A few days ago I was in an office with a colleague of mine who was in the midst of a bantering session with two of the women who work there.
"Why did you not wish me a happy new year?," the woman sitting closest to me said to my colleague who was standing directly opposite to the second woman in the office.
"I was about to get to you," he replied with affected kindness in his voice as he walked over to her station.
"Oh I don't believe you. You like only the white ones," she shot back laughing loudly.
I looked closer at the women trying to remain as invisible as possible.
Both were black. The woman my colleague was initially chatting to was somewhat lighter but not by much.
Before I could finish my thoughts a third woman appeared at the door to the office.
My colleague turned to her and said with produced charm: "And how are you today?"
"You see I was right about you liking the white ones among us," the first lady said.
He was in a quandary. And by himself I might add, I don't roll like that ;)
The playful interaction reminded me of a time at Howard University when I asked a young black woman a question about my loan status by referring to a previous conversation I had with another woman at the same office.
"What was her name," she barked at me from behind a counter.
"I don't remember ever getting her name but she works here," I replied.
"Was she light-skinded or dark-skinded," she barked back without missing a beat.
"She is black," I said with annoyance as the woman rolled her eyes.
We were going nowhere and I limped out of that conversation.
The thing about being fair/light skinned is that it is a marker of beauty among people of color (sorry for the lame term but it is better than non-white).
In India they sell all kinds of cosmetics that claim to lighten the skin of women and men.
I remember an advert like this one below that infuriated the hell out of me:
I also remember the kind young man who sold me my veggies in Delhi. He commented that my skin, after a trip to the cold region of Kashmir, appeared so much lighter.
"You are handsome now and not dark," he said with a smile.
Muslimah Media Watch provides a link to an interesting article in Arab News entitled "Anything for fair skin, even SR30,000 placenta shot!"
The article says that Saudi women want fair/light skin and will do most anything to achieve this beauty standard.
The same is true for the Kimberley community I grew up in.
Fair/light skin and hair texture (straight over kinky) denotes beauty. Skin lighteners, or rather bleaches, are still commonly used even though laws restrict their use.
The quest to be white or to appear more than just a dark "Other" contains a minefield of contradictions that defies easy generalizations about racial identification among people of color.
The contradictions persist even after the colonial fact and often in the total absence of whites.
But perhaps therein lies the rub of the matter.
Inferiority is a socio-political and historical coding that exists/persists despite the presence/relativity of whiteness or white people.
That is what the banter in that office underlined. Black or brown beauty is open to contestation of the 'white kind' even where whiteness/whites are absolutely absent.
Now see this final advert by "Emami Skin Lightening" featuring Indian leading man Shahrukh Khan (an annoying ass and product 'ho in my opinion):
Makes my head hurt something fierce because we are still so preoccupied and enslaved by sexism, racism, casteism, or combinations/intersections thereof.