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The Redlining Effects of Colorism on Romance

On a trip back to Los Angeles I walked into a tea shop and caught up with an old-ish acquaintance of mine. I first met her years ago on a trip to France. She made sure I got home safe after deciding to walk home alone from a bar with young, naïve, drunken, adamancy.

I hadn’t spoken to her since leaving France, but I saw her post about going to Los Angeles the same week that I would be there and thought “quelle chance”. I hit her up asking if she’d like to meet up and a few days later there we were, sitting across from each other in that tea shop.

We talked about the weather, the cute names on the menu, her case for why she loathed bubbles (tapioca pearls) in her tea and the case for loving it in mine. I remarked about how nice it was that she looked out for me in her city (Paris) and now I had the opportunity to look after her in mine. She agreed and then plopped her phone on the table and we were looking at her Tinder profile. She wanted me to help her weed out creeps and to translate some of the slang she got in her DM’s. This led us to talking about dating in our respective countries and I asked her what it was like “dating while dark” in France.

I was only there briefly and wasn’t romantically involved with anyone. She looked a bit puzzled by my question and let me know that while race is discussed (every now and then) by general society it wasn’t something in the front of her mind whenever she met a potential partner. I let her know that it’s great that her dark skin isn’t viewed as a negative in that society. She was quick to correct me in saying that light-skin privilege still exists but the older she’s gotten, the less and less she’s thought about her skin tone and the less she felt her skin tone mattered.

I thought the nuances she brought up were interesting and we talked about how differently we and the world viewed our skin as we’ve gotten older. Being dark-skinned seemed like a horrible sin many of us tried praying away when we were younger. It’s interesting how we’ve all had the same prayer, even worlds away. We talked for hours about our childhoods, lives, thoughts and feelings.

Leaving that tea shop, I kept thinking about how much I had progressed with my self-esteem in relation to my skin. I saw all my friends in middle school, then high school, getting into relationships and being loved openly by all kinds of boys. Like any teenage girl I wanted in on that action, but due to the messages society fed me and the other kids, the topic of dating was always an anxiety inducing one.

I felt like my skin tone was the single greatest “problem” in my life and that if I were lighter everything in my life would be better. It didn’t help that I was bookish and every few years another research article or opinion piece would come out confirming my fears that things are easier for the beautiful and the beautiful were people who were lighter than me - and don't get me started on the music industry. When I got out of High School is when I truly began dating and that opened me up to a slew of experiences both good and bad.

Dating is difficult for everyone, but talking to my Parisian friend in that tea shop and listening to her stories that were so relatable to my own, made me realize that dating while being a dark-skinned black woman adds an extra layer of BS to the dance. Everyone is quick to give dating advice but when you’re a dark-skinned black girl you have to take extra consideration into it. My light-skinned black friends have never related to my experiences of being told not to get any darker by their significant others nor were they were asked to be dated in secrecy. Not many of them know what it’s like to be told by the guy that’s courting them that he doesn’t usually date girls like you (read, your skin complexion) and that you’re the exception.

As if you’re supposed to be so gracious that this kang who could be with any other (read, lighter-skinned) girl is doing you a favor by chatting it up with you. It’s always dark-skinned black women who can relate with me about these experiences. Not to say that it doesn’t happen to other lighter black women. What’s considered light in one part of the country becomes dark skinned in another and so I’ve had brown-to-fairer-skinned friends relate to me on feeling the negative effects of being the darkest in the room.

The difference, however, is that they can always find refuge in their community unlike me who has, on many occasions, gotten much of the anxiety surrounding my skin tone from my community. Despite the past experiences, I wouldn't trade my skin tone for a day with anyone lighter and I'm quite thankful that those close-minded or ignorant enough to completely adopt European standards of beauty, steer clear of me because I don't want that in my life anyway. My skin tone has never been and will never be a problem. People's perceptions of it are the problem and that's out of my control.

There are more rules that apply to you when dating as a dark-skinned girl, especially when you’re younger. Kids, teens, and young adults are a lot less socialized and just say and do whatever they feel without thinking about the consequences. But their perceptions about your skin tone come from a place of ignorance and are not your problem nor a reflection of you.

Since college I’ve had a colorful dating life and view my skin tone as a beauty seal more than anything. Still, on days when my nieces come crying to me about not feeling pretty enough, or when a random woman’s confessional about the struggles of being dark skinned pops up in my YouTube suggestions, my heart goes out to them. Why? because I remember being that little girl who cried about not being a duck because I hadn’t realized I was a swan.

Lilith is a blogger with an emphasis in writing and reflecting upon social agendas that effect black women. When not at her computer writing she is more than likely still at her computer, programming. On the rare occasion that Lilith isn't at her laptop you can attempt to find her exploring the Chicago food scene or attending workshops in creative writing.

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