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Collage by Jasmine Martin

The Meaning of Color: From a Darker Girl’s Perspective

by share

Since the creation of the United States, racism and colorism has been built into America’s DNA. Century after century, this is the way we humans still separate ourselves from each other and put barriers between us, which creates hostility and anger, and, most importantly, leaves us feeling like we can’t live in a world where all colors can live in one area in peace.

The definition of colorism from Merriam-Webster is a” legal claim to or appearance of a right, authority, or office.” This information may sound familiar, but how does it affect the young, darker, black girl? Not just a black girl, but a black girl with even darker skin.

I’ve had challenges in places such as school, church and even the media when it comes to the color of my skin. I’ve received doubt and judgment from people who didn’t know me and from people who know me very well. They would compare me to girls who were lighter or automatically stereotype me because of my skin. In middle school, when kids would talk about who was pretty, I — and anyone who looked like me with dark skin— were considered ugly. It hurt my feelings, especially because I already had a lot of insecurities, especially in middle school.

As a young, dark-skinned female who doesn’t talk “ghetto” or “ratchet,” who doesn’t constantly listen to rap music and doesn’t live in the “‘hood,” I feel like I’m a weird mix of communities that make it a little harder to classify me. I feel like I’m in two completely different realms: the one that people put me in because of my skin color and the one I actually am in based on what I’ve done and my successes. It was, and still is hard, but not everyone understands that.

Compared to other races, black people are the most disrespected and are discriminated population in the United States. Yet, when you look into that group of black people, the population with lighter skin tend to be treated better than those with darker skin.

Colorism affects dark-skinned females specifically in several ways that affect our perception of not only as individuals but of the world.


From research done by Clark Atlanta University, the history of self-esteem in black women essentially starts from slavery. Darker-skinned women were treated like dark-skinned men were and were beat and abused in a harsher way than lighter women. Darker women weren’t seen as beautiful to slave owners, so the definition of a black woman became something that wasn’t beautiful or feminine. As slaves were emancipated, black women were stuck in this limbo because they were taught to feel inferior or unfeminine, resulting in black women doing things that would help them achieve the perception of beauty in relation to white women and their trends: straightening their hair and lightening their skin. This helped to increase the insecurities in black females about their bodies, hair and personalities.

Today, black women are learning to accept their skin tone and their hair, especially with the natural hair movement on social media, with videos about how women care for and love their hair for what it is. This growth in the acceptance of black women, especially within themselves, is being projected onto other races and genders to respect black women as well.


Dark-skinned actresses have started to make an impact in media, and they believe in the representation of black girls on the screen. Keke Palmer, a dark-skinned African-American actress (“Akeelah and the Bee” and “Just Keke”), shared that it took her until she was 13 years old to appreciate her skin and who she is. BET reported that Palmer said the black community needs to stop separating each other by color.

Other actresses such as Lupita Nyong’o have become very popular in the last few years. Lupita, said in a speech in 2014 that she used to pray for lighter skin because of the teasing she received from other children because of her skin tone. These women have received judgment about their skin, yet they’ve become the shakers and movers for my generation of young, dark, black women.

Body Image

The trend of being skinny with a big butt and big breasts seem to be plaguing young people’s minds about what a woman should look like. It would be a common misconception to think that all black women have bigger butts and that they’re beloved because of their curves. Yet many black girls and femme-identifying persons are subject to the insecurity of their body not looking a certain way, especially because their race is well-known for having certain features. An NPR roundtable revealed how body image is a real problem because of how the standard of white beauty is unobtainable unless a person was born with it. Many black women have eating disorders and there are multiple factors that affect the way these disorders are acquired, such as assault, abuse and societal norms that are being pushed on black women to conform to these ideals.

These are only a small number of issues that young black women are combating at the same time. Talking to several Atlanta-area girls who have darker skin reinforced my belief that I’m not alone in my fight for my right to be loved and accepted, not just by other people but for myself as well.

Natalie, 11

People will try to compare me; they’ll say that, “Oh, this is your brother…”, when he’s not — he’s just another dark-skinned person. When you have a darker skin tone, everyone comes at you. I’m in advanced classes and I know people don’t want to see me being smarter than them, so they try to come at me for that. People always will come for the darker people, but they’ll leave the lighter people alone. I think that the best way [to defeat colorism] is to just try your hardest to succeed, especially in school.”

Bre, 15

“I had a lighter-skinned best friend back in elementary school, and every time we would come around people she got the most attention. She got the boys … and when it came to me, I was always the joke of the conversation. When I was younger, I used to want to be lighter and smaller, but as I grew up, I realized that my melanin in my skin makes me feel rich, like I have gold.”

Skye, 15

“I don’t have any personal experience when it comes to this. There are a lot of sly comments though, such as “ Oh, you shouldn’t have any problems because you’re a light-skin … In society, people who have lighter skin have more of an advantage when it comes to things such as beauty.”

Kayla, 15

“Even though I’m brown-skinned (medium toned), when I was younger, I used to scrub my skin … just to see if I could get lighter, so I could be a different shade and I could get treated better. As I grew up, I knew that I was stuck with my skin color, so I might as well embrace it.”

For these girls and girls with darker skin all over the world, we are subject to a lot more than the average person when it comes to discrimination.

It honestly hurts to think that I have so many barriers to overcome because I was born darker than others, that I see women my skin color get called malicious names and are abused because of what they look like. I realize that there’s so many layers underneath all of this kind of thinking and discrimination.

It’s always important to inform people about issues like these and how they affect people. At the end of the day, we all realize that we’re all human and should treat each other with kindness because we don’t know what a person has been through. We can talk and try to open others’ minds to see that we live in a world that is diverse and that no one is specifically the same.

I believe one day I can go out into the world without people trying to tear down me and people who look like me just so they can lift themselves up. We should be working together as a generation of young people to bring peace, love and understanding to our older counterparts. I might be young, but I believe that our voices are the one that can help to spread awareness and change.

If you are a darker girl like me, believe that you are beautiful and that you have the power to change people’s minds. You are not a stereotype; you are not a symbol of weakness. Your beauty, voice and mind should shine as bright as the stars and go as deep as the ocean. You are beautiful. So, keep dreaming, achieving and believing.

Jasmine, 16, goes to DeKalb Early College Academy and believes that her black is most certainly beautiful.

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comments (3)

  1. Natasha

    Thanks Jasmine, am a young lady who comes from Africa in a beautiful country called Zambia. I have had a fair share of discrimination for being dark skinned. At one point in my primary school age I saved money so I could buy lightening cream, thank God for my mum who always praised my skin. She used to call me “my black shine”, Am more than proud to walk out in this melanated skin now more than ever. Am glad I have maintained my tone of skin and it is now something am so proud of. Despite Africa being a continent filled with a lot of dark skin people, lighter skinned ones get favour and are considered beautiful than the latter. Lets join hands and remove this negative connotation associated with dark skin. #blackisbeautiful.

  2. Chiese

    Hello Jasmine ! Thank you for bringing awareness to colorism in America. I think it was hard for a lot of women growing up being ANY skin complexion because I feel some of us all wanted to be of a lighter shade. It was hard for me growing up because I had friends of a darker shade and I’m caramel myself. My darker complexion friends were insecure and I never wanted them to be. I loved them for who there were on the inside. (Well some of them due to flawed personality) but I wasn’t taught to judge someone by the color of their skin. I grew up wanting to love everyone and everybody and I had to learn that’s not possible growing up. My best friend at the time had her own insecurities. Imagine being friends with someone who couldnt see her beauty just as much as you see in her. I always envied her because she was the opposite of me. She was someone at most times I wish I was because she had a personality that was gold. She was from the Islands and I’m from America. I always dreamed of living the life or having family from another culture. I can’t really say much about who I am like she can. I can never get her to understand how much love I hold for her for just wanting to be my friend when others didn’t. I suffered bullying in school and I never understood why. Most people naturally didn’t like me and growing up it was like she only saw my skin tone, not what I went through with toxic friends. I hope one day she would see past my skin tone. I launched a makeup line called “Allure Foundations” and she was my inspiration. I wanted to aim at women with a darker tone who could wear a foundation naturally and be beautiful. Her being a darker shade and me having bad acne in school, I always felt she was my motivation for a lot of the things I did throughout my life because I was attracted to her. I thought she was so pretty when I met her in 6th grade and she was so nice. At 26, I just always wanted her to know I was always attracted to who she was and what she looked like and those insecurities she had or my have ? I never seen her the way she sees herself.

  3. Anon

    I grew up in a white neighborhood and was always the black friend who “wasn’t” black. I had perms until my freshmen year of HS and I only dated white boys bc that’s all I knew at the time. I’m now 20 years old with natural coily, thick hair and a handsome black man. However, I’m still struggling to accept who I am and to feel beautiful in my dark skin and frizzy, big poof. I’ve accepted that I’m black but it hurts to see lightskin black women with loose curls praised for their beauty. It hurts to put major effort into a hairstyle just to look and feel ridiculous but gorgeous on a lightskin woman. I thought I fully accepted myself once I realized my skin tone doesn’t make me inferior around white people, but that was only the surface.