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Beyoncé recently released the album The Lion King: The Gift. One of the tracks that instantly became iconic — yes, iconic — was the song "Brown Skin Girl."
Beyoncé, a Black woman on the light skin spectrum with a daughter also on the light skin spectrum, released a song about brown skin girls. The lyrics make it clear that she is not referring to all Black women shades, but those on the dark skin spectrum. We see the women she pays homage to — Naomi Campbell, Lupita Nyong'o and Kelly Rowland. She also sings melanin too dark to throw her shade. This is no love song for Black women on the light skin spectrum. No, it is for all the brown skin Black girls and women, the dark skin girls like Lupita, Naomi etc. who have to fight harder for recognition than their light skin counterparts.
Colorism is real. I am a light skin Nigerian who has seen firsthand how my light skin has given me unfair advantages with a little bit of disadvantages too. But for the most part, unfair advantages over my dark-skin counterparts. I am referred to as Omo Pupa, a Yoruba term for light skin women, with admiration. There is even a song called "Omo pupa," where the crooner sings that he only wants light skin girls. Nigeria is Africa’s highest consumer of skin-bleaching products, a lot often harmful because of their high mercury and hydroquinone content. Women in Africa who are dark skin often face unspoken pressure to bleach their skins. You see women talk about going two, three or even four shades lighter rather than being in love with their beautiful brown or dark skins. Even as a light skin Black woman, I have often put myself under unnecessary pressure to not go even a shade darker. It was not until recently that I eschewed all lightening skincare products to embrace my African skincare products which I now make myself. I gave myself permission to not pressure myself into playing a role in colorism. I often used to believe that I had to marry a light skin man so my daughter would definitely be light skin. I have seen women with dark skin daughters express wishes that their daughters were light skin, and would often feel pity for those poor daughters whose self-esteem was already being damaged unknowingly by their mothers.
I had to take a long hard look at my own desires to ensure that I had a light skin daughter and how I too had become part of endorsing colorism. I have a dark skin mother who I consider beautiful. And I realised that by bowing to my society’s belief that light skin was more beautiful than dark skin, I was rejecting, in essence, my mother’s beauty. There are a lot of beautiful dark-skin people in Africa as well as a lot of beautiful light skin people, but our society has become largely colorist because we have subconsciously imbibed western values that white is beautiful and the closer you are to that spectrum the more beautiful you are.
Beyoncé’s "Brown Skin Girl" song, an unapologetic anthem for brown skin and dark skin Black girls and women, is socially relevant because now these beautiful black women can remind themselves of the beauty in their shade of melanin. The fact that Beyoncé, a light skin Black woman and the world’s most powerful performer, took a backseat to dark skin Black women will do wonders for our Black sisters who have been maligned by society’s need to embrace all things white. It will also allow a little brown or dark skin girl growing up and seeing, for the most part, only light skin Black women touted as beauties have unmistakable joy and pride in her own brown skin. It will allow her come to the realisation that she too is a beauty and that her complexion is worth celebration. It is a love letter to dark skin Black women who have long been left out of conversations and denied a seat at the table of representation. If I have a dark skin daughter someday, it will be my love song to her — a reminder that she is a dark skin beauty.
Therefore, this light skin girl cover song and light skin girl challenge in response to the beautiful brown skin challenge has angered me — yes, even as a light skin woman. It is hypocritical, oppressive and reeks of privilege. We as light skin black women know deep down that we have unfair advantages over our dark skin counterparts. This is not to say that we are not brilliant. I consider myself a brilliant woman. This is not to say that we are not incredible, decent people. I consider myself the aforementioned. I am aware that my light skin confers on me privileges that my fellow dark skin Nigerian might be denied. After all, even in Nigerian media there are more light skin Nigerian women occupying these spaces. In our entertainment industry, more light skin Nigerians are given a seat at the table faster. Our Nigerian musicians, even Wizkid, who sang alongside Beyoncé in this ode to dark skin women, are more likely to use light skin black women or white women as their video vixens, further entrenching the belief that this should be the standard of beauty. This song was, hence, an opportunity for brown skin and dark skin Black girls and women to shine and to be the stars for once. I mean even Beyonce took a back seat to them. And in our creating a light skin girl challenge or cover, we have become a part of this oppressive culture, denying them the opportunity to shine — telling them that we will discourage them from shining. We are confining them to spaces where they cannot dominate the conversation — as has been the case. This is oppressive.
Furthermore, it reeks of privilege — the freedom that we as light skin women take upon ourselves to occupy spaces where we should not. It is hypocritical because we know as light skin women that we have far more representation than our dark skin Black sisters. So in not letting them have this moment all to themselves, we have become sanctimonious in our refusal to see that our dark skin Black sisters need this song and this challenge to boost their representation.
This song is for dark skin Black women, and while I sing to it with joy, I have not even for once thought of joining the brown skin challenge. I know even as I sing to it that this song is an ode not to me, but to my dark skin sister. In singing this song I imagine that I, like Beyoncé, am taking a back seat to them and joining in celebration of the melanated sisters with melanin too dark to throw them shade.