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Too Black

How European beauty standards destroyed the little black kid that I was

By Carl L LanePublished 3 months ago 5 min read
Top Story - November 2023
Too Black
Photo by Justin Essah on Unsplash

I was pretty dark, even for a black kid, and the Texas sun I grew up playing in didn’t move me any closer to what the TV and the magazines said was beautiful. In elementary school, I was the constant subject of children’s jokes that began, “You’re so black that…”

But we were black in a world that wanted only white. Even if the white had to be tanned, it was still not black. It was still not of the people that had been called savages. A Latino or an Asian or a native, was not white, but at least they were not black.

And if you were black, but your skin was closer in tone to not black, than it was to BLACK, you had been smiled upon. But me? I was black black, undeniably black, you look like one of them Africans, black. And America never let me forget it.

A guy who was dark black, if he were able, would likely find a girl with a lighter complexion to marry so that he could have the girl who looked closest to the white women, that the world said were what it meant to be beautiful. Then his kids wouldn’t be as black as he; they wouldn’t have to suffer the same abuse that he had.

Maybe he’d find a brave white woman and be assured of it.

As I took those first, terrifying steps into adolescence, and nervously asked those first girls for the coveted phone numbers they awarded to the worthy, many laughed at the idea of them dating someone so dark. And each time, I crawled a little further into myself. Hiding.

And years later, when the girls started to claim that the light-skinned boys were all conceited, the damage had long since been done. I couldn’t hear the ones who now claimed that I was cute. Those of us who had been called black ass boys or girls, were either mean with bitterness or torn to shreds by the insults of a world that worshiped everything that we were not.

I used to hear old folks talk about the paper bag test from their younger years, where if your skin was the color of a paper bag or lighter, it was possible for you to be beautiful, handsome. If it was darker than the paper bag, you were unacceptable. You would need to become wealthy by the standards of black men or be abnormally tall or exceptionally handsome to talk a mate into the idea of you.

The dark girls grew up jealous of the way the world worshipped the light-skinned girls and beat them when they could. A light-skinned boy who was a six, instantly became an eight because of the tone of his skin.

Years ago, they had been the children the slave masters made when they raped black women. They had been the ones who worked in the house of the plantation, dressed in the master’s old clothes. Given extra food. Allowed to learn to read.

The dark ones, the black black ones, had worked the fields until every part of them was broken. The enslavers had favored the ones who looked most like them. And a couple hundred years of that leaves permanent scars.

So, we who had failed the paper bag test, were at the mercy of our examiners. The very eyes with which we gazed hopefully into morning’s mirrors, had been made to hate our own reflections.

We hoped to grow to be rich men, who could get a light-skinned girl to marry and change the world for us. We were the most hated of the most hated. The last chosen. The unwanted.

There was a day when I was a young boy. I was playing with two of my friends who lived on the same street as me. When we were hot from running around, we went to the house of one of the two other boys who were both of lighter skin tones than I. His mother had offered us cold sodas.

His mother had a friend over who looked down at the three of us, standing at the front door, waiting for our drinks. “You are such a cute little boy,” the lady said to one of my light-skinned friends, then, “and you too!” Smiling brightly, to the other. Then she looked down at me, black black, and she said nothing. She turned and walked into the house without a word. Silent, loudly so. The other boys laughed.

I was maybe eight or nine then, but I still know where the scars are. These are the residues of slavery and the fact that we’ve had to spend all those years since in a society where we are the other.

We knew of no world where we were beautiful. We knew of no eyes that could see it. We were the leavings of the world, what was left when you couldn’t get what you wanted. We were the children you could barely see in yearbook photographs, because the photographer wasn’t used to taking pictures of little black black kids.

We had been given death before life. Wrapped in our own burden.

It is like a cut where the blood never clots. It just bleeds and bleeds forever.


About the Creator

Carl L Lane

English degree with a creative writing minor. Published in The Ampersand Review, The Bayou Review, etc. 2012 winner of The Fabian Worsham Creative Writing Prize. Also a member of Sigma Tau Delta, the international English honor society.

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Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!

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    Niche topic & fresh perspectives

  2. Compelling and original writing

    Creative use of language & vocab

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Comments (25)

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  • Alison McBainabout a month ago

    This was brutally honest and raw. Thank you for sharing this.

  • tarun bhatt3 months ago

    Beautiful written story with a lot of pain in it. I am brown skinned who have lived in European countries and is in Australia. I am an India some have seen colorims and racism from close quarters. Been a victim myself many times but due to a personal Incident, I have seen another angle of colorims rasicms or bullying of.minorities. have published my thoughts here.

  • Jerry Liang3 months ago

    Mhmm, is being beautiful such an important thing? But I suppose a child needs some kind of affirmation. It never fails to amaze me how unbalanced the world really is. Nobody bothers to educate children on the duality of the universe. Just like a hill does not have an inherent uphill-ness or down-hillness to it until being traversed, every quality of virtue has their own vices and every quality of vice has their own virtue. What seems to enable life (beauty as a prime example) is one of the major reasons why murder, rape, slander occur in the world. If only people start teaching neutrality again, maybe life will be much gentler and much more permissive than modern environments. And no, I'm not saying teach children that everyone is beautiful because beauty loses its value in such a non-committal lie. I'm saying teach children to appreciate that others will always receive more compliments, always receive more things. But with every compliment, there comes an expectation and every expectation, a weight to crush the soul. With every gift, there comes an intention and every intention, an influence to bind, to shape, and to manipulate. Strive to center oneself on one's own weight rather than what others think they should weigh. And if one is stuck in an environment where it's impossible to have peace, it's time to move. It's worth more to have inner peace than hanging on to a little scrap of the world that we are used to. Hope you and your society will one day come out of the obsession with beauty. All the best.

  • Hope Martin3 months ago

    Congrats on Top Story. I love the raw truth of this. But the real irony of it all is... I mean visually speaking.... darker skinned people are more appealing to look at. And in many cultures around the world - evil spirits and demons have been represented with white skin.

  • Cathy holmes3 months ago

    Wow. This is so beautifully written, and so heartwrenching. Congrats on the TS.

  • KJ Aartila3 months ago

    Wow! This is very well-written and makes me sad for your childhood. So thought-provoking, as well - thanks for sharing this!

  • Thavien Yliaster3 months ago

    I'm mixed, but I've been not Black enough and too Black at the same time as well. This hit hard. Especially when that one lady acknowledged Your existence, but didn't affirm You right to exist. "If You don't have something nice to say, then don't say anything at all," did not apply there. Her silence spoke volumes of her disgustingly disgustful disgust filled hatred. It was as if she wanted to make sure that You were treated lesser by raising up Your friends around You with such praise only to fall short of doing the same for You. I will say that racism and colourism still exist and that generational scars have been left, but we cannot keep blaming archaic slave owners for the hate that we perpetuate against one another. For just like history and how we were treated back then by others, we need to learn that sometimes we treat each other on levels that are only skin deep in these modern times. I won't deny that pain can be passed from one time period to the next, but that we need to learn and decipher whether we're using times from back then as a scapegoat to cover up our prejudices today or if it's an unknown bias that lies within us that's more than skin deep. The cut that never clots dies the ocean red with blood. As the vitriol we release against one another is a tsunamic devastating flood. Bone density, height, weight, anthropometric data, and skin. Yet even with those differences we're all human with varying levels of melanin.

  • Donna Gerard3 months ago

    Sad for you. Even sadder for humanity. We are so superficial and cruel. And I'll bet your story is played out in some way in every time and place. Just awful. Thank you for sharing.

  • Jazmine King3 months ago

    I’m glad you also noted the colorist part of being black

  • The Dani Writer3 months ago

    Your detailed explanation and backstory handled this issue with just the right touch. An opening for all those who didn't have a clue before, to get it. They might get it and might not like it, or try to drown it out, but they'll get it nonetheless. THAT era. Emblazoned through our psyches and souls. What was considered beautiful and what was not. The healing that left scar tissue that makes people uncomfortable. Wince even. But it has to be spoken about and the story must be told. How else can one appreciate in 360-degree fullness the way I love the darkest skin among us. How the melanin speaks unfiltered truths and a divinity that won't wait a minute. That like the sun, it would blind you if you stared at it for too long. So people lied. Never look. Cooked up glitzy ad campaigns. Wielded power and control over consumer choices. Bullied us into belief of what was attractive. Boy, are they eating crow now. I can roll around in the aura of melanin-rich concentration Thank you Brotha!

  • Andrea Corwin3 months ago

    This is a beautiful story and I applaud you. It is truth to its core showing the racism within the racism. This: She turned and walked into the house without a word. Silent, loudly so. The other boys laughed. Astoundingly put. How words from childhood that hurt stay with you no matter your age. The fact that photographers didn’t know (perhaps many still don’t) how to use lighting or the sun’s angle to ensure a dark face shows in a photo. The fact is that slavery is still occurring now and continues to impact the world. I hope that people who have not seen or do not believe racism exists read your story and feel the impact from your eyes. Your story is personal so its impact is deeper; your examples show the true impact. (P.S. I am in 35+ yr mixed-marriage so I read this with a different focus than many.)

  • Sara Frederick3 months ago

    Thank you for writing this.

  • Leslie Writes3 months ago

    Excellent piece. That part about that neighborhood adult singling you out like that is so messed up. I'm sorry for what you have been through.

  • Davina Z. McKee3 months ago

    This was so well written. Sobering, but necessary. Colorism exists within many ethnicities, and it blows my mind the way racism is internalized and perpetuated among those who are not white. But as you said: “A Latino or an Asian or a native, was not white, but at least they were not black.” This is why my best friend here at university hates the term “people of color.” Well, she does for several reasons. She says it’s “colored people” repackaged, with a modern spin, but still just as derogatory. She also says it’s an attempt to lump black people in with other groups, so they’ll be distracted fighting battles that do not concern them. Meanwhile, racism is far greater for people of African descent than any other group in the world.

  • Rachel Deeming3 months ago

    This was raw. I feel shame for my ancestors reading it. Luckily, I am not them and do not carry prejudice forward. However, I can never know how it feels to be marginalised, dismissed, pushed aside because of the colour of my skin and the scars that inflicts. I have experienced humiliation and cruelty and can draw on those emotions to understand your experience but it's not the same. Congrats on TS. I read your achievements in your bio and how your writing has brought you success. Hopefully, it helps too to get past the past, if indeed that's possible.

  • G. A. Botero3 months ago

    Great piece.

  • Md. Shaharul Alam3 months ago


  • Naveed 3 months ago

    Bravo! Your hard work is paying off—keep it up, congratulations!

  • Babs Iverson3 months ago

    Pure authentic writing!!! Congratulations on Top Story!!!❤️❤️💕

  • Lamar Wiggins3 months ago

    "Black is beautiful." Growing up I used to wonder the same things. Most of my cousins were darker than me but I never saw the difference until I got older and began to read Ebony and Jet magazines. Then I saw "Roots" for the first time. It opened up a world unknow to me at the age of 10 or11. I had no Idea we were slaves in the past. The struggle is real. Poverty is real. Inequality is real. Are we headed in the right direction? Who knows... Thank you so much for sharing this piece of you. It speaks volumes. 💖

  • J. S. Wade3 months ago

    Brutal truths so transparently expressed that leaves me deservedly bleeding with you with each just cut. I see you Carl.

  • Jollyoddbod Poetry3 months ago

    'We had been given death before life. Wrapped in our own burden', this line holds immense power. Raw, honest and deep - this is well deserving of a top story Carl. Congratulations & well done!

  • Melissa Ingoldsby3 months ago

    Truly a gorgeous piece of visceral emotional intelligence, a brilliant piece

  • Global shows3 months ago

    I really appreciate your writers keep it up do subscribe because you're a good writer

  • Celia in Underland3 months ago

    This is so disturbingly, tragically honest. Beautiful but devestating. I can wish but in my paper-bagless whiteness my wishes are of no consequence, and for that I am sorry 🤍

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