It’s a trope as old as time itself. Open up any novel and you’ll find the antagonist is depicted as ruthless and dark with traditionally Afro-centric features like unruly, kinky hair and black eyes. On the other hand, the protagonist whose duty is to save the world, is light, dainty and innocent. In the case of the popular fairy tale Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, we see a classic example of darkness being made equivalent to evil, malevolence and cynicism. White’s raving beauty causes her to be the object of envy of the Evil Queen and while Snow White has small, dainty “princess-like” features, the villainous Evil Queen wears a dark cape and possesses a long nose and large, round eyes when in her true form.
Even among animals there is something called the Black Dog Syndrome, the unfortunate phenomenon in which darker colored dogs are adopted less often than lighter colored ones and are more likely to get euthanized.
The negative connotations of the word dark and the word black also pertain to race. After all, it’s only natural that society’s tendency to associate darkness and depravity would lead to a negative bias against people with darker skin tones. And the ramifications are even apparent in our justice system. For instance, eye witnesses to crimes are often more likely to falsely identify suspects who have darker skin.
Moreover, as a culture we fetishize blue and green eyes, while dark brown or black eyes are often seen as less beautiful or even cold and devoid of life. Darker skinned black men are associated with hardness and hyper masculinity, while lighter skinned black males are deemed as weak, sensitive and overly emotional and feminine.
In turn, darker skinned black women are hyper sexualized and deemed as overly masculine while lighter skinned females are more often seen as beautiful, valuable and worthy of protection. In a 2010 tweet from black comedian Kevin Hart, he states that darker-skinned Black women are able to “take a punch” better than lighter women, hinting that our skin makes us more durable, stronger and able to withstand higher levels of abuse.