Isn’t All Black Beautiful?

When I traveled to Tennessee to meet my birth family I experienced being called names like; “lite-bright” and “High Yellow,” I later read that the term “redbone” would also apply to me. I saw a plethora of skin bleaching creams in the grocery stores. Isn’t it interesting that blacks can reap benefits from light-skinned privilege while being raised by white parents, and therefore being afforded some white privileges too? In that same vein, isn’t it odd that we slice and dice ourselves up so much that darker skinned people can be edited out of a conversation just because of the shade of their skin? Clearly there is some deep seated, likely genetically imprinted projections going on here dating back to slavery and the types of work slaves were ordered to do oftentimes based on the tone of their color. This photo of OJ Simpson is another demonstration of how skin tone was edited in an attempt to tap into our racial psyche. Presumably TIME was implying that the darker he looked the more guilty he may’ve been perceived.

I was not aware of the alienating adjectives that blacks use towards blacks until I traveled to the South. Is it because my parents didn’t introduce me to black culture? No. It’s simply because I was not raised in an area of the country where I often heard these terms. I did have experiences though that had I the vocabulary and the insight at the time, I could’ve grasped the full truth of what was going on.  For example, years ago I had a beautiful darker skinned friend who was offered a modeling contract, which at first was exciting as this was a dream of hers, but the excitement waned when she was routinely being called to audition for parts seeking an “exotic, african looking woman,” and never receiving any calls to play the girl next door. It was, and still is hard to fully grasp that preferential treatment can be given to some over something as trite as shade of skin tone, or hair type.

Through instances like these I was learning that some black people are not black enough, or on the flip-side (the side more commonly associated with white privilege, or middle class socioeconomic levels), you’re just black enough for me to feel comfortable around you, but not so dark skinned that I’m fearful and having Trayvon-Martin-like thoughts. Knowing this, why would we ask prospective adoptive families to check a box about which race they are open to parenting (one of the boxes being the overly simplistic label; “Black”) How can transracial adoptive parents of black children successfully parent these truths?

Perhaps a start is by coming to the realization that all black skin is not viewed equally in our society. Perhaps by looking inward and noticing ones own thoughts and feelings towards the different tones of skin of black people. These two suggestions may aid in an understanding that all trans-racial (African-American) adoption cannot be approached the same way. There is no one size fits all when it comes to us adoptees – we are as varied as the folks who are parenting us.

I’m looking forward to teaching a session on transracial adoption at the end of the month at the REFRESH conference where I can delve in to this topic a bit more and add the caveat that I don’t think that color victimization is a black only phenomenon. I think it happens cross racially.

13 thoughts on “Isn’t All Black Beautiful?

  1. Always grateful you share. As we navigate what it means to parent our African children, knowing they will soon also become African-American– I crave insight and important questions like yours. I also whole heartedly agree with your closing statement: “There is no one size fits all when it comes to us adoptees – we are as varied as the folks who are parenting us.” It’s this variety and connectedness, I believe, that creates so much beauty.


  2. I don’t think you analogy is accurate. Take, for example, the President of the United States. While he is “light skinned” and mixed he is still seen as black and for some, is seen as “less than.” Colorism within communities of color ( i.e. India, Asia, Latin American and the Caribbean) is prevalent. For example, to the majority of whites, black people with light skins are still seen as black and treated the same (no better). I think it is some people’s desire (people of color) to be seen as “different/better” because they feel they have the so-called white man’s blood in them. However, to the white man he does not see that-instead he sees a black person.


  3. Great point Andrea! I’m still exploring these perceptions and how different groups categorize. I do know, from personal experience, that there are terms that Blacks use towards Blacks denoting the tones do matter and serve to further splice us all up. Does that make sense?


  4. Hello:

    I ‘get” what you’re saying but please be aware while you ( general) may see yourself as “mixed or multi-racial” or “different”, other will see you as black ( which is nothing wrong with that-because black IS beautiful). I think some ( black folks) have such shame in being black that they think if they’re light they will be treated better by the whiteman-which we all know is far from correct. Its only within our own community that we display colorism


  5. Krysta, I appreciate your comment and consciousness about parenting your African children so please don’t take this as an affront. Something else to consider as they are growing up and especially as they get older and interact with Blacks and Africans. They won’t become African-American. That’s a term that refers specifically to Blacks born in America that are descendants of American slaves. Africans often take great offense at being called African-American because that is not their heritage or experience.


  6. No offense taken, at all– I appreciate this dialogue. I need this dialogue. Thank you, Patricia. Truly. Interesting, because as we embrace our children’s African culture (and we really do LOVE their culture), others have also encouraged us to remember that by and large American society will see our children as African-American (without knowing their history), and therefore it is important as their parents to think along those lines. I wonder how they will identify…


  7. When we replied to an adoption agencies website header 12 years ago that said, “Desperately seeking adoptive parents for full-black infants” we were shocked by several things they relayed to us. They repeatedly told us the baby who would become our daughter was dark, very dark. Then when we picked her up they told us they had families, presumably caucasian, who came in with paint chips – yes paint chips and said, “this color and no darker”. I was absolutely shocked as are most people when I tell the story. I was afraid to ask if they allowed those parents to adopt any children if they were that concerned about their shade, because I didn’t want to know the answer.


  8. Serial adopter, I just had to chime in when I saw your post. When we adopted our son four years ago at birth, we were sent basic details about his situation (as they called it) but one thing I clearly remember is that his birthmother was listed as African American, medium skin toned and beautiful. I recall thinking to myself, if this was a white birthmother and child that I could not imagine them sending her skin tone in the same way or at all and while it was true that she was beautiful, it hardly had anything to do with how she looked.

    Thank you Angela for your openness, your documentary and the truth. As an adoptive parent, parenting transracially, I appreciate the truth and so will my son.


  9. Angela that sounds like an interesting play. I read a great book this year “Cane River” that also discussed the shades of the children and one child who left the family as an adult to “pass” as white.
    To add to my last comment I forgot to mention that this adoption agency, which was in Michigan, not the deep south, had a price point difference for “full black”, “half black” and “full white” and you can guess that our daughter was half the price of her white counterparts at the time of placement 12 years ago. My understanding is that this practice no longer occurs, but 12 years isn’t that long ago in the grand scheme of racism.


  10. The importance of looks in how we judge people is very complex. The widely disseminated picture of Trayvon Martin, was actually him a few years before his murder. His face is soft and still had traces of the little boy to it. Initially, the media used a picture of him closer to the time of his murder at 17. He looks more angular and manly. I was confused when I saw the second picture in the news. I thought it was a different boy. Apparently those with the power thought the older Trayvon wasn’t the ‘right’ look for a victim, or for people to sympathize with. It seemed a sad commentary to me.


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