Light Is Light, But It Ain’t White: Colorism Lessons From the Meghan Markle Interview

British treatment of Markle points to colorism’s pervasiveness and the unfamiliarity some lighter-skinned Black women have with its sting

Meghan, Duchess of Sussex attends the Commonwealth Day Service 2020 on March 09, 2020 in London, England. Photo: Samir Hussein/WireImage/Getty Images

After Meghan Markle’s interview with Oprah Winfrey, handfuls of Black women immediately flooded social media to express their support and utter disgust with how she was treated during her time at Buckingham Palace — myself included. During the interview, Markle confided that while she was pregnant with Archie, the palace expressed concerns to Harry over how dark Archie’s skin might be. This was one of several jaw-dropping and glaringly racist experiences Markle shared during the interview.

But this was not the first time I felt a connection to Markle, and it was also not the first time Black women took to the rafters to cheer on their proverbial sis. While numerous factors can explain this connection, it could be that the experiences Markle shared were far from that of royalty. It did not matter that she is a beautiful, biracial woman with slender facial features, long flowing tresses, and fair skin. She still was not White enough to be accepted by the royal family: plot twist. Markle expressed a familiar sting that many Black women have experienced time and time again — in particular, darker-skinned Black women.

Is “light-skin privilege” a thing? Yes. It is, and I say this as a Black woman with lighter skin. I do not take pleasure in recognizing that I have experienced a certain level of privilege due to my skin tone at some point in my life. But just as heterosexuals must acknowledge their privilege and as Whites must acknowledge theirs, I have to recognize that in the U.S., Black folks who have lighter skin often experience preferential treatment. If this weren’t the case, colorism would not exist.

It’s great that the royal family and all who don’t support Markle and Harry — Piers Morgan, I’m looking at you — have been getting dragged all up and down the highways and byways of social media this week. But what stood out as the most striking part of the interview and the conversations that followed is that Markle, light skin and all, was not light enough for her English in-laws, and she expressed extreme pain as a result of experiencing colorism. It’s a feeling that perhaps not many Black women with lighter skin encounter often.

While some rappers shout their preference for light skin women who look “foreign” from the mountaintops and as skin-bleaching products continue to boom, it’s painfully clear that colorism in the U.S. is alive and well. So much so that Black women with lighter skin might not be reminded as frequently about their melanin as Black women with darker skin. This is not to suggest that lighter Black women do not experience discrimination and bias solely based on their Blackness. But, for some, there might be a varying continuum of their experiences with discrimination that is influenced by skin complexion.

While speaking with a few sister friends with darker skin, they all expressed that they felt that Black women with lighter skin are shown preferential treatment and shared their experiences with colorism — self-imposed and otherwise. All reflected on being the target of nasty comments made about the darkness of their complexion. While I have experienced racism, it has been because I am a Black woman, not because of my skin complexion as a Black woman. There’s a difference.

Others shared comments that have been made to them about how “beautiful” their dark skin is as if the beauty of their darker pigment were a surprise or an anomaly. A few also talked about how they have internalized negative messages about their skin and have caught themselves at times questioning their hair color choice or even the color of their clothes because of fear that they might be “too dark.” Although it’s true that regardless of racial background or skin complexion, most women spend time trying to find the perfect color to make their skin pop, it seems this might be a heavier burden for darker-skinned sistas.

Either way, one thing is for sure: Markle’s experiences further illustrate how deeply misogynoir culture is rooted and that anyone can get that work.

Professor, Forbes Contributor, Race Scholar, Activist, Therapist, Keynote Speaker, Consultant, Wife, Mother, & Addict of Ice Cream &Cheese.

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