Black Like Me: When Light Skin Doesn't Feel Like a Privilege

Most of my life I’ve felt like a horse of a different color, a social misfit, a loner. You see I’m a Black person on the inside but not on the outside. I guess you can say, I’m African American by birth but choose to live as a Black person by choice. To help you understand what I mean, we have to go back to nineteen sixty something in Southwest Louisiana. At that time and in that place there where three kinds of Black people: Light, Bright and Darn Near White. This highly sophisticated classification was determined by the lightness or darkness of ones’ skin color as it compared to a paper bag. Yes, I said a paper bag. As misfortune would have it, my skin color was much lighter than a paper bag which placed me into the Darn Near White category.

During the very young years of my life I didn’t even notice how white I looked to other people. I’m from a rather large family where everyone else looked just like me. We didn’t focus so much on whose skin was light or dark or whose hair was straight or curly. We were just people who liked being together and having fun. In my mind’s eye we were just another typical Black family. And then I went to school. It was at school that I felt the first pains of being different. I started to develop negative feelings about my appearance and a disconnection between me and “real” Black people. Looking back, I now know a lot of those feelings where just insecurities in my own head, but at the time they felt very real.

As I got older, it became increasingly more important to me to fit the norm of what it meant to “look Black.” I remember when I was ten years old I begged and begged my mother to comb my hair with five braids instead of my usual one long ponytail. I wanted one braid in front, two on the sides and two in the back, just the way all the other little Black girls wore their hair. First off, my mother had five girls with long hair to comb for school in the morning. I had to wait last as she hurriedly combed my sisters’ hair and then gave me the five braids I requested. As soon as she finished combing my hair, I rushed to the mirror to take a look. Wow, I thought. I look just like a Black girl. Surely, the other little Black girls will like me better now. Instead, when I arrived at school, I was met with anger and resentment. Crossed arms and cruel eyes peered at me like I had stole something and should confess and give it back.

Sadly, this is only one of many stories I can tell about growing up Black like me. For years I tried everything to fit in - from wearing too dark makeup to frying the hair off my head with a pressing comb trying to make it curly. Nothing ever worked and I always ended up looking foolish, like a White girl trying too hard to “be Black.”

I’m sure it was not until my mid thirties that I finally came to terms with my White looks and my Black heritage. What I discovered with age is being Black is not a look or a color, but rather it’s a deep rooted feeling inside ones’ soul that could never be destroyed or taken away. It’s like Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz who only had to click her heels and believe in order to return home. All those wasted years I was Black all along, all I had to do was believe it.

Today, I’m still a horse of a different color, but I am no longer a misfit or a loner. My skin color is still lighter than a paper bag and my hair is still straight and long. But deep down inside, in the parts that matter the most, resides the heart and soul of a Black woman. A woman I’ve grown to accept and love just the way she is, a beautiful person who makes me proud to spell my name, w-o-m-a-n, a wonderful human being who just happens to be Black Like Me.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Adrienne C. Reynolds is a supporter of all women. She is a free lance writer whose stories are always personal and from the heart. Adrienne works as a Testing Specialists for Broward County Schools, Florida where she resides with her husband, Juacane and children, Jade and Kyan. You can contact Adrienne at

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