From my sociological perspective, I find conversations on and about skin tone to be fascinating. I'm not even sure how I label myself ethnicity wise because I am 1/2 Japanese American and 1/2 German American. And like I mentioned before, it is always really funny to me that my white friends think I look really asian while my asian friends think I look really white. I guess most of the time I check boxes for both White and Asian, but if there is the choice, I check multi-racial or mixed.
When it comes to the color of my skin, I am very fair. I burn easily and you can see some of my veins through certain parts of my body. I have freckles, never feel the need to wear blush because my cheeks are naturally rosy, and I have naturally medium brown color wavy hair. Not exactly what your mind's eye pictures when you imagine someone who has a very Japanese sounding last name. Now, when it comes to my sisters, they are both much darker complected, and I tend to refer to them as little "brown nuts". They tan very easily, and have the more traditional "yellow" undertones. In fact there was one summer I spent playing tennis in Florida for 3 months, and my oldest sister was able to get as tan or tanner than myself in only 2 weeks. Genetics are strange.
In most Asian cultures that I am familiar with, it is very common for women to want to get their skin to be as pale or "white" as possible. Next time you are in an Asian community, stop inside a grocery store and you will be surprised at all the different lotions and potions marketed to "whiten" skin. Now, I don't speak or read Japanese, but it is very clear by the labels on the boxes what the lotion is intended to do.
How does this make sense when Americans usually go out of their way, and sometimes in very un-healthy ways, to have a perpetual tan? Jennifer Aniston is probably the most iconic person that comes to my mind, but I'm sure you have friends or family who are chasing the "tan dragon".
I was born in America, and my father was born in America, but what I know about Asian culture is that, historically, it is much more desirable to be light complected because it is a sign of wealth and possible royalty. People who were light skinned remain that way because they hired others to work in the field for them. So from a societal perspective, fair skin represented wealth, while tanned skin represented someone who is a commoner or a labor worker. Similarly, being fat has historically been seen as a sign of wealth and decadence, and being thin was not desirable because it was a way of showing you lacked the money to purchase adequate food.
For many communities and cultures, skin tone can be a source of prejudice, bigotry, and generally feeling like you don't belong. This is probably most prevalent within the African American community. In many cases it can be overt and verbal when people say things like "You are so pretty for a girl with such dark skin" or "I really want to marry someone with light skin because I don't want our children to be dark". It can also present itself in less obvious ways. For instance, Beyonce is known around the world and she became the break-out star from the band Destiny's Child. Beyonce is gorgeous, no doubt about that, but she also looks like a barbie doll. Beyonce has very light skin, and I sometimes wondered if she became so popular because of it. I don't even remember the names of her other 2 band mates, but the one thing I do remember is this: they both had significantly darker skin. Magazines have also been accused of "lightening up" the skin tone of darker complected African American celebrities. Back when OJ Simpson was arrested for allegedly murdering his ex wife and her friend, Newsweek's cover photo of him was suspiciously lighter than reality. More recently, Elle, a fashion magazine, was accused of "lightening up" Precious star Gabrielle Sidibey. Whether it is obvious or more insidious, society is telling us that when it comes to the African American community, lighter skin is more desirable than darker skin.
I came across this video and felt it is important enough a message that I developed this blog post around it. I hope you take the time to watch this heartbreaking, touching, and compelling video about what it means to be a dark skinned African American woman.