I have always been light-skinned, and there were certain conveniences that were received that wasn’t necessarily allowed to my darker counterparts. It wasn’t until recently that I even considered it to be a type of privilege.
I was with my older friend; he’s dark, tall, impeccable dresser and in love with the mixed-race bars. We live in Houston and, whether we admit it or not, it is one of the most segregated gay cities ever from every lens you can think of: race, ethnicity, wealth, music, masculinity and color. It is a city that has one Black club, a primarily Black bar and other clubs/ bars with urban (read: Black) nights—those were the spaces I frequented since being here. Well, when I started hanging with him, I found myself just going with the flow and attending parties in all kinds of spaces.
We would walk into these bars, people would know him and he would go in to party and dance. He would look exceptionally dapper and I would look… well, urban. While I watched everyone look at this man in dress slacks, button down and a tie as if they were scared, everyone would be so comfortable coming up to me, including me in conversations and offering me drinks. I’d always be sitting there thinking, “I have this raspy and deep voice, tattoos all over my arm, design cut in my head and my pants are slightly sagging, yet these people are more interested in talking to me than speaking with my friend?”
It didn’t really make sense to me until I decided to hang with some of these guys outside of the club with my friend. In the hour I hung out with this new crowd, I had to have been asked a million times what I was mixed with. It was as if I couldn’t just be a Black, light-skinned guy, or like that was an appropriate or necessary conversation. Then, the conversation switched to how nice my dark-skinned friend ended up being. Many said, that he “looked mean” and unapproachable. I had to call them out because it didn’t make sense since he was always on the dance floor with a drink, in tailored slacks smiling and speaking to people.
What ended up coming out of that conversation was the difference in our skin tones silently spoke to people’s prejudices; there was a perception that he was craving attention because of his lack of confidence based on his darker skin and my reserved demeanor came from a confidence that I knew people would be attracted to me. So far from the truth!
This is colorism at its core and colorism—like any other “–ism”—is unacceptable. It attempts to give permission for stereotypes based on skewed perceptions of people based on inaccurate facts about things people don’t know or research. It is essential for us to all expand our social norms and really seek to understand people on the simplest terms: as humans and not as a skin color, or a stereotype of personified prejudice. We all have our own bubble we live in, but if we really want to accept people and for people to accept us, we must get to know them. Above all, we have got to start standing up for our people when we are in a place of privilege. Society isn’t a competition to be perceived the best or oppressed the least and having any type of privilege is unfair. Equality and equity require us to learn, and to look at us all the same; and we can start in our own circles.
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