At some point in a black woman’s life she will be faced with the realisation of her complexion. She will come to understand on what spectrum of the lightness scale she stands and how this will affect her in one way or the other.
The case of the yellow-bone
For many years since I was a child, it has been made apparent to me that the lighter you are, the more beautiful you are deemed. I was raised in a family with cousins of varying skin-tones. From the near-translucent to the ebony. In my immediate family, I am the darker of two girls – it didn’t help that I was also the chubbier of us two either. Greater attention was given to those fairer in complexion. The lighter you were, the more beautiful you were deemed. This, I began to take note of when I was in my pre-teens and it has continued to adulthood.
At first, it seemed to be an unsaid but commonly understood phenomenon. The lighter girls were prettier and they got all the boys. The lighter girls had the boys vying for their attention. Those of us who were endowed with a greater dose of melanin often watched in amazement at this.
Currently, there is a phenomenon with ‘yellow-bones’ in the black community. The attention given to lighter skinned girls has always been there, but now we have a term coined for it. Guys are not ashamed to express they want yellow bones. In the hierarchy of desirability, yellow bones are the crème-de-la-crème and dark skinned girls are… well, not. Let’s just say for guys, you’ve ‘made it’ if you’re dating a yellow bone. A lot of young Zimbabwean men cannot contain themselves when they go and study abroad. You see, Zimbabwean women don’t quite match the yellow-bone-ness of a Xhosa or a mixed-race American girl, and Zimbabwean guys being the charmers that they are, become instantly popular with foreign women. A win-win situation for the foreign light-skinned girls & Zimbabwean men. For the darker sisters however, kulate.
Sad to say, there is an unwritten but commonly known hierarchy of preference when it comes to women according to their skin tone. The lighter you are, the better. Since I have been living in South Africa for a while now, I will express it based on my experience here. Right at the top you’ve got your Caucasians followed by your Indians (they are a huge hit at the moment); Coloureds then your yellow-bone Black sisters; and lastly the Dark-skinned Black ladies. This is not only an African phenomenon. It is international. Women desire so much to be desired as a yellow-bone that skin bleaching has become more and more common. I blame you MJ.
The root of the matter
The root of this is more than just to do with the men in our society and their preference in women. I believe it is rooted in colonialism where the white man was seen as superior. It has been engrained in us for so long that the fairer you are, the more beautiful you are. Thank you magazines and Hollywood for reinforcing this warped ideal. Now we have to unlearn all this and shift our thinking. As Steve Biko said “The most potent weapon in the hand of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.” and boy what a weapon it is. This thinking has been reinforced time and time again for centuries in the minds of the oppressed that I believe we have barely scratched the surface in overcoming this inferiority complex.
In any case such as this, there is always the exception against the rule. I am sure a lot of men out there do not base their relationships on the skin tones of their partners. There are also many women out there who are dark skinned and proud, beautiful and confident in their skin no matter what society says. I salute you all.
I guess I was fortunate growing up that my mother constantly affirmed me and my beauty. I grew up being told that ‘black is beautiful’ and I will forever be grateful to her for that. I thus went on to observe this light skinned phenomenon with perplexity. I watch in fascination how things play out in the black community. It’s not to say that I have not experienced ‘discrimination’ because I am a darker skinned lady. I am just able to shrug it off at the end of the day knowing that my external appearance is only a part of who I am, not the whole.
I just think it’s important for us as people to question certain societal and cultural ‘norms’. Asking why they are that way and unpacking these things for ourselves. Only then can we truly liberate ourselves from the clutches of some of this detrimental thinking and come into our own.