The Skin She’s In: A Black Dad Ponders Colorism’s Effect On His Light-Skinned Daughter


I love my daughter in ways I could never imagine and she’s long crossed the threshold of innocent infancy. She’s at that cute stage, that small stumbling stage, that stage where I think she’ll always be a baby and every year she turns two. I see her growing, developing her personality, getting ready to start school, and I find myself future-tripping more and more. I over-think everything and it affects how I interact with my daughter. I understand she’ll go through phases, but while I’m in this unnecessarily panicked head space, this fact is often forgotten and I have an urgency to over-inform and arm her against everything… now. My most recent paranoia is steeped in the foggy cultural conversation about colorism.

My daughter is a petite belle with long curly hair like a vineyard and café con leche-colored skin. She’s a shade darker than I and I remember growing up a mixed baby and grappling with the issues I had with race, culture, perception and identity. The fact that she’s a young black girl, and witnessing the intense disease of colorism in relation to young black girls, paralyses me with fear. It’s something I was thinking about, even before she was born, before we had agreed on a name for her. I’ve been focused on keeping the spirit of black culture, history and pride prevalent within our home. She has Cornrows, by Camille Yarborough, Afrocentric alphabet books and dolls. It’s not that I’m against melanin deficient dolls, but I believe there is so much outside affirming a Eurocentric standard of beauty and telling our colorful children what beauty is, I want to make sure everything she plays with has a Black representation, especially her dolls. #allblackeverything

Dolls might be what I monitor the most. With every doll purchase and doll gift, I revisit the Clark doll experiment of 1939—the infamous experiment where Black children chose the white dolls over the black dolls. The experiment made obvious the depth of the psychological identity complexes Black people were faced with then, and when I look at TV media and social media, it feels like, horribly, these complexes still exist. The fights on Twitter about light skin vs dark skin disgust me, but nothing has disturbed me more on a spiritual and emotional level than when I saw two chocolate skinned girls in absolute awe and admiration of my children. First thing they said to me: “Are they mixed?” “They have nice hair.” They sounded as if my children were lucky. Like they, themselves, were unfortunate.

The thing I have to remember and the thing my wife helps remind me of is that my daughter is, in fact, our beautifully light brown baby. I want my daughter to be a proud girl and to carry that pride securely in her spirit. But as I want her to avoid one complex, I can’t give her another. I can’t have her so black that she holds her dark brothers and sisters on a pedestal and subsequently views herself as inherently less than. Not my proudest moment, but I’ve actually argued with my daughter over an Ethiopian doll I wanted to buy her. Through all of this, I’ve forgotten the fact that even though I don’t want her with too many white dolls because they don’t look like her, the dark-skinned dolls don’t look like her either. I don’t want to forget or have her deny her own personal beauty. I’ve also somehow forgotten that her daddy is pale nine months out the year and that sometimes she associates those light dolls with me.

Lastly, I can’t forget the lesson that we really want to teach our children and that’s that we all have interesting histories and that we are a pantone of beautiful shades and I can’t let my need to instill such a strong sense of blackness make her separate herself, thus denying her a higher expression of humanity. I just want my daughter to be proud, confident in her own skin and have a sense of self-worth and love that transcends shade because, after all, wasn’t that what the “Black is Beautiful’ movement was all about?

A native of San Francisco, Jamal Frederick lives in the Bay Area with his wife and two children. He currently has a few projects in the works. Check him out on Facebook and Twitter at @jamalfrederick.

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  1. Don’t worry so much brother, you are definitely on the right track. But please don’t keep her away from the dark skinned dolls. I say this because one day she may fall in love with a dark skinned man and her children may come out even darker than herself but no matter what shade her children are she will have the capacity to love them unconditionally because her father taught her to love “ALL” blackness!!

  2. been there… truly I can say, done that.
    my daughter was 14 on Friday past, had just week before done “the big chop” – going back to natural hair: i’ve been away from home, studying for two years, and during that time, she became an independent young woman (i saw her last summer and she paid for the pizza; i smiled, and the waitress was in awe) who decided to straighten her hair.
    i remember some things a sister said to me (for the little one knew my objections): better processed hair, than a processed mind, and secondly, she reminded me that as a result of the foundation (much as you are laying now, my brother) she will make sound life decisions….
    i continue to be blessed by my daughters youthful wisdom.
    in all things you do with your blessing, and for her, be guided by love, and truly, you will be neither anchor nor sail, but a lighthouse to guide her way.
    be well.

  3. As I read this article, I can’t help but reflect on my own childhood, growing up a light skinned girl. I struggle very much with my skin tone because, on one hand, I was look at by some as desirable because of my “good hair” and my “lightskin”. It was offensive to me because that’s what they limited my desirability to – my hair and my skintone. My mind and personality were never apart of that equation. Meanwhile, on the other hand, I was shunned by other black people because of their assumption of my thinking I was better or cuter or their pride of being blacker – i.e. purer, closer to africaness, darker the berry sweeter the juice, African king/queen association with dark skin. So I had a complex. I was the white girl who was black. Who wasn’t accepted by either group or was overly sexualized by both. And I wanted to be darker so bad because I wanted to be accepted by black people. My dolls were only black dolls, but all much darker than myself. My shade didn’t exist.

    There is a very thin line you’re treading and I commend you on realizing and attempting to rectify this for your little girl. Now, as I look to get married to a man who is many shades darker than myself, knowing that our children will come out to be many different shades of brown, from my light to his dark, I seek the same things for my unborn children. And I hope to hear more from you on this topic so that people such as myself who have gone through the entire stigmatism can have support on how to lessen our children from going through the same.

  4. I cried when i read this . He has so much LOVE IN HIS HEART. She is so lucky.

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