‘Lightskin Guys Be Like…’

“Lightskin boys be so moist”

“Those guys are bare in their feelings”

“Drake behaviour”

I was standing in this Jamaican takeaway place the other day in Willesden (Curry Goat, Rice & Peas and one niiiice dumpling if you were wondering, and let’s be real, you’re now salivating) when the woman who was serving me, I say serving but she had gone off into the kitchen, quite casually turned to her co-worker and said ‘The Lightskin bwoy did order di dumpling deh, pass him it nuh’.(If you’re slightly lost with the translation, then phone a friend.) ‘Lightskin Boy.’ I thought to myself. As I stood there looking at the back of my own beige hands having a moment that I can only liken to that bit in Lion King where Simba stares into the pond in the jungle with Rafiki telling him to ‘Look deeper’ the woman was back, shoving my food into my hand and so I walked off. Wandering along the street, now even more hungry because the food was within a minute away from being eaten (why does that always happen!?) I found myself quite lost thinking about the many times in the last 23 and whatnot years I’ve been referred to by my complexion, and it got me thinking, why? Why is it that I’m called a Lightskin Boy? What is even tied up in the meaning of this delineation, and indeed – what does society in Britain today think about males of a lighter complexion?

Often I hear it or, rather, see it thrown around on the TimeLine in memes, ‘banter’ etc. that Black or Mixed-Race men of a lighter complexion are in some way ‘less masculine’ than those society has termed ‘darkskinned’ – indeed something which begs me to ask what being ‘masculine’ even means today! So it got me thinking, what do other people think about this? I mean surely there’s a point where things stop being banter and start having real-world effects, so I thought I’d ask a few people what they thought, and it’s their words that shape this next bit of writing and hopefully, our understanding moving forwards…

“Before I talk about my personal experiences, I’ll say that I do believe some of the stereotypes surrounding “lightskin” are weakness, femininity, vulnerability and narcissism, in which lighter skinned women are viewed as the more “feminine” and “prettier” variant of the black peoples and lighter skinned men are deemed inferior and “soft’“

 

“Lightskin guys are effeminate” – obviously there is misogyny and homophobia in this absolutely ludicrous statement. But it makes you think about how the notion of black hyper-masculinity is centred around darkskin men. See the marketing of hip-hop for a largely white audience – I don’t know much about hip-hop but there seems to be few lightskin male artists. Drake seems to be characterised as “emotional”.

Right, so supposedly I’m ‘soft’, ‘emotional’ or ‘inferior’ because of my complexion and therefore one can only assume that the opposite is true of ‘darker’ males. Indeed the pigeonholing and fetishizing of black masculinity turns a new leaf when we think about how this plays out when complexion is lighter and ideas of being ‘prettier’ or ‘narcissistic’ are ones that can again, be damaging within the community.  I find it difficult to make sense of such a binary dichotomy where the shade of a person’s skin can reflect upon their masculinity…

“I personally wouldn’t even call myself “lightskin”, however, it has been a label assigned to me from school and is kinda a British thing amongst European black folk (in my experience – living in Belgium and Holland”

 

“I find that being called anything but black is more or less an insult, like Carlton in that one Fresh Prince episode where he’s called “not black” because of the way he acts. It’s degrading and worse when it comes from other black people. Then there are those who glorify the negative aspects of this situation. Its nonsensical.”

 

I found a similar thing when I asked the question of what people think of the word ‘lighty’ when attributed to females, that the words are often perpetuated by black communities themselves in a way that can be damaging to ones own perceptions of their identity by alienating people of a light complexion in a way that can separate them from the ‘Black British community’. Whilst there are those who embrace the terms and choose to take on such labels and self-attribute, there are those for whom experience of these labels mean something much more divisive.

“I attended a pan-African event here in London with my cousin in 2013 (it was my very first one) and I noticed that we stood out, well, they made it very clear that we stood out – I could feel nothing but daggers and evils. Shortly after the event finished and everyone was socialising —- but ignoring our presence, we approached this black American woman just for chit chat & she started telling me I should focus on mulatto issues because she doesn’t think I’m “black-black” and basically said her fight isn’t my fight, my cousin was denied an Afro-hair goodie bag because she wasn’t “black enough”

 

“…the idea of light skin privilege/colourism that people sometime perceive us to have Light-skin may be a “privilege”, but getting to grips with your identity as a mixed-race man is incredibly complicated in many cases our black community doesn’t have the language to welcome mixed-race people yet…”

“I think a lot of people also assume that if you’re light skinned and “black” you must therefore be mixed race with one half most likely white British. I do think in my experience people sometimes view you differently because of that, for better or worse. I’ve literally had people at secondary school tell me I’m not properly “black” because I don’t fit their narrow stereotype of what “black” is…”

The idea that there is a proto-typical ‘blackness’ that having lighter, or mixed complexion skin does not fit into appears not to be one too alien to black people within our community, indeed if there’s anything I learnt from my Jamaican takeaway experience (still hungry?) it’s that skin tone can be used as a label for ones identity.

In all, (already? More of a conversation starter I know…) I’d like to leave you with more questions than answers (only child problems). So here’s a couple: What can we learn from some of the experiences written above? Where do we go in terms of our understanding of black-masculinity from here? I’d like to think that at the very least there’s those couple cogs turning in the back of your mind; that you too can be staring into that pond just like Simba… But if not, actually, even if there are – I’ll leave you with the reflections of the people I heard from:

 

“Lightskin guys are not really black” – I grew up in a close extended family with lots of cousins where the only white person was my dad (he’s an only child). Yet when I tell people I identify as a “black, mixed race” person the “black” identity has been questioned. A few shades darker and I doubt it would.”

“I do think that light-skinned black men are seen as less of a “threat” to Eurocentric cultures/institutions and that they benefit from this (although this evidently is a result of racism). Looking at figures like Obama, Lewis Hamilton, Drake, Chukka Umunna etc it seems that society embraces light skinned black men much faster than their darker brothers due to the idea that they are less “other” and because their existence promotes the popular idea that we are now in a post-racial society and that in the end all our children will be “mixed” like them”

“I’ll end with this: problematic stereotypes of lighter skinned people or black folk with (perceived) “non-black” features only causes nothing but confusion, it’s very damaging”

Now go grab your Jamaican takeaway in peace *sips tea*

@TweetsbyBilal

Congratulations! YOU have been “randomly selected” for a security search – the modern brown paper bag test h

#PredestinedForRandomSelection

I was 8 years old, pretty happy kid back then, quite unaware of what was going on around me. To be honest if it wasn’t how you fill the Pokedex I wasn’t particularly bothered. But I remember this day, all tanned and filled with post-holiday depression on my way back to London from time spent in Jamaica where I was Miss Anna’s ‘lightskin’ grandson. Proudly wearing my “A Bugs Life” rucksack (shout out Flick for teaching me them Marxist theories) and in it, chilling amongst the plethora of Game Boy Colour games, was none other than a mango. Now may be a good time to divert. I’m a big fan of mangos, pineapples not so much, a bit too “Taste sticks to the sides of your mouth” for my liking. But mangos? Bring it. And this mango was one hand given to me by Miss Anna herself. Proud. So, back to the point. On my way through security at New Yorks JFK airport, A man of colour holds his hand up in front of me , because apparently that’s how Americans do manners, and says “excuse me Sir I’m going to have to ask you to stop”. Sir? I swear that’s my dad’s name! So 8 year old me stops, beyond confuse, and near terrified begin to follow the procedures that would become standard for all future visits to America. I do as I’m told and hand over my bag (voluntarily and momentarily robbed) and watch humiliated as this man siphons past Pokemon red, blue AND yellow (I was a boss back then, definitely caught them all) and then, THEN this man has the cheek and he removes my mango! Whilst simultaneously asking me to remove my shoes I might add! Looking around for parental support, I notice the gaze of the 99.9% white people who are strolling through security the same way I would stroll through the playground in the park near my house, smiles on their faces, problems? None. No smiles here though, tears begin to form as I hand him my shoes, wondering why Miss Anna’s mango got taken away.

That was the first random selection. Conveniently I’ve been searched every time I’ve tried to enter or exit America since. Entry and exit (What are the odds?!…) . Now I’m all up for keeping us safe , sure, I plan to survive this (writing on route) and all current flights I take . But, maybe, just maybe there’s something slightly wrong in telling me this search is entirely at random? Nowadays I come prepared, nothing in my pockets save my iPhone and my headphones, nothing in my hand luggage except a spare shirt (to this day I have never needed a spare shirt , but who knows one day I might spill some rum down this one) and shoes that I can take off without even bending down – skills. However, I shouldn’t have to. I shouldn’t have to walk through anywhere being prepared to have myself searched on the basis of what? A name? Sorry lets go back to 13.10.91 , the day I was predestined for this, and rename me Jack Jones. A complexion? Sorry lets pretend the universe (or high school romance…) didn’t bring Mr. and Mrs. Khan together. Or a random process by which I just happen to find the hot seat on all these planes by which I am selected. If only the lottery worked like this.

Way back when, when racism was an integral part of society (so yesterday? .) Such an intra-discriminatory practice existed as the brown paper bag test. The one where if your skin wasn’t light enough you were immediately denied entry or access to certain privileges offered to those of lighter complexions and whiter skin. Now there’s something about just looking around at the people being searched and those doing the searching that makes you wonder if this test ever stopped existing or if it just got incorporated into society’s rhetoric and re-branded “passport control” “security checks” etc., take your pick.

Now is it nameism? Is it colourism ? Racism ? Well as of yet I have no facts but I have stories. All I’m saying is, give me back my mango. My tears. My dignity. The right to fly like everyone else. In any case, I’ve randomly selected you to share this post and get some open discussion about race in 2015.

@Tweetsbybilal