‘Lightskin vs. darkskin’ resurges digitally

The racially charged social media trend is new, but the stereotypes are not.

Tiffany Trawick

Social networking usually seems harmless and humorous. However, beneath the layers of memes, Vines and hashtags lays strong social opinions, which should not be taken so lightly.

Since late 2013, the Twitter trend “lightskin vs. darkskin” has spread through an array of social media apps. The trend is full of jokes about the supposed differences between light-skinned and dark-skinned African-Americans. While users may just be joking, the phenomenon has larger implications.

The internal conflict over skin color in the black community isn’t new, but through social media, it’s spreading faster. The two groups, light-skinned and dark-skinned black people, began as a subliminal battle, at odds with each other for stereotypes of class and attitude of “whiteness” and “blackness.” Users associated light skin with vanity, arrogance and overt sensitivity, and they associated dark skin with unrefined behavior, less attraction and violence.

What many don’t know is that British slave owner William Lynch perpetuated this divide in America as part of an address to educate other slave owners on a method for controlling slaves. In the address, Lynch wrote of the divides that would turn slaves against each other, which would force them to trust their master before other slaves. Lynch noted the shade of skin color among many of the demographic divides: “You must use the dark skin slaves vs. the light skin slaves, and the light skin slaves vs. the dark skin slaves.”

Lynch promised this technique would work for centuries.

This address was given in 1712. More than three centuries later, this mindset still prevails in social media, but surreptitiously behind the veil of jokes.

This month is African American History Month, which should be a reminder of struggles and progress. Black people should be working toward unity, rather than division. While we may joke around, there is a very real — and problematic — place where these jokes come from.

We should not be ignorant of the historical implications of our words.