out. And to not submit themselves to what you call the color game. I appreciate your insight into this!

  2. I was wondering about the male perspective as men don’t talk about this at all. I can remember in college every girl going on all the time about how dark men were in style and that they were what was sexy, yet I knew of no light skinned man who was hard up for a date. Not to mention that “style” implies you will soon go out of favor.

    I can still remember Bill Bellamy’s comedy “How to Be A Player” where he jokes that light skin men are out of style. And while I did see darker black men in the media the empirical evidence that I witnessed with thine own two eyes did not match up.

    I have never, ever met a lighter complexioned brother who was suffering from this so-called Wesley Snipes effect. It always seemed to go both ways. Girls liked light “pretty boys,” while lusting for darker men. Guys liked mulattos, while going on and on about Serena Williams. No one’s talk backed up their actions. It seemed like we were still in the same place my parents were and my grandparents were and my great grandparents and the children of slaves and the slaves themselves were. It was still about hair quality and skin tone. And being told you are beautiful while every action speaks to the perception that you are not is what is the most damaging.

    We all have to deal with it in our own way. But black children should not be coming into the world dreaming of Toni Morrison’s “Bluest Eye.”

  3. definitely know what you are saying here. Even though i’m dark-skinned guy, i’ve never had a problem with light skinned guys or felt any anger towards them. I definitely noticed the things you mentioned when it came to women.

  4. Nice site. I actually got linked here from Black Snob’s site. I wrote some pretty lengthy commentary about the original post about colorism.

    Intresting take, since how the ‘color game’ plays out among black men isn’t really explored.

    I’m a young black male (presumably like yourself). I’m just NOW learning about colorism in the AA community. Is that good or bad? I had no idea that it was such a big pathology for so many of us. Like, it affects how we look at each other.

    Anyway, I never had any issues with my color at all. (I have a common darkish brown color that almost half of the AA population has.) And I never had any problem with women.

    Also, as I said on BS’ blog, the issue of who is “light skinned” and “dark skinned” is very subjective. I actually wouldn’t call a few of those brothas you posted above “light skinned” but hey …it’s all perception.

    Perception that I now see can turn into a complex and sometimes ugly reality.

    P.S.: To the above commentator, the term “mulatto” is archaic as hell and quite offensive. Aren’t all Western Black “mulattos” by definitions. There is no “mulatto” look, believe it or not.

  5. Reading this post again.

    Wow, I guess I’m fortunate because I just experienced any of this shit. A nigga was always a nigga to me. Am I lucky? Or out of the loop?

    “And I heard my friends, college age mind you, talking about “marrying a girl with good hair…so my kids can come out pretty” ”

    WOW. I am so glad that another black person has never felt comfortable enough to utter such ugly self-hatred in my presence. Again, am I lucky? Or out of the loop?

    Anyway, to answer your question: black is beautiful, in any variation. Any nationality. Any culture. Any continent.

    “Pretty”, in my mind is more transient. “Pretty” can fade. “Beautiful” seems more solid, more tangible. “Beautiful” is permanent. Now, I would call Berry “pretty”, Latifah “beautiful” and India and Alicia “average”. LOL.

    Nice blog. You got yourself a new reader.


  6. I wouldn’t say you’re either lucky or out of the loop, you’re merely the product of your experiences and you should be okay with that. We all have different experiences that make up the wider picture of who we are as African Americans and I think we would do a lot better if we took the time to appreciate and understand other’s experiences and not just discount them because the other experience is different or doesn’t line up with how we feel or how we articulate what should be the right AA experience.

    However lofty that may sound, I still do pick a side and I side with Black Snob, particularly in the face of the guy she dated who just seemed so anti-everything black–he needed a wake up call.

    But even for me, I really haven’t had any “bad” experiences because of my skin color, nor have I had any “good” experiences. But, I think it still speaks to the issue, I have a nice inbetween “average” black skin color where I could go through life and never let it be a problem. I have relatively “good” hair, nothing exceptionally straight, nor exceptionally nappy, it’s in between. And for what it’s worth, I haven’t any problems getting women–at least none as a result of my looks (perhaps its been other reasons such as the dreaded foot-in-the-mouth disease, lol). But, I know light skinned people, and dark skinned people and it’s a real issue for others.

    Keep on reading, JLL

  7. Typo correction: I meant to type ‘I just never experienced any of this shit’ above in the second paragraph of my second post above.

    Anyhow, I totally agree with you Jlizard. Everyone’s experiences are different and these different experiences comprise the patchwork that we call the greater African American Experience.

    I defintely don’t discount others’ experiences at all. Just like you, I’m just articulating that while I’ve never had these issues, others do indeed struggle with them. Maybe it’s never been a problem for either of us because like I alluded above, we don’t stand out, physically, among most other blacks.

    While I don’t discount, I do recognize that the real mental assault that the aftereffects of slavery and the persistent anti-black sentiment in this country makes so many blacks hate themselves and others who look like them. The type of assault that makes someone talk about their “relatively ‘good’ hair”. Or someone wishing that they had lighter eyes or …just wishing they weren’t black.

    Don’t we all want to fight for a world to abolish this kind of type of thinking and this type of feeling of unworthiness?

    Like I said on Black Snob’s blog, I think we should learn to fight back.

  8. Well, mynameis, the $64,000 question is what is the most appropriate way to fight back?

    Once someone can give me a way to fight back…sign me up, I’ll be on the front line.

  9. You can fight in a few ways, brotha…

    A) Educate a motherfucker when they say something stupid (a colorist remark, perhaps).

    B) Change your way of thinking.

    C) Become an anti-racist activist. It’s not hard. You can team up with people of various races and along with fighting back, you can put many issues (which are usually swept under the rug) out on front street and affirm change.

    Hanging our heads, accepting injustice along with the BS that’s fed into our minds isn’t going to get us anywhere. Everyone doesn’t have the stamina or heart, but somebody’s gotta do it.

    Ready to sign up? 😉

  10. Well, seeing as how I agree with you, how does one go about recruiting others to this way of thinking?

    I think this is the more arduous task of getting people on the same page, and on the same wavelength as others.

    But, yes, I’m ready to sign up.

  11. Quite an interesting article indeed. The same thing happens in the Caribbean and I think the only thing needed to remedy the situation is a change in how hte media portray’s black people and their position in society.

    What I’ve noticed, is that the American media, television for example is filled with racism but in very subtle ways. To illustrate there is the issue of many mulatto girls being being put in makeup and ads fr clothing stores etc, even thuogh dark skinned models are very slowly being eased into those type of ads. It impacts on society in the sense that, when a little dark skinned girl grows up seeing these images of what a pretty girl should look like without her features and skin colour, the trend is going to continue. I don’t blame some people in the black community for their thinking because they’ve been socialised like that.

  12. .

    Since mention was made of the topic of the ‘house’
    and the ‘field’ slave — I just wanted to note that
    this false concept that so many people have
    — that the lighter-complexioned chattel slaves
    “had it easier” or “thought they were better”
    than the darker-complexioned slaves -– and
    / or largely “relaxed in the big house” while
    the darker-complexioned slaves “suffered
    in the fields” — is very much (just like the
    infamous ‘Willie Lynch Letter’ Hoax) all VERY
    MUCH AN URBAN MYTH (and, is one which,
    in nearly every way that’s possible, completely
    defies the true historical recorded account).

    The historical record shows that
    those enslaved people who were of a
    lighter-complexion (i.e. mulatto-lineage)
    and that were found on the continental
    United States during the antebellum
    (chattel-slavery) era were actually treated
    MUCH WORSE than were those enslaved
    people who were of a darker-complexion.

    In fact, the record shows that most of the White
    people (especially the White women) tended
    to look upon the lighter-complexioned slaves
    as being mere ‘mongrels of miscegenation’
    (resulting largely from the rapes caused by the
    plantation ‘Overseers’); in their disgust at the
    sight of these slaves — insisted that they
    be “banished to the fields”; and also then
    purposefully reserved most of the ‘big house’
    positions (ex. mammy, cook, driver, etc.) for
    the darker-complexioned slaves — who most of
    the White people had perceived as being “more loyal,
    more docile, less competitive, etc.”, and, even more
    important, they were also of a skin tone which
    could never cause them to be seen as being
    any part-‘white’ (and even worse, perceived as
    “possibly” also being “a member of the family”
    –as it were– of a given plantation ‘Owner’).

    And this maltreatment was generally even much
    more so the case if the lighter-complexioned
    enslaved person was even remotely ’suspected’
    (by, say, a wife, sister or daughter — who ran “the big
    house”, while a ‘male’ family member ran “the plantation”)
    of possibly being the offspring of a given plantation
    ‘Owner’ (or his son, or father, or brother, or any other
    male found in the plantation ‘Owners’ White family).

    In addition, the few lighter-complexioned enslaved
    people that were actually permitted to do any work
    in the “big house” were (as a punishment for having
    the lowly status of “mongrel” and in order to make sure
    that they did not become “too uppity”) kept under a
    much more severe work supervision (by both the
    White women who ran the plantation household and
    also by the darker-complexioned enslaved people
    who had been placed over the lighter-complexioned
    enslaved people and given various “rewards” in an
    exchange for the promise to ‘keep an eye on’ them)
    than were most of the (more trusted and seemingly
    endeared) darker-complexioned enslaved people.

    Books by Deborah Gray White; Paula Giddings; bell
    hooks; J. California Cooper; William Wells Brown;
    etc. expose the truth about the urban-myth and
    show that the lighter-complexioned enslaved
    people received NO special treatment and were,
    instead (due to being seen as mere “mongrels of
    miscegenation”) usually treated much worse than
    were most darker-complexioned enslaved people.

    The hatred, fear and mistrust that many of the antebellum
    and post-antebellum era White southerners felt toward the
    people who were both of a light-complexion (mulatto-lineage)
    and were also chattel-slaves, is very strongly presented
    in the ‘D.W. Griffith’ racist film ‘Birth of a Nation’– where
    pretty much all the trouble, tragedy and dangers found
    experienced by White southern families in the film is
    falsely presented as being caused by “uppity” Mulattoes
    who ‘needed to be taught “their place” among White people’.
    (i.e. they “needed” to be beaten, raped, lynched, etc. by the
    “proud” White people who had been reared to make it clear
    that they felt “no connection” to any non-White person).

    Anyone who would like any additional information
    on this topic can feel free to contact me directly.

    Hope this information is helpful
    & that everyone has a great day.

    – AP (soaptalk@hotmail.com)

    Related Links:




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