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Friday, April 29, 2011

Light Skinned/Dark Skinned- This crap makes me MAD.

There are topics that aggravate me. And then there are topics that enrage me. Like people bringing that light skinned/dark skinned nonsense into a discussion of my book covers.

Black people come in more than one skin tone and I try to showcase that diversity in my art. I am NOT color struck!

Now I can take critiques of my work on the merits of story and literary technique. But this Light Skinned Dark Skinned hangup some black people have insecurities about really just boils my blood.

Seriously, nonsense like this light skinned/dark skinned crap makes me want to get out of publishing and quit writing for African-American audiences.

I love Black women. If sistas don’t love themselves, then that’s not my problem. Get a therapist and deal with that shit.

I am not color struck, nor do I have a preference for light skinned women. Please do not project your color issues on me. Inspiration for art does not know color, and what motivates me to design what I design can vary on any given day.

The figures I drew on four of the five covers I’ve designed come in a variety of shades of brown. Just like black people come in a variety of shades of brown. There is no single definitive color for black people. Mixing light or dark peach with my brown colored pencils can give me a variety of African-American skin tones depending on the amount of pressure applied.

My imagination isn’t colored by race.

Besides, what the audience sees when they read my stories may not necessarily be what I drew on the cover.

And the color of Black people has nothing to do with the content of their character. I base many of the characters I write on research I’ve done on actors, dreams I’ve had, or people I’ve had personal experiences with.

I’ve met light skinned men and women who were aware of their black history and heritage but were extremely conservative in their dress and mannerisms and would go out of their way to help a brotha or a sista.

And I’ve met dark skinned men and women who preached pro-blackness and wore dashikis and Kente cloth but wouldn’t piss on another Black person who was on fire on their way to talk to a White person.

For me, being Black is not just a skin color. Because skin color doesn’t make you a true brotha.* Being African-American is about the ideas, beliefs, and culture that compose a person’s values. It’s those values inside a person that create someone’s Black identity, and each identity is as unique as a person’s fingerprints.

I write to showcase the diversity of those unique identities and experiences of African-Americans. I draw covers I feel tell stories about those experiences.

That art may not appeal to many brothers and sisters in the black community, but I feel the covers I present are an alternative to the stereotypes today’s publishers present regarding the lives and experiences of African-Americans. According to today’s mainstream publishers, all Black people are thugs, drug dealers, gang bangers and whores. Oh and Maids. Maids are big this year.

I’ve studied black history extensively. And life hasn’t been a bed of roses for either light skinned or dark skinned people of color. In this world, Black is still Black whether it’s café au lait or its charcoal grey. And discrimination is still practiced against the café au lait sista in the office or the charcoal brotha on the street to this day. Seriously, all this preferential treatment many sistas and brothas see with light skinned people getting is in their heads. Light skinned or Dark, go on down to Madison Avenue and walk in a store here in New York City like I have. Apply for a job or go on an interview. Work at a job Blacks are not “supposed” to work in. Or walk around in an unfamiliar neighborhood like Brooklyn Heights. Then you’ll find out how Black you are.

Dark skinned female slaves working in the field were raped by the Slave master just like light skinned slaves who worked in the house. In fact, light skinned women were often used as prostitutes and pimped out by the white master during slave times.

Dark skinned male slaves were beaten by the master just like light skinned house slaves who worked in the house. And those house Negroes didn’t have it so great after the Civil War.

People who bring up this light skinned dark skinned crap are the color struck ones to me. Because they reek of insecurity about their own racial identity, they can’t understand how like attracts like whether its black or white. It’s the values and personal beliefs people have in common that draw people towards each other, not the color of their skin.

Instead of complaining about the color of the people on my book covers maybe they ought to take a look in the mirror and examine the contents of their character.

* A line from from the lyrics of the hip-hop song Now's the B-Turn.


  1. I intended to save this for later reading but couldn't stay away. Oh, is this topic ever up my alley. It could not make you madder than it makes me. We're pissing away our lives and our heritage, and bigoted whites couldn't love it more when we meow and hiss about skin color. You don't need even a second to think that we're all in this boat together and we ought to be pulling all the oars to get out of the sorry mess we're in.

    Skin color is remarked on in all races, but in none other than ours have I found it so reprehensible and so stupid. We say we're Christians in which case God ceertainly made us all, and if He chose to make us in different hues, what possible importance can it have -- except in our own minds.

    Shawn, I personally would give you a major reward for this blog alone and I would publish and disseminate it in every possible venue. It's great writing and it makes for great reading.

    We all should pray for that time when we're growup enough to respond to others via their characters. I feel sorry for anyone who finds it impossible to do this.

    You're not the only one fed up with this destructive way of thinking. We're questioning and belittling God when we question our skin color.

  2. I just came across your website tonight and I'm glad I did. I'm a very fair skin black woman and I get sick of this light skin vs dark skin too. Some people spend so much time trying to fault others or accuse them of being color struck when they are not. If I were you I wouldn't change the shade of skin of my characters. You shouldn't have to justify what you do to anyone. It's a shame but most light skin women & men almost feel bad for being light skin because we are prejudged as being conceited or pretty boys at a first glance. When will we as a people get over this issue and start loving one another. We are all black and we come in different shades. If you had all dark skin characters on your covers, you wouldn't have received any negative comments. I just wanted to tell you to keep up the good work and I am looking forward to reading your work. God bless you.

  3. I have no intention of changing the skin color of my characters. What I imagine isn't based on color. The most important thing to me is conveying the contents of their character on the page.

    I feel this color issue is just nonsense. I really don't think it's fair that fair skinned brothers and sisters are judged as being concieted. Growing up I've learned most times this is what darker skinned people's imagine whata fair skinned person thinks of them, not what they actually are about. If brothers and sisters took the time to think past skin color and get to know each other we'd all have stronger relationships within the black community. It just frustrates me that people are still bringing this dark/light nonsense into things and just can't enjoy a good story.

  4. Hello Shawn,
    I would like to address one piece of this discussion. You are correct, light skinned as well as dark skinned black people have suffered discrimination and ridicule and I do not think people think it out clearly, actually. I would like to give those indivudals the benefit of the doubt who think that only dark skinned people have suffered historically and in the present day. I will associate their perspective to their ignorance of the "big picture." Now, let it be known that there are definately times when lighter skinned African-Americans may benefit from a certain "privilege" because of the lighter skin. Research has shown how some Whites have historically felt "safer" and less fearful of lighter skinned black individuals and more relctant and suspicious of bigger, darker indivudals (especially black men). Let's face a fundamental truth here, profiling is real, and it is not isolated to the Black community. Worldwide there are biases against darker skin. So, there is a real issue with skin color and the assignment of worth in our country. But for this discussion, my experiences, however, have allowed me to notice that African-American people are ridiculed and made fun of(especially by other black people)when they are on either end of the spectrum: the very light and the very dark. It seems that brown bag skin colored individuals in the mid-range have not suffered the severity and extreme skin color name calling at the same level (but they have suffered name calling because of their features or hair texture). I support your stance that at the end of the day, all were ENSLAVED, against their will; light and dark and all in between! We really are One people - One family. I have interviewed as many light skinned black people as dark skinned ones who have been called whitey, wanna-be, light bright, high yella, pinky, shade whitey, half-breed,house slave, and red-bone, which often carries a sexual overtone....shall we go on? Darker ones are called, spade, sambo, jigaboo, field slave and others. It is a travesty; a shameful disgrace. A name calling event is a name calling event: whether you're equated with a peace, lemon, or a black-berry. The point of the matter is, the name calling is intended to offend, and that hurts others, and indignifies the name caller. Check out the new [childrens's] book that just hit the online retail book stores: Dark Skin, Light Skin, Straight or Nappy: It's All Good. It celebrates all skin tones, features, hair textures and even provides positive and alternative ways to describe others of difference in the black community. I think it's more than a children's book's for adults just as much. So Shawn...dont let it get under your skin because there really are some light skinned black people who might really feel superior, just as there are dark skinned black people who feel superior to light skinned people. It is a mess, isn't it? The thing is, much yada-yada goes on about the problem, and it is still a huge distraction in America, but not enough attention to the solution. And there is a solution my brotha, and all of us are responsible to pull it off. Now I can see how the adage, "It takes a Village" rings loud here! We all gotta stop this's killing the kids, suffocating their self-esteem and affecting our future with increased division. And as my sons say: Real Talk.

  5. .

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    Information in the following
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