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“So, What Are You?!” Light-Skinned Women Talk About the Question they Get Asked the Most



Light Skin OWN Documentary - BellaNaija - January2015

Race is such a huge issue, and with Bill Duke‘s new documentary “Light Girls“, showing on the OWN Network, more aspects of the controversial topic are being raised – like being questioned about your race.

In a clip, actress Tatyana Ali, journalists, business owners and other women who have light skin disclosed that the question they are most often asked is “what are you?”.

One of the participants, Journalist, Soledad O’Brien recalls an incident where she was about to buy a coat and got asked what she was at the check out counter.When she replied that she is black, the sales person refused to believe her. “She said, ‘No, no, you’re not black. Because black people are thieves. So, what are you?'”. “I remember thinking, ‘Wow, I love this coat, And now I have to put this coat back.””.


Jennifer is the Beauty Editor & Style Representative of Get in touch - Send an email to: beauty(at) or style(at) | Follow us on Instagram: @bellanaijabeauty OR @bellanaijastyle | Follow us on Twitter: @bellanaijastyle


  1. fleur

    January 28, 2015 at 7:56 pm

    Recently at a meeting in the states I met a Kenyan woman. I am light skinned and I was wearing a long weave. But I am so light skinned, people think the weave is my hair. Anyway, because of the organization I represented at the meeting, she came to me during the break and said something like “you are lucky to have white blood. At least it has helped you to get to your position quickly. Black people like us have to struggle a lot in this country.” I looked at her completely taken aback and offered by way of explanation that first, I was not in my position because of color. I provided her with a long narrative of my journey from fast food industry to my position. Second, that I have no trace of white in my family line. Instead we have a recessive gene in my mother’s lineage and also in my father’s lineage that combined, gives me my as-some-would-say exotic looks. My siblings are all dark although we look alike. She was not convinced. It is sad that even for us black people, we allow the “what” that was defined by oppressors to inform how we view ourselves. I must confess that I get away with certain company and asks for not looking very black. So I am not trying to say that prejudice does not exist. It is a reality and I can tell when I benefit from being light skinned. You will be surprised that the worst oppressors in this arena are black people – you and I.

    • ghQ

      January 29, 2015 at 4:15 pm

      Black people are not the only ones guilty of this.
      My husband is Latino and white and he truly believes that light skinned black people are not “true” black but are always mixed with something. I told him that there are different colors and in the African race, from the North African Arab looking folk, to the dark bluish toned Nubian of Sudan. Heck, even the Igbos can look really light when it comes down to it.
      Regardless he is not convinced. He really believes black people can come in one color. Which I believe is incredibly stupid, though he is not a stupid man!

      My point is, race is really imbued in our society to such a sub conscious level that we do not even realize it when we are being ignorant.

    • Ifakunle

      January 29, 2015 at 4:46 pm

      God Bless You Madamme.

      My Mum, Younger Sister and Younger Brother are extremely light skin but but i have discovered that our society actually gives more priviledges to lighter skin tones e.g more chance of mating etc. I and my elder sister are 3 shades darker and i can tell you that seen Light Skin priviledge at a first hand scenario. You see most female commentators who on youtube protest for the right of dark skinned beauty to be represented in nigerian MVideos are The Same Culprits Of Colorism Against Men In Mating. We get what we put out in life and i’m a staunch believer in the concept of Karma. For every act of prejudice one partakes in e.g colourism,Classism,Racism,Tribalism,Nepotism etc; one will get equal prejudice in a different way. Let’s fight against the prejudice in us. God Bless

  2. @edDREAMZ

    January 28, 2015 at 7:56 pm

    I need to check on youtube nw….

  3. BN

    January 28, 2015 at 8:50 pm

    BN you are so late on this issue this came on two weeks ago. I thought you guys were going to post this but you didnt.
    I will tell you though since I am a light skinned sista. I will say we don’t have it as bad as our darker hue sisters but it is there. When this doc premiered they were saying why did they even make this. they don’t know the struggle. NO LIKE SERIOUSLY WHO ARE YOU TO SAY YOUR STRUGGLE IS WORSE THAN THE NEXT WOMAN. I remember this guy told me I was a species because i had really big lips but i was light skinned. like he said was God confused. Men i cried that day. I’m light skinned and guys think im ugly abeg not all of us are fine(well according to the guys back then in my school). it really goes back to like slavery though the lighter slaves worked inside as maids and the darker ones on the plantation fields. The white men in this interview said they don’t see the light skin dark skin thing. cause i bet you if KKK came today they will not be separating groups of black people by color. When i told this guy I was born and brought up in Nigeria he said what they have light skin people in Nigeria like his ancestors didn’t own slaves like are you that bothered and ignorant!!!!


    January 28, 2015 at 9:41 pm

    I watched this show and what i got out of it is – everyone has struggles.

  5. EllesarisEllendil

    January 28, 2015 at 10:49 pm

    My Mother is a “Yellow Pawpaw”, I am brown, let me come and see the person that will stop me from suceeding. Abeg if you let what people think of you stop you from succeeding its your own fault. Most of us Negros whine too much. Hate doing this, but didn’t Asians(Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Indian etc) face discrimination and overcome it. Abeg Abeg the world is a free place, if somebody puts you down, bide your time, work hard and one day you’ll be looking down on them from above.

    • Ifakunle

      January 29, 2015 at 5:31 pm

      Ooshe! This is the type of need but it’s even better if we stay promoting equality on for everyone.

  6. Beeeee

    January 28, 2015 at 10:50 pm

    I’m sorry o, but since when is Tatyana Ali light-skinned? Ashley the cute chocolate girl from Fresh Prince??? Abi is something wrong with my eyes?

  7. Fizz

    January 28, 2015 at 11:45 pm

    I did not read any of this because this is utter bullcrap! Light skin dark skin pink skin white skin yellow skin no skin if your heart and soul are rotten then your skin will not save you. Lets focus on what really matters people.

  8. Yayi Boni

    January 29, 2015 at 5:31 am

    What is all these imbecilities in this world?? Where do we go from here?? Light/Dark/ red / black/white skin bullshit……

  9. mx

    January 29, 2015 at 7:19 am

    the fact is dark skin has been put down so much in the past century so many people have wrong perception about africans and d different shades of people here.And let d lady in d video stop acting like she is not getting privilege from been light skin.its all bull crap.even in africa here people treat light skin expecially women with preference thats y u see most women bleaching,lets get facts d problem will only b solved when we africans stop our obsession over tryn to look like d white man.let there b pride in been dark soon been light skin would just be nomal.

    • Bella

      January 29, 2015 at 12:01 pm

      Fact is this – there is some discrimination on Africans with dark skin and Africans with light skin. that is the SAD fact, but that said, we have to rise above every situation as we did with slavery and racism. Its a struggle every day but i’ll be damned If I was told I cant do this cause i’m light, dark or black or white or skinny or fat! period! lastly, the comment ” cause i bet you if KKK came today they will not be separating groups of black people by color” had me LMAO – so true!!

    • Ifakunle

      January 29, 2015 at 5:33 pm


  10. CoconutPineapple

    January 29, 2015 at 2:18 pm

    Loll! Are we still on this matter?

    The “ghosts” I’ve seen in this Lagos, have stopped me from toning.

    I am learning to love and appreciate what God gave me. Everyone has problems.

    • littlelady

      January 29, 2015 at 4:05 pm

      lol the ‘ghosts’ hehe I luv that reference

  11. kookie

    February 3, 2015 at 10:02 am

    I secretly feel they add something to our creams to make us “light skinned”.

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