No Offense but it’s Offensive: The Paradox of the Light-Skinned Girl

No Offense but it's Offensive: The Paradox of the Light-Skinned Girl

If you stumbled on this piece then I hope it was because you found the title intriguing. If you’re a quick-to jump-to-conclusions fella then perhaps you’re wondering what on earth this is about. Well my advice to you is to have no thoughts for now. Simply settle in like it’s a classic Netflix and chill phenomena and I’ll walk you through the enigma of our reality, which, yes you guessed, is sad, disappointing and in need of change.

This pandemic period has made every time ‘Family Time’ more or less. So my room is constantly under siege by little monsters aka my siblings. Someone ‘complimented’ that I was fairer than my sister. A comment that caused a drastic change in her demeanor as she- much to my amusement- became defensive and said it wasn’t true. She was visibly annoyed (and saddened) at the prospect of being ‘darker’.

This along with many events have caused the final trigger-a combination of multiple life triggers- that has led to the composition of this essay.

American novelist, Alice Walker defined Colorism as the ‘prejudicial or preferential treatment of same race people based solely on their color’. She actually came up with the word, but not its existence. I’ll break it down for you. What this means is that people of the same race further divide themselves by the shade of their tone, which usually reflects in lighter skinned people being at the top of the pyramid. It means that being of a lighter shade is idolized as beauty, better; The preferred color. In some countries it also means that your opportunities in life- employment and marriage prospects are highly influenced by the degree of your ‘darkness’.

Colorism is most times, where it does exist, an effect of Colonialism in which the closer you are to being ‘white’, the better it was for you. It was why in America, the lighter skinned black slaves were treated fairly better in comparison to those of ebony-like tones. Added to the fact that a majority of them were mixed.

However, the supposed end of slavery and colonialism did not mean the end of colorism. Just as it wasn’t always the originator. Obi Afriye puts it this way in his article published in; Colorism existed in communities of color way before white people perfected it.

In southern Asia, India there exists a dominant caste system. A prevalent societal issue that even goes as far as dictating your future based on a mere glance at your outward qualities. Sociologist Margaret Thatcher in her book, Race, Gender and the Politics of Skin tone establishes a great disparity economically between lighter skinned Mexican men and darker Mexican Americans. 

It is in apartheid and post-apartheid South Africa and in Ghana where ‘mulatoos’ experience predestined favoritism because unfortunately there is such a thing as being too black in our world- the enigma of our reality.

Colorism is everywhere. It may present itself in loud or silent voices of the faces, pictures, media and dictators of a culture, but it is there.

I believe that with most of my writings, they have been writing themselves over the years, experiences scattered about that form a paragraph and triggers that steadily pull a title and subject matter from my sub-conscious.

One of such triggers came in form of a simple compliment. A guy replied to a picture I posted of myself. I responded thank you to the heart emojis. He then went further to ask if I was pure Nigerian, that I looked biracial. I laughed lightheartedly and responded proudly that both my parents were Nigerians. But he persisted saying that I was too pretty and had this biracial look.

While there’s a good number of females that would take this as flattery, I’m not one of them. It left me a tad bit annoyed. I could hear the undertone message: You can’t be that pretty and be fully black. I found it extremely unnerving and it got me thinking and feeling upset that many Nigerians do carry this perspective.

I mean we enjoy being called half-caste even when we’re not. Oyinbo has us feeling on top of the world. But should it? Should that really be a compliment? “Ah, see as she fine. She resemble white person oh!” Statements like this make it seem like being a black African is not enough reason to be beautiful and further perpetuates white supremacist beliefs.

Flip the switch and take a journey to the past. Music videos flush with dancing ladies, the center of the hullabaloo a nice foreign lady or at least a light skinned black girl. That is after all what the industry had defined as beautiful.

The problem is not that light-skin is not beautiful or should not be celebrated. It is when people, young and old, girls and boys alike, mothers and aunties have accepted that as the only  beautiful. When your relatives gather and ooohh! ahhhh! gushing at the child who has come out ‘fair’ compared to her darker siblings.

With every disease a cure is sought. This disease of a dark skin has found its match with the help of skin bleaching creams. The most popular solution to a colored person’s dream of better prospects or fulfilling vanity. According to a report by WHO in 2011, 77 percent of women in Nigeria use skin-lightening products, the highest worldwide. A depressing irony considering we are the most populated black country in the world.

Despite the medical effects bleaching has such as skin cancer, Ochronosis (hyper-pigmentation resulting in dark-purple skin) and even kidney problems, the bleaching market is a billion dollar industry. There’s banning of products with mercury and hydroquinone-skin-whitening ingredients, yet the industry thrives. The customers are steadily available as are bleaching products; most within the reach of anyone.

To be fair Nigeria, Africa, the world has made some progress. There is more awareness on the need to promote our luscious dark skin, whatever shade God blesses you with. The media, movie and music industry are taking conscious efforts to glorify our melanin. Beverly Naya’s  2019 documentary titled ‘Skin’ is evident proof. We have Photographer, Pax Jones #Unfairandlovely movement in 2016 which sparked global conversations on colorism.

I pray that every black girl learns to feel comfortable in their skin. That no Nigerian girl (and boy) should ever feel the pressure to bleach or ‘fix’ their skin color.

Final words. No offense but I find it offensive. When you do not respect my black. When you disrespect any shade of black, demean it. This is simply the paradox of the light skinned girl. I hope you figure it out.



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What do you think?

  1. Chisom this is an extremely good piece. Thanks for bringing to light something that’s usually hushed and made to seem non-existent. Keep it up

  2. Wow, such a beautiful write up Chisom.. definitely in love with this. This is an amazing eye opener.. God bless you baby girl ❤️

  3. Very good work Chisom and we can all relate to an extent. So proud of you.

      1. Such a moving piece. Many need to reed this. It’s so so true the dark skin is underappreciated. We need to unlearn and then learn again.

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