With Love, J. Sheppard

CSS: Color Struck Syndrome

jelina sheppardComment
“Everything she do is pretty to you”

Color Struck, a play by Zora Neale Hurston, is about a black woman who feels inferior to lighter toned black women. It addresses the theme of colorism which is the preference of lighter skin over darker skin within the black community, or as activist Alice Walker puts it, “preferential treatment of same race people based solely on their color”. Within the black female population, some of us encounter colorism as a person that gravitates toward a certain skin tone and associates that shade and/or its physical attributes with beauty.

It’s a very sensitive topic that so many of us acknowledge in our thoughts and maybe insecurities but never aloud within our community. I actually, can’t believe I’m bold enough to address it from my own truth and opinions but here we are. In the play “Color Struck”, the main character Emma, had a man named John who loved her very much as it was presented, but Emma would get very upset and jealous even, whenever a light skinned woman was around or interacting with him. She admitted to feeling like he’d choose one of them over her due to her being darker. 

Now, if you wanna know more, feel free to read it, but right now, let me share. I’m not dark skin, but I’m nowhere near light, yellow, or “red boned”. I’m brown... medium toned brown. I know a lot of men that date, sex, and/or commit to women that aren’t red bones, so I’m not even gonna try and make it seem like black men are color struck. HOWEVER, black men are color struck, just not all of them. If we’re being honest, the moment you tell a man he’s color struck, he’s going to get defensive and clarify for you every woman he’s ever associated with, that’s not light skinned. 

Let me back track just for a second, because it’s not all wrapped up in the color. Remember I associated physical attributes with my definition of colorism. Lighter tone individuals, were initially looked at as black individuals who had a non-black parent of some sort, but my idea is, lighter tone attributes meet one or all of the criteria:

  1. Light skin.
  2. “Good hair” that’s not kinky coily when natural and as close to “what you mixed with” when straight.
  3. Social economic status? Paying out of pocket for college.

Now, back to this colorism thing, if you tell a man you think he’s color struck, he’s going to name a list of women to prove he’s not, but you gotta check the hard cold facts. How many of these women were you in love with and why? How many of these women did you commit to and if you would have but did not, why? And MOST IMPORTANTLY, show me your last few girlfriends and or WCWs. 

As far as a color struck man, it’s nothing personal to me. I love them the way I’d love a black African king or a George Clooney white man... I do have a preference but my preference is that he’s black, and any shade will do. Check my credentials boo, (you may laugh here). 

Anyway, enough about color struck men, that’s a whole other layer I don’t want to go into. I could because my track runners all went for the lighter version, but that’s neither here nor there. 

Color Struck. As a non-light skinned woman, I can relate to Emma. Not as dramatic as she was, but the insecurity has popped its head up on more than one occasion. Let’s see, let’s start as a youngin. As a youngin, pictures showed I was light skinned. However, I grew up and I got darker. A lot darker in my opinion. My mother is light skinned and I’ve always wanted to ask my father what truly made my mother aesthetically pleasing to him? But I’m afraid if I address her skin tone, what kind of reaction or level of truth I’ll receive. Growing up, I wanted to have her skin. Sometimes I still do for different reasons. I have my father’s skin and I suppose the good Lord knew I needed that level of tough and roughness to overcome life’s stabs. 

There was this kid in kindergarten, I told him I liked him and he wasn’t interested. No biggie but you pay attention to the females guys like him chose throughout grade school. Another guy in elementary school, told me on the bus, I didn’t have “long hair” so he wouldn’t date me because he liked his girls with hair down her back. He wasn’t even black so lol whatever there. Oh wait? I forgot to tell you about Mrs. Cox, my white first grade teacher, telling my parents I might would be happier in her class if my hair was straightened... at that time I had this natural jerry curl thing going on. (Placing my head in my forehead because there was curl activator involved and it was just... embarrassing for me then because, in the 90s, natural styles wasn’t it). Anyways, I remember her telling my mom that I believe and I got my first perm in first grade. Smdh. 

Fast forward, my first went for a lighter toned chick with hair all down her back, (I won’t address where we both stand now) and my son’s father once asked me, why don’t you wear your hair like so and so, mind you so and so was weaved up and has been known to do the little Kim pinks and Nicki Minaj greens and grays.... nevermind that, just what the hell was I thinking wanting a guy like him? At 15, I had no clue. But anyway, lifestyle wise...financially, she had enough to flex. My parents could never. (Love y’all, but whatever, we couldn’t). 

Let’s keep the train moving, other high school crushes, both crushed on the same girl and dated her. She’s light skin with the “what you mixed with” hair lol. I feel so shallow for describing this the way that I am, forgive me. I promise I’m not shallow, just trying to address it as real as we experience it. Anyway, get to college, met a guy or two... lighter toned chicks. Now, these guys, all of them I’m sure, have had their shades of black women and some white/other races, but if you ask them to describe their dream woman physically... most men will admit to having a preference. It’s not offensive that men prefer lighter/red boned to dark meat, however, to a darker girl that knows no better and has to discover her beauty from the countless “not you’s” she’ll experience growing up, by the time she’s 26, she will have had to learn to quiet her insecurity while unlearning and healing from her own color struck illness. 

Colorism is a thing a lot of women won’t admit or even talk about. We just dust it under the rug and try to project the unity of black women all around, both fully and interracially black. I’ll be the first to admit, the lighter woman for me was always a threat and privileged in my eyes. Now at 26, I’m learning some of the lighter ladies are more insecure and deal with a number of struggles due to their skin tone privilege. Physically happy, but still insecure. Across the Fenty and Mac swatches, we battle insecurities just in different forms. I won’t say the color struck illness is one to easily shake when you’ve had it for years, but it’s manageable. The more you treat it and do the necessary therapy to regroup, the closer you’ll be to one day being free.