Actress Alexandra Shipp

Why Light-Skin Versus Dark-Skin Is A Debate That Will Never Die

Until Biases Are Put To Rest

Ezinne Ukoha
Dec 17, 2017 · 6 min read

Actress Alexandra Shipp is in the middle of a storm about her character Storm from the X-Men franchise, which she essentially took over from another bi-racial actress Halle Berry, who inhabited the older version of the mutant in earlier films.

As with most controversies — the starting point was Twitter where a fan enthusiastically expressed how dope it would be if the new Disney acquisition of Fox could inspire the teaming of Storm and Thor.

Shipp was all for it and tweeted her approval, which incited the disapproval of another user and hence re-activated the never-ending battle of dark versus light:

Shipp has every right to feel slighted and defensive — when you consider the public way she was shamed for her “racial ambiguity.” However, her claim of being a victim of racism definitely elevates the tension that exists within a community that is still reeling from the longstanding effects of slavery.

We were taught to abhor the darkest skin, wooly hair and eyes that don’t sparkle like jewels — and the ritual of self-hate has remained vitally destructive without fail as we continue to maintain levels of self-denial that permeate through the insecurities of generations.

The tweet that shamed Shipp is harshly representative of the frustration that most of us harbor against the systematic abuse that has historically devalued the worth of people that aren’t considered globally viable. Shipp’s response is the indicator of how those who share her genetic makeup are incapable of truly comprehending the vast extent of their privilege.

It’s absolutely a fact that darker-skinned women have a much harder time demonstrating their appeal for the glory of infinite stardom.

The music industry has never hidden it’s biases when it comes to marketing superstars of color that almost always have to share the same makeup as Toni Braxton, Aaliyah, Beyonce, Alicia Keys, Ciara, Rihanna, etc in order to achieve the full approval of executives who need the reassurance of their investments.

If you’re in doubt of this theory cross-check the physical metamorphosis of Lil’ Kim — who despite her reign as the foremost female rapper of her time — still succumbed to the pressures of being too “Black” for comfort.

The hate is real

It’s worth noting that the music world does have the capacity to make room for the talents that are too damn remarkable to overlook. Lauryn Hill comes to mind and her prolific career is also proof that darker-skinned acts have to be absolutely stellar to warrant such attention — while lighter-skinned counterparts can rely mostly on sex appeal.

Male stars of hip-hop and rap — particularly from my era of the eighties, nineties and beyond rarely featured dark-skinned women in their music videos. It was mostly a sea of scantily girls of various degrees of multi-ethnicity and maybe a handful of “regular Black girls” thrown in for good measure.

The film industry and the landscape of television has proven to be much worse in the realm of recognizing and affording opportunities to actresses of color who are saddled with the responsibilities that accompany their undeniably potent melanin.

Shipp, can label herself “a strong black woman,” but in reality her template gives her the opportunities that someone who looks like me can never garner — regardless of how much more experienced or talented we are in comparison.

You have to consider that if Shonda Rhimes willingly created Grey’s Anatomy with a White woman as the leading lady— that pretty much sums up how dire the circumstances have always been for Black women seeking to compete with fellow actresses who are automatically considered for roles that maximize their more digestible appeal.

Black male movie stars like Denzel Washington, Eddie Murphy, Will Smith and Idris Elba have famously been paired with White or lighter-skinned actresses who are either bi-racial or non-Black. If you check the filmography of each of these men — you will discover the truth and wonder if this was a choice they made or refused to challenge.

12 Years a Slave brought us Mexican-born Kenyan actress Lupita Nyong’o and her rise to the ladder of excellence was celebrated with a festive vibe that seemingly gave well-positioned editors permission to lavish praise and adulation in response to the shifting climate of acceptance. Suddenly Nyong’o became the poster girl of an aesthetic that had been righteously rejected due to the notion that ethnically-inclined features couldn’t translate into impressive business ventures for cosmetic giants.

Her much-heralded partnership with iconic beauty brand — Lancôme was monumental, but her career trajectory since winning her Best Supporting Oscar almost four years ago is still a bit of a mystery as we wait to see whether or not she can overcome the burden of being too dark and ethnic for high-profile casting that centers her visibility.

Lesser-talented actresses like Paula Patton have managed to score enviable gigs that were handed to them on a silver platter for obvious reasons. No matter how gorgeous Patton is — her physical attributes can’t compensate for her inability to rise to the occasion even though she’s been blessed with enough chances to do exactly that.

Patton killed the role in “Deja Vu” — and not in a good way

Shipp’s defiant response that captures her impatience with having to defend her blackness from those who are determined to downplay it — is the reason why the debate over Black versus “Black” will never die.

It’s not an easy exercise — ploughing through the wreckage of the thick dividers that separate — based on hair texture, nose bridge, eye shape, and the amount of creaminess in the tone that needs to match the dreams we wield.

The reality is that most Black men still carry the lust for women that situate their wealth in ways that exalt their exotic palette. Why settle for Black women when you can have a “Black” woman like Kim Kardashian who is the modernized version of that perfection?

Black woman alert!

Actresses like Shipp can remain in denial, but most of us are aware that dark-skinned actresses still aren’t feted in ways that sustain their durability.

They still don’t win leading roles opposite leading men, they aren’t considered bankable enough for box-office dominion or critically-acclaimed TV shows at top networks and the more Afro-centric the features — the more likely they are to be rooted at the sidelines.

Shipp won’t have to suffer that fate, which makes her blackness a maximized weaponry for her betterment — that’s why instead of a defensive stance — there has to be a realization on her part that allows for some empathy for those who can’t relate to her coveted status.

In order to see the light you must trudge through the darkness — and maybe when we make it out — we can stain each other with the markings of our freedom.

It’s long overdue.

Ezinne Ukoha

Written by

Juggling Wordsmith. I have a lot to say, so bear with me.

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