How Colorism Has My Son Believing He Isn’t Black

Black is mocha colored and dark chocolate complexions to my son, but caramel skin tones aren't acceptable to him.


My son is six and is having trouble identifying himself. Not in terms of gender–he knows he's a boy. I don't mean deciding what he wants to wear to school in the mornings–his color coordination skills for a first grader are down pact. But I mean in terms of color. Race.

“What am I?"

I've told him he was Black since he started to come to his own conclusions that not everyone looks the same, but it's been fairly difficult for him to understand that because his thoughts of Black looks like me, his father, and younger brother. Black is mocha colored and dark chocolate complexions to him, but caramel skin tones aren't acceptable to him. Why not? Because his classmates, older kids and family members have made him feel like light is far from right when it comes to being Black.

From the day he was born, I have been faced with commentary from friends and family alike about his “high yella" color. My partner was questioned on the side about his paternity, and I was faced with “reassurance" that my firstborn would grow into his rightful color because of his ears–a brown similar to that of mine. He never did, and it's been years of questionable responses to him standing out as "the light-skinned one," and us having to break down his paternal grandmother's color. Since the age of four, he's been uncomfortable in his skin, simply trying to feel accepted without inquiries as to whether or not he has someone white in his family.


“How come I don't look like you?"

I am well-aware of the advantages that come with being a fairer skinned Black person–looked at as more favorable and desirable than a darker toned person in the workplace, in the media, and in reality, in general–but I have never thought about the opposition they may face with being labeled less than Black and having their “card" revoked, until it happened to one of mine.

Almost every day after school, I am faced with confirming the fact that my son is who he is when he tells me someone told him he couldn't color his face brown in a drawing. I have to hold conversations on how to address classmates who feel compelled to tell him he thinks he's better than the rest, not because of his smarts on a particular subject, but because of what he looks like. It confuses him, a child who isn't aware of the effects and “privilege" of colorism, but is conscious of how he is viewed in the eyes of others.

“Am I going to get darker like you guys?"

“I'm not sure, but I do know there's nothing we can do to change how you were born."

Like anything else with regards to small children, you have to repeatedly restore their confidence that they are something, even when their friends and the world tell them otherwise. I refuse to tell him that color doesn't matter and that we are ultimately all the same, that would be to deny his existence and to negate how he is going to be perceived in society. I am not blind to the truth. At 12, he is going to be a Black “man." At 17, he will be perceived as a threat to communities because of color. The light skin/dark skin debate isn't applicable then, so why now?

In a recent article in For Harriet, one writer plunged into the topic of colorism, addressing light-skin privilege and placing the responsibility to address the ugly divide on those with my son's complexion.

Although the issue of colorism is often discussed within the Black community, it is seldom addressed in a way that can or will reconcile the problem. Colorism—the remnant of slavery, colonialism, and white supremacy—is a tool that divides people of color and creates infighting where there should be solidarity and unity. In many Black families, it is the reason for contention and misunderstandings. And within the Black Diaspora, it is a reason to self-segregate.The big question that remains is: Who is responsible for reconciling the issues created by centuries of colorism that has perpetuated a set of social, financial, and economic hierarchies? In society at large, that responsibility falls upon the shoulders of Whites. However, when speaking amongst Black people—within our own families and our own communities, including those specifically between Black women—lighter-skinned Black people must shoulder that responsibility.

My son, like many other folks, will have to deal with the harsh truth that his ethnic, “Black sounding" name may possibly disqualify him from a job (his name begins with a K and ends in -von). He doesn't know about privilege, in fact, it's being introduced to him and he doesn't want it! He just wants to be accepted as Black amongst his peers, and it's unfortunate that we've separated our communities at a prevalent time like this because of skin color. When I talk about the plight of Black people in history and our expansive culture to my children, I don't break it down into what lighter skinned people have experienced versus what darker Black folks have underwent. Know why?

Because in the eyes of “them," we are all Black, regardless of shade. And while I'm not taking away from the existence of colorism because it is alive and thriving around the world, I wish that the never-ending debate on skin tone would cease as all we're doing is creating further division amongst ourselves. It isn't the job of one set group to address the divide. Mending the disconnect starts with us collectively.

Featured image by Shutterstock

Simone Biles is a decorated U.S. gymnast who captured the hearts of many with her ambitious, yet graceful moves. However, over the past year, fans got to witness another side of Simone after the gymnast began expressing the issues she's faced regarding her mental health. The Olympic gold medalist shocked everyone when she pulled out of some of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic games, citing "twisties" as the reason. The twisties is a gymnastics term that is described as losing control of your body while spinning in the air.

Keep reading... Show less
The daily empowerment fix you need.
Make things inbox official.

The relationship we have and nurture with self lays the foundation for how we relate to and connect with others in our lives. Assessing the issues that discourage self-love from prospering are key in order to repair and reignite the freedom that comes when we finally believe the words "you are enough." I chatted with self-love advocate and lifestyle entrepreneur Shelah Marie – who you may remember from when her 2017 photo of doing yoga with boyfriend, rapper Ace Hood, went viral. Shelah's mission is to create a movement of total self-love and liberation for women of color through her platform Curvy, Curly, Conscious – a place where "self-help" meets "real talk" through virtual and offline events and retreats.

Keep reading... Show less

The first time I really learned about the five love languages was a year after a big heartbreak in my early twenties, and since then I've found myself exploring the love languages of each of my subsequent partners in an effort to be a better lover to them. At the click of a simple quiz, you'll know whether words of affirmation, acts of service, quality time, receiving gifts, or physical touch is the primary way you prefer to experience love.

Keep reading... Show less

At the start of each season, I browse the net to get an idea of the latest styles and trends to look out for when adding to my closet. When shopping, not only do I love items that are hot for the moment but mainly those that I can keep in rotation year after year. I especially look for styles that are both modern and classic, giving off an effortlessly timeless vibe.

Keep reading... Show less

Kissing is such a fascinating thing — to me. The reason why I say that is because, if the person you are exchanging a kiss with is someone who is good at it, it can be the sexiest, most special and most exhilarating thing ever. On the other hand, if they aren't so good — it's just gross. I don't know about y'all, but kissing is such a big deal in my world that I once broke up with someone, in part, because they totally sucked at doing it. It was like, no matter how hard I tried to explain to them what I needed in order to feel like we were in "kissing sync", they would continue to go off and do their own thing. All over my face (yuck).

Keep reading... Show less
Exclusive Interviews

Adrienne Bailon Wants Women Of Color To Take Self-Inventory In Order To Redefine Success

"You can't expect anyone else to care about yourself like you do."

Latest Posts