Light Skin vs Dark Skin Black Women: The Hayley Paley Syndrome

In Hayley Paley Syndrome on April 2, 2011 at 2:06 am

Hayley Paley Syndrome.  Ignorance is bliss.

I overheard a co-worker of mine explaining to our boss why she had to leave early the other day.  Apparently her daughter, whom I’m assuming is a little dark skin Black girl, was being incessantly ridiculed by one of her classmates because of the complexion of her skin color.  Now, personally, since our boss is a White woman I probably would not have shared the details of the ridicule my child was enduring but, sometimes when we get upset, we forget where we are, and who we are talking to.

“Yeah, this kid, and I think he’s an African-American, keeps telling her that she’s so black she looks like rotten fruit.”


“Really, and the other day he brought her a bar of soap and told her that he saw a commercial where volunteers were using Dove to clean off the animals from the BP oil spill and he thought she could use some”.  I could tell she wanted to cry.  She isn’t dark skin, but she loves her daughter enough to step outside of herself.  I could tell she understood.

“Well, kids are kids and all kids are made fun of at some point.  You know what the kids call my daughter at school? They call her Hayley “Paley” because she’s just like me.  I mean we’re so White we can’t even tan.  So, she’ll get over it I’m sure.  Kids are cruel and everybody gets made fun of every now and then – oh I need to take this call, have a great night and don’t forget to watch American Idol.”

Hayley Paley Syndrome = the subconscious inability to identify the varying degrees of pain warranting a propensity to desensitize the anguish, plight, turmoil, or distress of another by equating a state of lesser distress to a state of greater distress.

Like I’ve said before, I’m not as angry with people of non-African descent who can’t seem to find it in their hearts to step outside of themselves and empathize with the plight of the Black community, especially since so many of my own women, Light Skin Black Women, have exhibited symptoms of the Hayley Paley Syndrome.

Regardless as to how many little boys and girls ridicule Hayley’s fair complexion her universally accepted beauty will be reinforced every second of her life.  All Hayley has to do is turn on the television, pick up a magazine, watch a movie, or watch a rerun of Friends and she will see dozens of women, purported as being the epitome of beauty, with the very same physical characteristics that warranted the ridicule she endured earlier that day.  Thus,  her isolated incident of ridicule will become just that, an isolated incident.  She will be able to psychologically dismiss the ridicule, as beauty, in her juvenile world of magazines and CD’s, will look just like her.

A couple of weeks before this happened, I remember my boss running frantically out of her office pleading that she may  have to quit her job to keep Hayley  from getting pregnant.

“She’s starting to get a lot of attention from all the little boys at her school and I have to make it a point to be home when she gets home. . .I don’t want to catch another one of those twerps in my house”.

Hayley’s ridicule is what I would consider to be normal and quite frankly, healthy. She has a few boys telling her that her extremely fair complexion makes her ugly and she also has a handful of boys telling her that she’s beautiful. And when she goes home, her beauty is once again reaffirmed by the media.

When Tianna goes home after a day of ridicule, does she get to turn on the TV and see someone with her physical characteristics being praised as beautiful?  Who does she see being purported as the epitome of beauty when she flips through a magazine?  When Tianna goes home the contention of those little boys  is reaffirmed; need I remind you of the characters of Proud Family again.  The only dark skin characters were the mean ugly girls; they were  so black they were drawn in shades of blue.  What magazine should Tianna open to reaffirm her beauty — we don’t even put our own women, Dark Skin Black women, in our magazines.  Those spaces are reserved for the most beautiful of Black women, the ones that are half Black or light skin, right?

To Light Skin Black Women effected by the Hayley Paley syndrome:  Your pain although greater than that of Hayley has no similarity to my own. I am no where. When they laughed at me as a child I too would go home and try to reaffirm my beauty, but when I watched our television shows, our videos, and when I read our magazines, who did I find being praised as beautiful,

you — and only you.

I could never hold up a magazine and say well, my Black can’t possibly be that bad ‘cause all the pretty girls in the magazines look like me.  I can’t stand to hear Light Skin Black women saying, “It’s rough all over. You don’t know what’s it’s like to be light skin.”

Well, I sure wish I knew what it was like to be in every movie, every magazine, every video, every song lyric — has the media promoted or expressed a sentiment about Dark Skin Black women that you wish you could experience?

I cried all the way home for that little girl.  I’ve never spoken to her, nor have I seen her,

but I know her.

I know her well.

I so hope one day that the men who have the ability to change the world, chose to change it. And I so wish that Dark Skin Black women would unite as Black people united in the 60’s and demand the right, to our inherent right, to be seen and revered as Beautiful women.  And most importantly, I wish my light skin Black sisters would stop equating their pain to my own.  Don’t forget these songs, sung by our men, were sung for you, you are a woman to them, I am still waiting to be. . .

Lil Wayne, Song Title: Ride With the Mack, “I tell a dark skin chick I`m allergic to chocolate.”

Fabolous, Song Title: Lights Out, “. . .Bottles of Rosae keeps finding it`s way to my section And groups of pretty bitches with them light skin complexion.”

© DarkSkinBlackWomen.WordPress.com.

  1. I’ve noticed when light skin black women discuss their experiences with colorism a dark skin girl is usually portrayed as the villain. This only enforces the meme of dark skin black girls/women as angry, jealous, bitter hell spawn. In their little tales of woe they get to be “victims” and reinforce negative stereotypes of dark skinned girls/women.

  2. great post. I hate that white/light-skinned is aggrandized in this society. this is coming from a Black woman who some would describe as “light-skinned,” although I hate that term, I prefer to call myself brown…but the bottom line is light-skinned black women DO have privileges and I agree that you can’t turn a blind eye and pretend that colorism doesn’t exist…if you truly care about Blackness, then it’s your job to call out discrimination and disrespect of darker-skinned Black sisters. the majority of black women are chocolate to dark brown skinned…most are NOT Beyonce colored, so really a slight to dark-skinned Black women is a slight to ALL Black people, as all Black people (light or otherwise) ultimately come from dark skinned Black women.

    Dark skinned Black women are just as beautiful and it’s tiring to see them overlooked and degraded, it breaks my heart and i’m sick of seeing it and i DESPISE the fact that light-skin is fetishized if I come across a Black man or any man who fetishizes my light skin and disrespects dark skinned Black women, I shun them period…i want nothing to do with someone who thinks that way.

    black people need to get it together and educate ourselves on our history, read some of Kola Boof and Malcolm X, read our history, learn something.

  3. i think more light-skinned black women need to wake up and stop living in this rose-colored world where they pretend that colorism doesn’t exist and that they (we) don’t have privilege, speak up and address the privileges so we can put colorism to rest,as long as colorism exist…racism will continue to exist.

  4. Dark-skinnED black women. Light-skinnED black women. Women can HAVE dark or light skin, but they are dark or light skinned women.

  5. Ever since I was a young girl and could understand the English language, I’ve heard debates about light vs dark. I could tell that some of the words spoken were bad and mean. Often, I wondered why ppl would talk about other ppl of the same race like that. Wasn’t long when I’d hear kids, mostly my age yet some were younger, repeat the same thing spoken by the grown ups. Ignorant, black, older folks are truly the blame for this. Even allowing them to overhear such disgusting conversation means that children will definitely repeat it. Till this day, I hear old folks disrespect ppl b/c of their skin color. Dark skin folks will call other dark skin ppl ‘ugly’ and ‘black’ either behind their backs or face to face. I’ve got more to post but I can’t right now but I will later.

  6. It took a long time for me to even realize there was such a thing has a dark skinned stigma. I come from a Nigerian family and it happens that my mom is light skinned while my dad would be considered a medium brown. I came out being a combination of both, one of my brothers came out light skinned, and two other siblings came out a bit darker. Then, we have family members of all different skin tones. I never saw one shade as better than the other. And I’m glad I was raised like that. But it shocked me when I got to middle school and people would ridicule a girl or boy for being too dark. Especially when the kid would only be just a few shades lighter. It never made sense. I’m in high school now and I certainly believe things have gotten better. I go to a very racially diverse high school so I feel like many kids eventually grew a tolerance for each other though there are many MANY exceptions. But I’m just glad there’s someone addressing this. Thanks

  7. Wow. For a little insight im a 16 year old Female. And I guess people would categorize me as black. Both of my parents are mixed so I have a light complexion. I got to this article by googling a term my good friend, who is white, calls “light skin syndrome” he defined light skin syndrome as “the disease girls get when they reply every 5 hours, complain they’re bored but don’t wanna see you. They want you to go but cry when you do.” I thought this was interesting, being a light skinned girl and not knowing anything about such thing so I googled it and now I’m here. And honestly, I know I’m just a 16 year old girl but this really breaks my heart. I can’t think of any instances where I have shown symptoms of light skinned syndrome but I’m willing to bet I’m guilty. The term you cited as Haley Paley Syndrome seems to be a more offical way of putting it. This whole thing reminds me of one day in my Biology Class. Somehow we got on the topic of light skinned people and dark skinned people and my very good friend since kindergarten, who would be considered dark skinned, suddenly goes on a rant almost bringing herself to tears regarding her anger about the way light skinned people act. I was so surprised to hear this because she’s been a great friend for a while and she’s never said anything like this to me. Then she goes on to point at me and say “like her, why does everyone think she’s so special because she’s light skinned. That just means she’s a mutt.” And my jaw dropped. Here was my best friend pointing me out and calling me a mutt Infront of all my peers. I couldn’t say anything but repeat what she had just said to me. “A mutt? A mutt? Really?” And she looked at me with a face I will never forget. She turned sharply and I saw her eyes squint and aim as it seemed. Then a small tear seemed to form and she snapped out of it like she had been hypnotized. She then apologized and ran across the classroom to my lab table to hug me. I just told her it was okay. My Biology teacher seemed disgusted at the thought of her calling me a mutt. She pulled both of us aside after class and asked if I wanted my friend to receive a referral. I was actually really upset and hurt and at first feeling like she deserved to be disciplined for being so rude and embarrassing me Infront of everyone. Then I remembered her face. Her face that showed pain, jealously, hate. A face that obviously has seen things I would never see in this life simply because of my light complexion. I told the teacher that a referral was unnecessary. I’m not sharing this story so people will admire me but I just want you to know that I don’t understand. And i never will. But whatever it’s called, light skin syndrome or Haley Paley syndrome I will not be infected. The children I will have some day, no matter their skin color they are will not be infected either. This article has seriously changed me. And I just want to thankyou, so, thankyou. -Neish🌸

  8. neisha what a sad story. i think that many times women decide to take these things out on one another rather than on the people keeping colorism alive.

    i will admit to not expressing colorism problems with lighter friends out of fear they wouldn’t understand or would consider me jealous. it is kinda like how people of color try to avoid discussing racial issues with white friends because they don’t want to make things awkward…that might contribute to lots of light women thinking “oh my dark skin friends don’t have any issues”

  9. Reading this post has made me realise that as black people we can’t only have tough talks with white people about race, we also need to have tough talks with each other about race. I’m South African, black (well for the most part, my dad is mixed, but I’m perceived by the world as black…with no mix). Here in SA we have a weird racial categorization system due to our colonial and apartheid past. Our mixed people are referred to as Coloured (not in the US derrogatory manner colored). But basically when Dutch people settled here as colonialists they mixed with the local indigenous people, and slaves were also brought here from countries like Malaysia, so all those influences created a ‘new’ distinct race –> Coloured people. The don’t see themselves as black, and they were treated somewhat better than black African people during apartheid – so there was political motivation to not be seen to be black. So long story short in general Coloured men only date/ marry Coloured women (or white or Indian women) but never…well hardly ever black women. Likewise, Indian guys generally only date/ marry Indian women (sometimes white or Coloured women) but never…well hardly ever black women. And then to add insult to injury, black men are fascinated by Coloured women and often prefer them over black women…and they’re also fascinated by white and Indian women etc. You catch my drift, basically there is a hierarchy that black women (and specifically dark skinned women) are always at the bottom of. And on top of all of that…colourism even exists within the Coloured community – lighter Coloured women are preferred to darker Coloured women, especially if the guy himself is fair. Its almost like an unwritten rule…for men to strive for lighter and lighter skin tone…and likewise straighter and straighter hair. I don’t know…this kinda depresses me…I feel like black people are irradicating ourselves off the planet. If men only want to mate with lighter straighter haired women…we are wiping a whole race of people off the planet. This is a really interesting article about how the media is whitewashing the entertainment sphere http://www.hamptoninstitution.org/pseudowhitebarbie.html#.VDTZ4YcaySO

  10. Wow. The horrible things people say in high school.
    Why that boy thought to say those things to that poor girl really grinds my gears. I would say maybe he has a problem with looking dark, and he’s unloading his personal pain on someone else. It seems like some light-skinned black women do something like that too, putting themselves above darker girls. I don’t know why our culture refuses to accept how stunning dark skin is. I am so glad you’re talking about it, because more people should. I can’t wait to see more dark skinned ladies in magazines, on television, in movies, etc.
    I understand at least a little how hard it is to look at your own reflection and convince yourself you look pretty when the idea of “pretty” from magazines movies and television doesn’t look anything like you. Some people say we shouldn’t be worried about how others think of us, but it’s almost impossible to get away from viewing yourself from the eyes of other people. If I could talk to myself in high school, or any girl in high school, I would like to tell her that when you get to know someone you start to see their appearance like how you feel about them. I would tell her that you’re beautiful in the eyes of the people who know you for how kind, smart, funny, quirky, etc. you really are, and whenever you do or say something meaningful to another person you should know that they think you are beautiful. If anyone says they don’t like the way you look, maybe they can’t appreciate your personality and that’s unfortunate for them. It’s hard to learn how to love being yourself and to let the opinions of others go, but it’s worth it.
    As I said, not a lot of people are talking about the beauty of dark skin. I think you do something very important for society with your writing.
    Your article also made my day. Thank you and god bless you.

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