It’s a trope as old as time itself. Open up any novel and you’ll find the antagonist is depicted as ruthless and dark with traditionally Afro-centric features like unruly, kinky hair and black eyes. On the other hand, the protagonist whose duty is to save the world, is light, dainty and innocent. In the case of the popular fairy tale Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, we see a classic example of darkness being made equivalent to evil, malevolence and cynicism. White’s raving beauty causes her to be the object of envy of the Evil Queen and while Snow White has small, dainty “princess-like” features, the villainous Evil Queen wears a dark cape and possesses a long nose and large, round eyes when in her true form.
Even among animals there is something called the Black Dog Syndrome, the unfortunate phenomenon in which darker colored dogs are adopted less often than lighter colored ones and are more likely to get euthanized.
The negative connotations of the word dark and the word black also pertain to race. After all, it’s only natural that society’s tendency to associate darkness and depravity would lead to a negative bias against people with darker skin tones. And the ramifications are even apparent in our justice system. For instance, eye witnesses to crimes are often more likely to falsely identify suspects who have darker skin.
Moreover, as a culture we fetishize blue and green eyes, while dark brown or black eyes are often seen as less beautiful or even cold and devoid of life. Darker skinned black men are associated with hardness and hyper masculinity, while lighter skinned black males are deemed as weak, sensitive and overly emotional and feminine.
In turn, darker skinned black women are hyper sexualized and deemed as overly masculine while lighter skinned females are more often seen as beautiful, valuable and worthy of protection. In a 2010 tweet from black comedian Kevin Hart, he states that darker-skinned Black women are able to “take a punch” better than lighter women, hinting that our skin makes us more durable, stronger and able to withstand higher levels of abuse.
In his study, Professor Adam Alter of New York University discovered that the media tends to “run darker photographs of celebrities and politicians when writing about their transgressions”. Researchers from his study found that articles containing negative content were more likely to appear in conjunction with darker photographs and that there was a definite link between the written content of an article and the skin tone of whoever was in the paragraph.
This is pretty discouraging news. Society’s predisposition to linking blackness and darkness with bad traits is so deeply ingrained that it would be hard to completely remove from our psyches. But even still, what if we as black people began to slowly reform our affinity to synonymize blackness and wickedness, evil or malice?
What if we began to refer to darkness and blackness as positive things? Sure we wouldn’t be able to change the entire world’s conception of darkness and blackness, but we’d certainly be able to reduce the harsh effects of colorism within our society. By being more honest about colorism, we’d reduce the prevalence of racially-motivated jokes like “black and ugly” or “black as sin”.
What if there were more than just a few phrases like: the darker the berry the sweeter the juice? What if there were real systems in place to value and take pride in blackness? After all, reversing colorism is going to have to be done actively with a movement that promotes darker complexions in order to counteract the negative effects of colorism.
For this reason, we need more outlets for dark skin like Divine Dark Skin (DDS Magazine) that prize our ebony skin and portray it as beautiful, worthy and just as valuable as other skin complexions. With just this little change in our daily vocabulary, we’d take the world by storm. And most importantly, we’d improve the quality of life for other black girls and for dark-skinned people in general.
"Grace is a freelance writer and blogger from Canada. Her work has been featured on HerCampus, 21Ninety, Read Unwritten. She is a voracious reader, a dog-lover and a self-professed pop culture junkie. Her other hobbies include watching sappy romantic comedies, consuming too many strawberry-filled doughnuts and people-watching. Grace currently attends university, where she is working towards a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and Pre-Law."