Here Are Some Insults Too Many Black People Have Heard. Who Said Them Might Surprise You.

I'll never forget in elementary school, after coming back from a long weekend at the beach, my classmates called me "burnt French toast" because my skin had gotten so dark. I remember being upset not just because they were making fun of my skin, but mostly because I really liked my skin and couldn't understand why being darker was suddenly a bad thing. The fact that black people come in so many shades is incredibly beautiful but sadly has always come with its own complications. This short documentary explores some of the stereotypes associated with different skin tones along with the effects of colorism in the black community.

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I have been called a lot of different names relating to skin color, and I always find it fascinating that most of the time, people think that the things that they are saying are a compliment. Even when I find them to be like really offensive.

I started this semester. People come up to me and like try to like get at me I guess, you could say. They would say like, "You're pretty to be dark-skinned." And like, "You're the first dark-skinned girl I've talked to." Like and they think that as a compliment, but it's really insult to me as a person, like, are you saying compared to a light-skinned girl, I'm not as pretty?

I think when you talk about the experiences of people of African descent in this country, who have been through enslavement and been through all types of Jim Crowism and residential segregation, you know, and school segregation, it's that it plays out within our communities as well.

What names are hard to describe? African-Americans.

Light-skin, dark-skin.

And then, within the light, there's light bright.

Light bright.

Light bright.

Light bright and almost white.










High yellow.

High yellow.

Probably the most inflammatory that I remember being called, piss-colored.

Piss-colored yellow.

Piss-colored, yellow. Actually, I thought I was dark-skinned until I went down south. They called me a red bone down there. They said, "Oh, you red!"

Red bone.

Red bone.

Red bone.


Yellow bone.


Food analogies, chocolate, cocoa.


Chocolate, caramel.


White chocolate, cocoa.

They had this weird name in school like caramel pops.


Coffee colors, mocha, mocha choca latte.

Cinnamon, caramel, all that.

Mahogany, ebony. I mean there's some really beautiful ones.

And then, of course, on the darker end of the spectrum, there's all the more derogatory terms like darkie.




Jet black.

Blue black.

Blue black.

Blue black, tar baby.




Midnight black.

Boo boo black.

The black as night, the black as shit.

Specifically, when you talk about the experiences of black folks, of African-Americans in this country, although there are some very kind of uniform experiences, there's all types of experiences that are dictated by color and by hue.

I think people of different skin colors definitely get treated differently.

In our society, generally, light-skinned girls are considered prettier.

Among women, there's this pecking order sometimes.

I know dark-skinned girls talk about it all the time.

I would get told, "You know, you're pretty for a dark girl."

Boys make it clear like, "I like light-skinned girls."

So, I always was aware of being more dark or being on that end of the spectrum I'll say, as not being something as desirable.

If you're lighter, that's a preferable thing.

My dark-skinned friends always have that issue where they feel like, the light-skinned friends in the group got the one-up on them when we go out. When there's men, you know, looking at, you know, the clique like, "Who do I want to talk to?" Sometimes, they feel like they're overlooked for lighter girls and sometimes they are.

I don't discriminate but, you know, I see a lot of light skin. You know, they always do their thing. Seems like a lot of light-skinned always get cute and dress up.

The light-skinned girls were always like the cute girls, like the cute girls that everyone was trying to holler at. It was acceptable if you were dark-skinned, if you were thick.

But I definitely love my dark-skinned ladies too.

Then the young brothers would be on the dark-skin thick sisters. The darker you were, the more objectified you were as a female.

I think some of the values that people have around skin color are really crazy.

The light-skin guy's the pretty boy. All the girls want him, but then the dudes think that he's soft. The dark-skin dude is cool with all the guys, but the girls don't really want him because they think that he's uglier, the darker that he is.

People have a thing in their mind that light is more attractive.

When I meet with a woman, they just always after the light-skin guy in the group. I approach a female like, "What's up girl? Whoa-whoa-whoa..." She like, "Ooh, who is that over there?"

I have seen some ugly mofos that dark-skinned girls have drooled over just because they were light-skinned, and I'm looking like, "Are we looking at the same dude? He is ugly!"

It used to be that, you know, you'd get more flair and you'd get a job if you were more light-skinned. But also though, if you weren't black enough, that would also work against you too, because sometimes people really wanted someone who's really dark-skinned, which is their way of saying, "You're black." Because if you're light-skinned, you're not necessarily black.

Light-skinned black men have like a certain type of being more militant because like they're over-compensating for not being as black as a dark-skinned man or...

I've always said, "I like my men like I like my coffee," which is black. There's that expression, "The darker the berry, the sweeter the juice." So, sometimes that's like a positive thing. A person with really dark skin, they can be like really... If it's a guy, it's a positive thing if they're dark.

There's like an urban legend that the dark you are, the bigger package you have.

When it comes to color with the light-bright thing or high-yellow, sometimes it gives that connotation this person's better.

"She thinks she white," you know, it's not even like a name, it's just an expression, "She thinks she white."

But you get, you know, categorized as having to be a certain way or having a certain attitude.

That must be my mentality, if that's what I look like.

But I think it also depends on how they present, how they, you know, manifest or carry themselves in the world, and that could have something to do with whatever internalized stuff they have going on, or it could have to do with the ways that color can be currency. How, you know, whatever it is, you know, this ranking or this meaning that's attached to how we look.

I'm thinking about my brothers. Riccardo or Richard, very dark, beautiful, smart, intelligent, much brighter than I was till day one... "I mean I could amount to anything. Look at you, you don't look clean," you know, because of the color of the skin. He's born with that skin color. What does that have to do with his being able to be successful? And I think about how he internalized it all, and he actually spent most of his life in prison.

There's this something related to color that we have bought as a society. Across the board, that somehow associates excellence, associates promise, associates possibilities, associates competence, intelligence, worthiness, with a lighter hue. And somehow, the darker you are, the less likely you are to be of any asset or let alone contribution or success in society.

There may be small errors in this transcript.

This short documentary was created by Reginald James and features faculty and students from Laney College. Thumbnail via Thinkstock.

Aug 03, 2014

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