Dating While Light-skinned: “I’m not into dark-skinned women” and Other Back-handed Courting Compliments

The dating game is hard enough as it is without the complications of race and colorism. But, in my own lived experience, the questions of race and color are impossible to avoid. In the wake of J. Cole’s comments on the prominence of colorism in the black community and taking ownership of its probable role in his success, it is clear that skin color still carries underlying meanings of blackness. I’d like to take the time to discuss three of the most common back-handed compliments, inappropriate first-date conversations, and comments so ignorant that you can only laugh to keep from losing faith in humanity.

“I’m really not attracted to dark-skinned women.”

Time and again I have heard this turn-off of a despicable statement in a number of variations. Under what circumstances might this be appropriate to say? I’m going to go right on ahead and vote NONE. First off, if you are only attracted to me because of my skin tone then you are not the man for me. I owe my entire light-skinned existence to a dark-skinned woman (and the man that loved her). And while men must think, she’ll find this to be such a compliment, let me assure you, sir, that that is not the case.

Second, what type of woman would I be to continue to date somebody who has such disdain for women that look like my mother and my daughter? Yes, my black is beautiful, but their black is equally as beautiful and deserving.
The most troubling thing that I find about these sentiments is that they are mostly uttered by men who would fall into the darker-skinned categories (reminder: this is my own lived experience, yours might be different). Self-hatred is never a turn-on.

And, for the record, the only reason that I want to hear that you love my skin is because it’s clear, moisturized, and blemish-free.

“Wait – so you don’t speak Spanish?”

This response is usually accompanied by an extremely puzzled look, and often followed a comment along the lines of “so what are you then?” And, like clockwork, after I explain that I’m just a regular black woman, men often utter a variation of, “oh, I though you were exotic, you have such good hair and that Spanish skin tone.” (I used to politely try to entertain the conversation by explaining my entire heritage; I’ve since stopped.) By this time the puzzled look is often replaced by one of disgust, like I had deceived the man in some way. There seems to be nothing more disappointing to a man than realizing he accidentally went on a date with a light-skinned black woman and not someone Puerto Rican, Brazilian, or something else “exotic.”

Ironically, many people amazed at my limited Spanish-speaking abilities only speak one language. Nonetheless, this is just one aspect of the light-skinned black girl disadvantage in the dating arena.

“You aren’t like real black women.”

Uhhh, thanks? Aside from implying that I am a black woman of the fake variety – whatever that means – this comment both simultaneously offends me while completely denigrating black women. Its akin to saying, “I like you despite the fact you are black.” -__-

What makes this comment even worse is when this type of comment is related to childbearing, and sounds something like, “it’s so impressive that you stayed in school with a child, most people like you use it as an excuse to stay on welfare.”

Sooooo, being that this is about dating I’ll start by saying that this is not “date” conversation…at all. I might even venture so far as to say that this is never appropriate to say in conversation. It first makes me wonder, who are people “like me”? Black women? Because that’s offensive. Women with children? Because that just so happens to also be offensive. And, for the record, neither all women with children nor all black women use motherhood status as an “excuse.” Nor are all people “like me” on welfare. Nonetheless, any time conversation like this comes up on a date, whether he knows it or not, the date is over.

If nothing else, I’ve learned colorism is still alive and well. Dating is hard enough without having to wonder if you’re only on a date because you fit his “exotic” preference or because of his inner self-hatred. Good thing it all seems to come up very early in the game so I can call a (very early) flag on the play.

by Portia Allen-Kyle
#whyracestillmatters

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4 comments

  1. […] recently posted on her experience with colorism and dating. The term colorism was coined by Alice Walker in 1982 to describe the discrimination based upon the […]

  2. Another aspect of colorism is when people assume that because I’m light-complexioned, all my relatives must also be. For example, when my daughter now in her 30’s was a teenager, someone told me he saw my daughter in a store one day. He went on to describe a light-skinned young girl, and I quietly pointed out to him that my daughter is NOT light-complexioned, but is a coppery brown color. Another example is when I was a 21-year-old Howard University student. My father worked at Howard as a sports editor, and he was dark-skinned. A fellow student told me he saw my father one day, and the man he described was light-skinned. The worst examples, though, involve women who made certain assumptions. I was with my then 9-year-old daughter at a Laundromat and this woman was talking about how pretty my daughter was. She thought this other woman whose complexion was like my daughter’s was my daughter’s mother and told her she had a pretty daughter. I corrected her by thanking her and saying that was MY daughter. She went on to make snide remarks putting me down and saying she looked more like the other woman than she did me. It was offensive both because for some reason she had a problem with me and because it takes an enormous amount of GALL to tell any woman who’s given birth that a child she carried 9 months and went through labor to deliver that that child’s not hers. As someone who had to endure a caesarean delivery to ensure she would be born alive, her attitude was especially sickening. Another involved an occasion when I had my daughter and my light-skinned niece whose dark-skinned father is my brother with me. A lady complimented me on my cute daughter and I thanked her, hugging my daughter. This fool said she meant the light-skinned one. I told her they both were cute and that the darker one is mine while the lighter one is the daughter of my dark-skinned brother. It’s mind-boggling in 2014 and with so many variations of complexion in one family that so many black folks are stuck on stupid. That goes along with the nonsense about prettiness being a so-called rarity in dark women while light women are automatically considered pretty even if they are just average or even unattractive.

  3. Yesssss, Anne, I am completely with you and have has many similar experiences, both as the daughter of a dark-skinned mother, and as the mother of my brown-skinned daughter. The complex nexus of skin color and beauty is baffling.

  4. Tahinah L. · · Reply

    I love this. I’m a new blogger, and this topic is one that I feel strongly about so I decided to write about it, too. Then I came across this and it is so concise and well written… I feel ashamed of my work now lol. But anyway, I love this. Explains EXACTLY how I feel and what I do when I meet someone who says things like that on a date

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