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Pet Sins January 2006

Are there still African cultures in which dark skin is prized?

A while ago, a friend of mine told me of an African woman who came to America to live a life quite opposite from her home. She was very light-skinned with fine features and her people wanted nothing to do with her. She came from a place where dark skin was the preference and she suffered socially as a result. Once she made it to The U.S. she discovered that there were men here who desired her. She slept with professional athletes, businessmen and nearly whomever she desired even for profit. I was curious to know what African societies are like hers today. So many people bleach their skin and honor light complexions in Africa that I have to wonder if they still exist.

Do you know of places in Africa where dark skin is still the preference? Please reply with these locations and the cultures within them. [Send comments to webmaster@colorq.org. We will compile and repost.]

BB, 2003

Comment from L.B., 3/2011

The country of Liberia in West Africa would be both a country and culture that prizes dark skin and doesn't admire or obsess with light skinned people of color to the extreme. Liberians respect white people and other people of color; of course Liberians also learned about the history and consequences of colonialism, racism, the colonial mentality of their neighbors, etc but they happy and confident with the skin they're in. :)

Ethiopia, one of the oldest country in the world: The Ethiopians come in all shades and hues of color so both dark and brown skin is prized.

I would also say, Sudan - more of Southern Sudan - where the different ethnic groups/tribes live. Despite the long Civil War between Northern and Southern Sudan, the South Sudanese are proud of who they are, their culture, language and skin and do not to buy into the "light is better, blah, blah," mantra of colonialism that other formerly colonized African countries do. Not only is dark skin prized, it is also seen as beautiful and a close connection to their fellow dark skin neighbors in Ugandan and Kenya if you fellow the Arab vs "black Africans" story of how North-South Sudan became enemies. By the way, most Sudanese who called themselves Arabs in Northern Sudan have dark skin! Strange world we live in.

Belize is another country in Central America where dark skin is prized and considered beautiful. The Garifuna, one of hundreds of ethnic groups in Belize, had ancestors who were slaves from Africa but also indentured servants from Jamaica and other Caribbean islands who wanted to keep as close a connection as possible to mainland Africa. They are proud of their African roots, culture, language, cuisine and see dark skin as a beauty standard to be proud of and not something to be ashamed of. Brazil is also one, despite the racism and preference for whites or light skin over dark skin. The Afro-Brazilians feel a deep connection to mainland Africa and try to keep that connection alive. San Salvador, the capital of Bahia, and Bahia state take pride in their Africanness. The Afro-Brazilians come in all hues and dark skin is prized by Brazilians who are reconnecting to their roots.