Light skin women the face of Black Feminism: The problem of colorism in the Black collective

Photo by Bradford Rogne

Photo by Bradford Rogne for Kode Magazine 2016 Featuring Serayah McNeill, Kiersey Clemons, Zendaya, Yara Shahidi, Kat Graham, Aja Naomi King, #GenerationNoir , #KodeMag , #BradfordRogne , Post-Production by Menezes Digitial


Colorism continues to be an deliberating issue in Black, Hispanic and other non White communities. Across the world, people with lighter skin and Eurocentric features are afforded the opportunities that elude darker skin people with more Negroid features. Nonetheless the topic of Colorism butt it’s ugly head when discussing the representation and advocacy of Black Feminism in the United States. Hence the implication that light skin Black women and biracial women representing Black womanhood much to the detriment of dark skin Black women.

Social media activist, Pax Jones questioned the audacity of the Black feminist message due to the fact that it is mostly light skin and biracial women who represent it’s ideals. Pax Jones is behind the campaign, #UnfairandLovely that she started with two Sri Lankan women that promoted the beauty of dark skin in Asian cultures. Anyways, she wondered why there wasn’t any dark skin women at the forefront of the Black feminist movement.

Here are Pax Jones’ tweets expressing her concern over the lack of representation for dark skin women in Black feminism today:



Jones’ analysis on dark skin Black women being overlooked is valid. As a dark skin Black woman, I have noticed that I am not seen as beautiful or intelligent as my lighter skin and non Black counterparts. I was always the ”ugly” Black bitch to Black males but I found my looks much more appreciated among non Black men. I noticed being overlooked by boys in high school for light skin and other races of women. Often times, dark skin women aren’t given the same opportunities to succeed in society. Worst of all, if a dark skin woman speaks up against her mistreatment and against colorism, she is automatically bitter, angry and jealous. Dark skin women’s mistreatment and debasement is not only prevalent in Black America but in society, at large.

I happen to admire and look up to Zendaya Coleman and Amandla Stenberg. These girls happen to be around the same age bracket that I happen to fall in: late teens early twenties. I grew up watching Zendaya Coleman on Disney Channel’s Shake It Up and seeing Amandla Stenberg in the Hunger Games’ movies. As much as I like and admire these girls, I realize that these girls are afforded the opportunities that elude me. Both Amandla Stenberg and Zendaya Coleman are multiracial-mixture of African and Caucasian heritage and biracial and light skin women are put on the pedestal in the Black collective. Light skin and biracial women are seen as the ideal for ”Black beauty” because these women’s looks are closer to the European ideal of beauty. Even though both girls have faced racism in Hollywood respectively(Zendaya from Guilana Ranic over her faux locs and Amandla from Andy Cohen for speaking out against Kylie Jenner culturally appropriating Black culture), they still benefit from the colorism in the Black collective that places them above dark skin Black women.

Zendaya Coleman                                                       Amandla Stenberg

Zendaya Coleman             amandla stenberg


For as long as Western colonization existed, the attempt to erase the Black woman’s image has persisted. Slavery, The One Drop Rule and over socio economic factors used colorism to uphold White supremacist standards of beauty and keep Whites having access to wealth and resources. Biracial women were always used and placed as the ideal of Black beauty, femininity and womanhood due to their proximity to Whiteness. In old time Hollywood, women like Lena Horne, Eartha Kitt, Dorothy Dandridge and other mixed actresses were put at the forefront of Black beauty. Then you had light skin actresses like Pam Grier and then Jayne Kennedys of the world. These women were the representations of Black beauty until Lisa Bonet and Vanity of the world came to prominence in the 1980s and Jasmine Guys and Halle Berry came to prominence in the 1990s. Now you have the Zendayas and Amandlas representing Black beauty. In all, using biracial women to celebrate ”Black beauty” is really upholding the supremacy of White women’s beauty above all.

Old time Hollywood ”Black” beauties from the 1940s-1960s

Lena Horne


Dorothy Dandridge

dorothy dandridge

Eartha Kitt

eartha kitt


1970s Black beauty icons

Pam Grier

pam grier


Jayne Kennedy

jayne kennedy



1980s ”Black” beauties

Lisa Bonet


Denise ”Vanity” Matthews (Rest in peace)




1990s ”Black” beauties

Halle Berry

halle berry

Jasmine Guy


What do these women all have in common? These women are either biracial or light skin. There were some brown to dark women who received representation in the media back then. But they weren’t given the same platform to represent Black women as these women in the pictures are given. Society and the Black collective’s color politics, racism, sexism and patriarchy ensures that the ”beautiful ones” ie light skin women are upheld as the progenitors and representation of Black womanhood.

Unfortunately, many Black people act obtuse when the topic of colorism comes up. Accusations of being a colorist, bitter and angry are thrown are dark skin women who speak up against colorism because it is a coy way of silencing dark skin and upholding light skin privilege. Many light skin women get defensive and become angry when a darker skin woman speak out against colorism or gets some shine. The reason why many light skin women go on the defense is because these women want to hold onto the privileges that they have in the Black collective. Admitting that their privileged status in the Black collective is due to the denigration of dark skin women acknowledges them to do some self reflecting and letting go of that privilege. Many light skin women aren’t willing to do this because it means losing that privilege; only privilege that they have is in the Black collective where light skin and biracial women are put on the pedestal. Many Black males also practice colorism to a very large extent as well. Many Black males purposely choose and prefer light skin women over dark skin women because they believe that they are more beautiful than darker women. Since light skin women are closer to the Eurocentric ideal, they feel that they are boosting their social status if they choose to date and marry a light skin Black woman. Often times, a Black male is likely to shut down a dark skin Black woman’s adamant concerns about colorism because he wants to uphold light skin women as the pinnacle of Black womanhood. Worst of all, even some other dark skin women will defend a light skin woman against another dark skin woman due to programming that dark skin is inferior to light skin. Thus the reason why many Black women act obtuse and defensive when the topic of colorism comes up.

The few, dark skin actresses such as Keke Palmer aren’t given the same platform and attention that Amandla and Zendaya get. These women are oftentimes overlooked or sometimes ridiculed for expressing their individuality. Rapper, Azealia Banks is called angry for expressing some truths about the social issues of the day while Amandla Stenberg is lauded as a truth teller by many Black people. The surrounding colorism in the Black collective enables the vitality of light skin women’s voices to be heard while dark skin women’s voices to be silenced. Fortunately, more dark skin women are speaking up and setting boundaries in their race to ensure their rightful place in their race. Hence the reason why Zendayas and Amandla Stenbergs of the world are given a platform to speak about issues like Black women while dark skin women are silenced.


One thought on “Light skin women the face of Black Feminism: The problem of colorism in the Black collective

  1. Pingback: Light skin women the face of Black Feminism: The problem of colorism in the Black collective? — blackfeministhaven – Ayaba's Labyrinth

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