Part 1 of 2 (To read part two, click here)
Scroll down your Twitter feed and find out how quickly you spot the hashtag, #TeamDarkSkin or #TeamLightSkin, which may be full of selfies or memes that promote a specific complexion.
Perhaps these popular topics on social media are fresh, but they could be linked to a bigger issue–a divide in the Black community over skin tone, which is known as Colorism.
Several actresses and community leaders such as Viola Davis and Raven Symone have shared their thoughts and experiences on the Oprah Winfrey Network’s production of “Dark Girls” and “Light Girls.”
This inner battle isn’t anything new. Many people still don’t know that well-known celebrities including singer and songwriter Mariah Carey and broadcast journalist Soledad O’Brien are biracial.
In the wake of the much-hyped documentary, Indianapolis residents who are of a lighter skin tone have decided to share their personal stories and thoughts.
“If you are dark skin, you are seen as more Black,” said Sarah Webb who is biracial. “You are considered a strong Black woman and there’s no if, ands, or buts about it. But if you’re light skin, people say ‘she could be something else so I’m not going to consider her Black ‘all the way’ because she’s not dark. Even on Instagram you can see how men portray dark and light skin women.”
Better yet, search these hashtags on Instagram and thousands of results will display. The hashtag #TeamDarkSkin has a little over 460,000 participants and #TeamLightSkin ranks in at just over 515,000.
Webb recalls her mother, a white woman with blonde hair and blue eyes, telling her stories about the dirty looks she would receive when in public. Webb and her sister have similar characteristics to their mother, such as her fair skin and straight, fine strands.
On the other hand, her brother has more African-American features like their father.
“They would give her that look like ‘Oh you’re just another one of the white women that stole one of our Black men,” said Webb, who revealed some mistakenly assumed she was adopted.
“My brother has more of the ‘Black’ look than what my sister and I have. It takes people a second to realize, ‘Oh Sarah’s Black too, her brother just got more of the traits.’”
Sidney Staples is a Black student at Ball State University who has been mistaken for another race many times.
“Especially since I wear a hat often, people aren’t able to see my hair. But nowadays, everyone tends to classify me as ‘light skinned’ instead of simply African American.”
Staples said he does believe this issue divides the Black community but he tends to see women compare themselves more often.
“Females talk about it (skin shades) more and make more decisions based off of it. Especially when it comes to the case of dating a significant other. Social media and things such as memes further those stereotypes and define that gap between dark skinned and light skinned individuals.”
Webb commented that fitting in with the Black community has been personally tough for her although those on the outside may not be aware.
She explained that she feels as if she can’t always be herself or has to hold herself to a certain standard because she doesn’t want to embarrass certain members of her family. When people find out she is Black and not Latino, Dominican or Asian, as she’s been previously called, they express disbelief.
“They’re like, ‘no way’ and I’m like ‘Yeah, do I need to show you proof? I can show you my Dad,” said Webb laughing.
She also mentions the struggle of acceptance into the white community.
“There are even different types of biracial,” she pointed out. “There’s the type where someone looks biracial because they still have ethnic hair and may be a little darker, which helps to signal they are biracial. But people like my sister and I, people may think we’re Latino or have a nice tan. With the stereotype of mixed people, you can either go to one side and have the best of both worlds with the pretty skin but you still have the ethnic hair or vice versa, you could have the ‘white hair’ but an awesome tan. The white girls would say ‘oh you’re so lucky because you have a permanent tan’ but then the Black girls would say ‘you look too white so we aren’t going to consider you Black.’”
Staples also has experienced similar issues of fitting into the Black community. He said he often times feel as if he needs to behave in a certain way to be accepted.
“Depending on the demographic and race I am around at the time, it is something I think about on a daily basis because I tend to fear that I will not be accepted if I don’t act otherwise.”