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But Not Too Black

"Beautiful black woman, I bet that bitch look better red"note 
Lil Wayne, Right Above It

After a long struggle in gaining visibility and acceptance in the entertainment world, ethnically-African actors and actresses have many more opportunities in Hollywood and on television than they ever had had before. Some have become huge stars in their own right. Unfortunately, as these new opportunities grew, a new dark side of 'racial' bias emerged.

Or should we say: "a new light side."

Fair skin is a common beauty standard across the world, one strengthened by Euro-centrism ('the West'note  produces or influences the majority of the world's media). However, 85% of the world's population is possessed of brown skin tones of varying shades, which drastically narrows the typical ideal of beauty. As the trope title states, this hits ethnic Africans particularly hard; many 'Western' casting directors are in the habit of only—or mostly—hiring non-European actors and actresses with lighter skin tones because they assume that they will be more attractive to their largely ethnic-European audiences. Actresses are hit even harder, particularly if they are supposed to add sex appeal to the show.

In a word, this phenomenon has been called "colorism". Colourism can also come down to a latent class bias: worldwide, lighter skin (relative to one's own people) has typically been associated with wealth and lounging around indoors, and darker with poverty and working in the fieldsnote . Not until the post-war period did the trends start to reverse; the only country not devastated by The War, the USA, led a new trend which saw those with wealth being able to afford extended vacations or holidays, and the sun-induced tans that came with them.

Skin colour is only the most obvious manifestation of the underlying theme of casting people on the basis of something other than their acting style and/or ability. For example, an Asian actor might be asked to cover his eyes or a black actress asked to straighten her hair. Colourism is a subset of "degreeism" in which members of a marginalized group rank themselves based on how closely they resemble the dominant group.

Variations of this casting trope are also seen in Latin America, Northern Africa/Middle East, and East Asia. This trope is a common source of Unfortunate Implications; given this trope's prevalence throughout the world's entertainment industries, there are numerous variations on this trope listed below. Note also how the changing definitions of desirability have resulted in new and/or different hiring biases over time.

Also see But Not Too Foreign, and Ambiguously Brown. Contrast with But Not Too White.

Not to be confused with Light Is Not Good or Pass Fail, though it can be somewhat related to the latter insofar as the casting choice is concerned.


Examples

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    Advertising 
  • Commercials would have you believe that all little black girls and not a few of the boys have long, curly, free-flowing hair when not only is the hair type fairly uncommon but braids and otherwise restrained hairstyles are much more usual and practical for small black children.
  • Parodied here "She should be dark enough to score that hip diversity dollar, but not so dark as to scare away that heartland racist dollar."
  • Another example would be the Oil of Olay commercial featuring Denise Vasi whom would also fit this mold. She was depicted a lot lighter than she is really, being more of a medium brown.
  • Hilariously Uby Kotex overtly lampshade this trope in this commercial
  • The skin-lightening cream "Fair and Lovely" is sold in India and the Middle East. The commercials often feature pretty women who feel insecure because of their dark skin, and sometimes feel it's holding them back for some reason or another. But here's what makes them fall directly into this trope: the women already have very light skin to begin with. This is one of the ads, and there are plenty of others. Unilever, also makes Dove soaps and shampoos, which has been having one of those "Feel beautiful in your own body!" campaigns in the US. This is more Values Dissonance as in India, lightening your skin is considered the same as getting a tan is in the West. However even among some Indians this is viewed rather negatively.
    • The same kinds of creams appeared in African-American periodicals right up until the late 70s. While the language became more subtle throughout the years (referring to skin as "glowing" rather than "light"), the before and after pictures always gave away the underlying message: you're not pretty if you're dark.
  • The 2012 Acura commercial (staring Jerry Seinfeld and Jay Leno) casting call asked for a "nice looking, friendly, not too dark" African American car dealer.
  • This promotional picture for Syfy series Eureka shows Alison Blake (played by the half-black Salli Richardson) as being much lighter skinned than she is in real life.
  • Another L'Oreal ad featuring Beyonce, this time promoting True Match, and displaying her full ethnicity.

    Anime and Manga 
  • The Ambiguously Brown Setsuna of Sailor Moon was originally drawn significantly darker than the rest of the cast. When the anime rolled around, it depended on the artist but she was often as light as the others. In the Sera Myu musicals, she almost always, if not always, has the same skin tone as everyone else.
  • An aversion: In the manga version of Get Backers, Kudou Himiko was originally shown to have slightly darker skin than the rest of the cast. As the series progressed and gained a serious Art Evolution, her skin got darker and darker until, by the time the manga ended, she was closer in skin tone to black characters than the rest of the white cast. (Her race or ethnic background is never addressed, and her brother was drawn with a similar skin color.) The anime kept her at "slightly darker than the main cast", looking more like she just had a tan than she was of a different ethnicity than the main cast.
  • A case of this appears in the adaptation of Axis Powers Hetalia from manga to anime. The manga gave the characters a variety of skin tones, but in the anime everyone except for Cuba was the same color, with Seychelles being a particularly noticeable example. This was eventually fixed in season five when Studio DEEN brought in a new animation team.
  • Evil Chancellor Agrippa from ∀ Gundam. In contrast to the typical Ambiguously Brown anime character look, he has fairly prominent African features, but passes the paper bag test with flying colours. This is probably to make him a visual contrast to his opposite number from the Earth faction, the similarly scheming Guin Rhineford, who looks like a classic Phenotype Stereotype who's been trying to give himself melanoma at the tanning salon.
  • Nadia from Nadia And The Secret Of Blue Water, was going to have curly hair, according to early drafts. She ended having a smooth hair and a less dark skin, and the official explanation is that her character design was made simpler by the fear of the outsourced animation company quality of work.
  • Inverted in Hellsing Ultimate.
    • Integra's skin looks darker compared to the manga.
    • Also inverted big time with Jan Valentine. In the Manga, he is portrayed as being light skinned like the rest of the cast, whereas in both of the anime series, his skin is even darker than Integra's.
  • Inverted with Kei in Prétear: he had light skin in the manga, but the anime used a completely different character design with brown skin tone.
  • When Nico Robin returned after the Time Skip on One Piece, her formerly dark skin was all but gone, leaving her looking about 3 shades whiter.
    • The animators were already slowly lightening Robin's skin tone before the Time Skip, but after that, all bets were off. It's jarring, considering that she once had the darkest skin tone of any other Straw Hat and now, she's suddenly one of the lightest. These posts elaborate more on the issue (not only about Robin, but other characters, as well).
  • Michiko to Hatchin has Atsuko Jackson, a mixed Afro-Japanese cop with blond hair and blue eyes. It's possible she wears contact lenses, but she's shown with the blond hair even as a child.
  • In Berserk, Casca is the resident Ambiguously Brown character, suggested to be of Kushan heritage, so she is depicted to be fairly dark-skinned in both the manga AND the first anime adaptation. However, previews of the newer anime series shows her to be considerably more light-skinned. And the fanbase has responded.
  • Some of the official art for Fullmetal Alchemist lightens Paninya's skin, despite the fact that she's dark-skinned.
  • Anthy Himemiya was a racially ambiguous (though likely Indian) love interest in Revolutionary Girl Utena with noticeably dark skin and kinky, wavy hair that made her stand out against the rest of the lily-white cast; the video game supplement to the series even made her skin darker than it was in-series. However, when The Movie rolled out, Anthy's design was completely overhauled, and her previously dark skin was lightened to the point of looking barely tanned, and her hair was apparently attacked by an army of flat irons.
    • Too be fair, Anthy's hair was straightened because the role hair played in the film: the formerly lightly wavy, long-haired Utena (as revealed in promo material) elaborately braids her hair so she can pin it to her head, giving her the appearance of a boy's hair cut for reasons tying into her more tragic past and when it comes down, is just as astoundingly wavy as Anthy's was in the show. Anthy's hair remains down and has the same very slight wave to it as Utena did in the show, reflecting her more open and friendlier nature in the film. No doubt the hair texture and length plays into the What Do You Mean, It's Not Symbolic? nature of the series, but the change in skin color is a mystery.
  • Some controversy has arisen over the fact that the international Cures from Happiness Charge Pretty Cure....don't look very international, aside from their costumes. Even the Cures from India and Egypt are suspiciously pale.

    Comic Books 
  • Though X-Men's Storm is quite dark, she has white hair and blue eyes (when they're not completely whited out when she uses her powers), said to be marks of her bloodline, and for years was drawn with semi-European features (her original appearance as drawn by Dave Cockrum was more Asian than Cauc). Recent works, particularly during the lead-up to her marriage to Black Panther, actually drew mild fan criticism for the change of her facial structure.
  • X-Men colorists must be fond of this trope, because M's skin tone is in a constant state of flux. When she first appeared in Generation X she had caramel skin. Towards the end of the book it was chocolate. When she was floating between titles it went back to caramel. But with her current stint in X-Factor, she's not even ambiguous anymore; she could be mistaken for white by readers who don't know better. It became especially baffling when other black characters started appearing in the book with more identifiable features. Her father is French, but of African descent and is rather dark-skinned. She should be caramel-toned at the very least. Later in the series' run, her skin tone has gone back more to what it should be.
  • Recent issues of Justice League of America have drawn criticism for portraying Vixen with European features and fluctuating skin tones.
  • Depending on who is drawing him, Karate Kid from the Legion Of Superheroes often looks extremely white despite being half-Japanese. In at least some cases, this is due to the fact that his Japanese heritage itself was a Retcon; the character was clearly white when he was first introduced.
  • Similarly, the recent Immortal Iron Fist series has occasional "lapses" where Misty Knight is drawn with a shag haircut and European features.
  • Averted with Nick Fury Jr/Marcus Johnson, which lead to arguments about him being too black on the Bleeding Cool forum. As noted in the forum, its perfectly possible to had very dark skin and 'black features' even when one of your parents are white; its not common, but its not impossible. Some users thought it wasn't and argued that Marcus Johnson couldn't really be Fury's son because he's too black.
  • There was a bit of a mini-controversy for the second volume of Mighty Avengers. Spectrum (aka Monica Rambeau aka Captain Marvel aka Photon aka Pulsar) debuts a new, short hairstyle with her hair straightened, whereas in previous appearances Monica always wore her hair naturally with her dreadlocked look being the most remembered one. Writer Al Ewing said that this will be addressed in the comic.
  • The people behind the Avatar: The Last Airbender continuation series has been criticized for lightening Katara and Sokka's brown skin tone by a couple of shades. Even Aang is pointed out as having his skin lightened.

    Film - Animated 
  • Lampshaded in one of the special DVD features for The Incredibles. Frozone and Mr. Incredible watch a really, really awful licensed cartoon. Frozone is offended that the version of him in cartoon is lightly tanned at best and talking like a Beatnik. (The movie had him looking very similar to his voice actor, Samuel L. Jackson.)
    Frozone: Oh, oh, I get caught! The black superhero gets caught!
    Mr. Incredible: Well, just a minute ago you were complaining that they made you white.
    Frozone: Oh that's right! The tanned superhero gets caught!
  • Intentionally averted with Disney's first black protagonist, The Princess and the Frog's Tiana. She has a wide nose, full lips (though not racist caricature full), strong cheekbones, a slightly protruding jaw, wide-set brown eyes, and a skin-tone as dark as Michelle Obama. Basically, she's her voice actress Anika Noni Rose with big huge Disney eyes.
    • Interestingly enough, The Merch related to Tiana portrays her as darker than she is in the film. Interpret as you will.
    • There was also some debate as whether to make her prince black ("Disney hates interracial relationships!") or not-black ("All the other ones had princes of their own race! Disney hates black men!") The plot calls for the Jerk with a Heart of Gold prince to be something of a gigolo who's trying to seduce a blonde southern debutante for her money, which would certainly earn it a place on the Unfortunate Implications page if he were to be black. Disney ended up making him Ambiguously Brown, so that people see him as their own race, or more likely, whatever race offends them the most.
    • Dr. Facilier, however, has lighter skin than the prince, but he's the villain. And his reason for villany seems to come from the inability of climb higher in the social ladder of the time. Food for thought people.
    • Facilier's good counterpart is a dark-skinned voodoo woman who lives in a swamp.

    Film - Live-Action 
  • Spike Lee's film School Daze references the old practice of black fraternities and sororities performing "the paper bag test" on their potential applicants - only those with skin lighter than a brown paper bag would be allowed in.
  • Most light-skinned African-American actors benefit from this trope. Halle Berry (White mother and Black father) is the most frequent example, being mixed race. Berry has also had plastic surgery on her nose, which had the effect of making her look more European.
  • Mixed-race actress Rae Dawn Chong is probably one of the earliest examples of a light-skinned actress constantly being paired up with white males.
  • Jessica Alba is almost notorious for this, as she'll seemingly change her tone based on whatever demographic she wants to appeal to. Case in point, how she looks in something like Fantastic Four versus Honey.
  • Mixed-race actresses such as Thandie Newton (half-White and half-Black), Paula Patton, and Kandyse McClure are often paired with a white male co-star.
  • In the Hairspray movie, it is kind of hard to listen to the light-skinned Queen Latifah sing the line "...with a darkness/as black as my skin" without thinking of this trope. Both the film and the musical have the song "Run and Tell That" with a chorus of: "The blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice, I can say it ain't so, but darling, what's the use? The darker the chocolate, the richer the taste, and that's where it's at, so run and tell that!"
  • A major plot point for the film Imitation Of Life
  • Satirized in Undercover Brother when The Chief said "We can make the world a safe place for black people of all races", which was a Take That to black people who like to subdivide themselves based on skin tone.
  • Laura Gemser from the Black Emanuelle Sexploitation/Grindhouse franchise counts. The lead isn't even black but Indonesian.
  • Mixed race Lisa Bonet (half-White and half-Black) claims to have turned down roles because of this trope.
  • Averted with light-complexioned actresses like Michael Michele, Nicole Ari Parker, Kristen Wilson, Leila Arcieri, and Rochelle Aytes as they're usually paired with black men. Although this could still have other kinds of Unfortunate Implications for black men.
  • Will Smith said that Eva Mendes was cast opposite him in Hitch because casting a black actress would have made it a "black movie" that would turn off white audiences. And apparently so would have a white actress. Likely why the kiss between Smith and Theron was cut in Hancock.
  • In many "race movies" (films made in the US by blacks for black audiences prior to the 60s), the female lead was typically played by a light-skinned black, sometimes so light she could be mistaken for white. Meanwhile, dark-skinned females were cast as the heroine's maid, or other servants. This also applied to the men less so, though it was still rare to see light-skinned blacks cast as porters and waiters. This still exists to a certain degree in current black media. See the silent film Happiness, the cowboy serial The Creole Kid, and 1939s Moon Over Harlem.
  • Anthony Hopkins' The Human Stain covers this.
  • Parodied in Robert Townsend's Hollywood Shuffle. In the sketch about "Black Acting School," the host of the commercial asserts that Hollywood prefers dark-skinned black actors to play thugs and low-lifes, and implies that these are the only roles available to black men.
  • Used in the French movie 99 Francs: the CEO of a dairy company (a clear Expy of Dannon) refuses to cast a black woman in a yogurt commercial (claiming it's "too much Africanity for our audience" and that a Black girl will scare people); the main character chooses to cast a fair-skinned girl from Maghreb (thus African as well) and nobody complains, the CEO even says she looks less vulgar than any black girl would, even though the audience knows she is a prostitute (Octave smiles to himself, and Charlie smiles at him, while remembering it). Considering the movie is the adaptation of a Take That against the advertising business, the whole point (rich, upper-class people can also be stupid, racist assholes, even when they are worth tens of billions) is rather Anvilicious, but then again....
  • Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay: Lampshaded with a barely black security guard. Kumar accuses him of racism when is "randomly selected" to be searched. The security guards says he can't be racist because he's black, to which Kumar calls him barely black. Note that the guard could easily pass for a Caucasian.
    • And Kumar does have contraband on him; marijuana and the parts to assemble a smokeless bong "bong" sounds like "bomb". Kumar's playing the race card to avoid having his bags searched and possibly arrested.
    • The two leads themselves almost became this trope when some "suits" wanted Harold and Kumar to be white/Jewish instead of Asian.
  • The entire cast of Purple Rain. It's eerie. (Even the white actors, thanks to their '80s Hair.)
  • Rosario Dawson's mixed racial features allow her to play a variety of races and open up her opportunities for pairings. Similar to Eva Mendes, she can pair up with a white male, black male (Seven Pounds), and has even passed herself off as Middle Eastern (Alexander).
  • Averted in A Bronx Tale; the filmmakers cast a young Taral Hicks as the love interest for the Italian-American protagonist.
  • Vin Diesel's semi-autobiographical film Multi-Facial details the difficulties of a multiracial actor, who can't get parts because he's too black to play white but too white to play black. Diesel's star power has apparently allowed him to jumped the hurdle. He's even played a real-life Italian-American mafioso in Sidney Lumet's Find Me Guilty.
  • Wentworth Miller also overcame this. But most probably don't know his actual ethnic background, which is African-American/Jamaican/English/German/Jew/Cherokee/Russian/French/Dutch/Lebanese/Syrian.
  • Inverted in Get Shorty: Elmore Leonard's novel included several pages of dialogue between Chili and Harry about Bo Catlett's skin color — Harry, who'd known Bo for years, had never even realized he was black. In the movie, Bo was played by Delroy Lindo. Obviously, those pages of dialogue were removed from the script.
  • Gabrielle Union is a gorgeous woman, and a pretty good actress, but definitely too black for mainstream Hollywood. Her work has been pretty much exclusively in black cinema.
  • Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, of African American and Samoan heritage.
    • He's been on the covers of Jet and Ebony magazines, and Mick Foley described him as black in his autobiography Have a Nice Day! (specifically to make fun of Margaret Carlson for describing The Rock as a "white skinhead hateful wrestling guy").
    • The Rock is popularly thought to be "raceless," even though he doesn't downplay his ethnicity outside of his roles. Some roles have even featured him as "baseline" white characters (such as on an episode of Saturday Night Live, where he played Superman/Clark Kent).
  • "Sex Is..." a documentary from 1993. 59 minutes in, Wayne Corbitt, a black man who is into white men, says, "I have rebelled against anybody telling me what I ought to be, and that includes the gay community, who doesn't really want you to be too black: 'Uh, don't get so Black Specific with those issues.' And the black community, which goes, 'Huh! SM? A black man who LIKES getting whipped?! Do you know blah blah blah lynchings in the 20s and blah blah blah.' Yeah, I do know that did happen. I didn't do it. I'm not a part of that. This is 1992 in San Francisco."
  • Justified in Eve's Bayou, which was specifically about black Creoles, who were of mixed ancestry and often formed their own communities.
  • The fact that most of the aforementioned actresses are actually bi-racial points to an even darker (no pun intended) reality. The reality being that non-mixed African American women are even LESS likely to be featured in a mainstream film...Unless it's black made.
  • Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li has Chun Li played by Kristen Kreuk, who's got Chinese heritage but looks decidedly mixed. And it really stands out when all the child actresses who play her in the prologue are decidedly Chinese.
    Film Brain: Chun Li is the only person in the world who grows less Asian.
  • "Chun Li" also played an Indian Muslim woman in Partition, looking very out of place alongside British Irish/Indian actor Jimmy Mistry playing an Indian Sikh.
  • The upcoming documentary Dark Girls is about this trope, dissecting its implications and how it creates prejudice within the black community. In a strange twist, one (rather dark skinned) interviewee said that black men found her attractive and exotic, but refused to actually date her because she was too dark for them to be seen with in public. Be warned: Tear Jerker.
  • Averted with Sidney Poitier, Eddie Murphy, Wesley Snipes and Don Cheadle.
    • Not averted, however, with most of the women playing Eddie Murphy's love interests, as they tend to be light-skinned African Americans.
  • Up until about 1990, you'll notice that Hispanic actors and actresses in Hollywood tended to be either White Hispanics or Mestizos who could pass for White.. A prominent early example was Ricardo Montalban, who was a Spanish (both of his parents were immigrants from Spain to Mexico) Mexican as opposed to a mestizo one. Other examples: Martin Sheen (born Ramon Estevez) and his son Charlie (born Carlos Estevez), Daphne Zuniga (who famously played a Space Jew in Spaceballs)...and perhaps the Ur Example, Rita Hayworth (born Margarita Cansino). Also note that Pancho, the Spanish-speaking commando in the Arnold Schwarzenegger flick Predator, is supposed to be Puerto Rican (according to the screenplay) but he appears almost as white as Dutch (Schwarzenegger) or the other white commandos.
    • Even then, this trope is played painfully straight to this day with the high amount of successful Hispanic actresses and female singers, such as Cameron Diaz, Christina Aguilera, being a mixture of Hispanic and Anglo heritage. Fully Hispanic American actresses and singers (especially nonwhite ones) are often not as widely successful. Jennifer Lopez is fully Hispanic (she is a Puerto Rican of Spanish ancestry), yet she is very light skinned.
    • This is a very serious problem in Latin America's own film industry. Whites are over-represented in film and TV. The leading nonwhite actors are mostly light-skinned mestizos or mulattos. Unmixed black or Amerindian people hardly ever get good roles. It is especially glaring in countries such as Mexico where whites are the minority, and the telenovelas are loaded with white Hispanics.
  • The 2013 film The Bling Ring is based on a group of thieves who targeted celebrities. Rebecca Lee, the Expy of real-life ringleader Rachel Lee, is played by Katie Chang, who is one-fourth Asian. For reference, this is what Katie Chang looks like and this is what Rachel Lee looks like.

    Literature 
  • Justine Larbalestier's novel Liar:
    • It had a cover featuring an obviously white girl, although the protagonist is black. Especially given the story, since the chosen cover called into question one of the few true things, according to the author, that the protagonist shared about herself.
    • The publisher finally rectified the situation with a new cover, except some readers state that the cover model is still too fair-skinned and long haired compared to the character in the book.
  • Another Contemptible Cover comes from the second book in The Mysterious Benedict Society series. Sticky appears to be a very, very pale boy, even practically Caucasian, while it is stated in the books that he has light brown skin.
  • Some critics have noted that Robinson Crusoe describes Friday, a Carib Indian from South America, as remarkably European in appearance: small nose, thin lips, a brighter skin tone than "other natives of America," and generally "all the sweetness and softness of a European in his countenance." As author J.M. Coetze put it, when talking about his Crusoe Deconstruction novel Foe, the original Friday "is a handsome Carib youth with near European features".
  • Janie from Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God, who's considered to be beautiful, is described as having straight hair and a relatively light complexion. Mrs. Turner admires her for those Caucasian traits and even tries to set her up with her lighter-skinned son because she doesn't like her Not Too Black idol being married to a very dark-skinned man. Halle Berry quite appropriately plays Janie in the (awful) movie version of the novel.
    • Note that according to the novel, Janie is at least a quarter white: her grandmother was a former slave impregnated by her master. We know that Janie was a Child by Rape, but her father's race is not mentioned.
  • The Bluest Eye is a novel that examines the relationship between beauty and race. The protagonist is a dark-skinned black girl who notices how light-skinned black girls are given more respect than she. Eventually she gets it into her head that if she only had blue eyes then people would stop treating her so horribly.
  • In one novel by Andrew Vachss a black character explains "the paper bag trick" to his white friend. Paraphrased: "I know lots of black guys who do the paper bag trick— they hold a brown paper bag up next to their face in the mirror; if their skin is darker than the bag they're going nowhere in life. Nowadays black mothers want their daughters to marry lighter."
  • The whole point of Don't Play In The Sun.
  • Ditto The Blacker the Berry by Wallace Thurman.
  • In the Tell-All biography Confessions of a Video Vixen the author explain how her mother was favored by her grandmother due to her light complexion which put a wedge between her mom and aunts.
  • Feast Of All Saints touches on this.
  • The book The Cay describes Timothy as being very black, probably coal-black, but the cover on the one I've got shows a man who is merely brown.
  • Played straight - historically straight - in Barbara Hambly's Benjamin January novels, a series of historical mysteries set in New Orleans in the 1830s, a place and time where it mattered a great deal what shade a person of color was.
  • In Uncle Tom's Cabin, the main character Eliza is one quarter black, with skin just light enough for her to pass as white. She takes advantage of this early on in her escape. Her husband is mulatto, and with a little makeup was able to pass as Hispanic while on the run.
    • The 1927 film adaptation took this to the extreme by casting white actors for both parts.
  • In Aphra Behn's Oroonoko, the titular character, an African prince, is explicitly described as having European facial features and having "a perfect ebony" complexion as opposed to "that brown rusty black which most of that nation are" and the description she gives makes him seem less like a real person and more like a statue carved out of black stone. The fits with the overall theme of the novel, which does not condemn slavery so much as say that Oroonoko should not be a slave because he is royalty and different than the other citizens of his country, who are fair game.
  • The first edition of Octavia Butler's Dawn had the main character portrayed as a white woman when she was really black. More examples here.
  • In the Hudson books by V. C. Andrews, heroine Rain is praised for her beauty including being lighter-skinned than the rest of her family. This turns out to be because she's actually biracial and her biological mother is white.
  • The title character of Thérèse Raquin has an African mother, but looks no different from the other women of 19th century France. Her mixed ancestry is pretty much never brought up, either.
  • Day, a protagonist from Marie Lu's Legend Trilogy, is half-Asian and half-white but is described as having blond hair and blue eyes. The author explains how this is possible here.
  • Gloriously averted with the re-launch of Animorphs thanks to fandom. When Scholastic revealed they'd cast a very Caucuasian looking boy as the Latin character Marco fan backlash was fierce. Ultimately, Scholastic relented and recast Marco as someone more true to his character.
  • Every character of a different ethnicity who appears in The Mortal Instruments always turns out to be biracial, (usually half Caucasian). Magnus is half Dutch half Indonesian, Aline is half Japanese half Caucasian, Maia is half black and half Caucasian. See a trend here?
    • According to Cassandra Clare, an early cover for one of the The Infernal Devices books depicted an Asian character pulling his hat over his face. The cover was changed when Clare protested.
  • This trope was just one of the many, many reasons that Save The Pearls: Revealing Eden fell down flat on its face with its message about the pains of racism. So it's far in the future, blacks are on top culturally, whites are on the bottom, and as a result, the standards of beauty lean black... and yet when white girls "pass" as black (using, yes, exactly the means you think they do), they've still got some pretty damn straight hair.
  • The cover art version also comes up on the covers of The Runelords novels. Princess Iome is specifically noted in the books as being a result of a mixed-race political marriage between her white father and Fantasy Counterpart Culture Middle Eastern/Indian mother (it's a bit ambiguous, as the region her mother came from covers a wide-enough range to fairly match that of "from the Middle East to India" and is internally very diverse; given political marriages, being Raj Ahten's cousin is no indicator). After her own political marriage, a common woman in her husband's homeland is shown wondering if pale complexions will become unfashionable now that the darker-complected (and very popular) Iome is to be their new queen. On the covers she looks like a white woman who never goes outside.
  • Nicole from Beauty Queens is quite black. She states how difficult it is for her to manage her hair. However, her mother bought her skin bleaching cream to make her appear more white.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Lincoln Heights both plays it straight and averts it. Jenn Sutton is very dark, while Eddie Sutton is of a medium brown complexion. The Sutton kids go in order with the oldest being the lightest, the middle being being slightly more tanned, and the youngest being extremely dark like the mother. Most likely the casting directors didn't care about the skin complexions of the actors as long as they were all black.
  • Portrayed in Frank's Place. Frank, a medium-dark man, is invited to join a black men's society that historically limited their membership to those who passed the "paper bag test," but now want to distance themselves from their past. Ultimately Frank decides to refuse their invitation:
    Frank: I was the first black man at my prep school, I was the first black man in my dinner club at Harvard. But I will not be the first black man in a black men's club.
  • Homicide: Life on the Street averted this in its earliest seasons - of the three black principal characters, two had dark skin and one had lighter skin. As the series progressed however, and probably as a result of NBC president Warren Littlefield's constant demands on the producers to make the show more eye-catching to viewers, most of the new black characters had lighter skin, including one whose main character trait was that she was beautiful. The issue was also confronted in-story with an episode in which Lt Giardello said that he had been turned down by black women because his nose was too flat and his skin too dark — and Giardello was part Italian.
  • Satirized in Curb Your Enthusiasm, in which Wanda wants Larry to get her script looked at by his colleague and explains how to "play the race card", telling him to emphasize that she's "one of those light-colored black folks".
  • Janet Hubert-Whitten, who originally played Vivian Banks on the The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, was replaced by the lighter-complexioned Daphne Maxwell Reid in the last few seasons. This was lampshaded on her first appearance. However only the change in actress was lampshaded. No mention was made of the half-shade difference in color. Even worse, the change in actress (and, with that, skin tone) also corresponded with a change in personality from an assertive outspoken career woman who was every bit her husband's equal to a docile, permissive housewife who appears much less.
  • Simone (Tawny Cypress) from Heroes.
    • Micah is justified, however, because he has a white mother.
    • Averted with Monica, although she didn't last long and no explanation was ever given for her dropping out of the storyline.
    • Played for laughs with redneck truck driver Sam Douglas, who is played by Asian American actor Ken Choi.
  • In one episode of the first season of MacGyver, a Jerk with a Heart of Gold makes a sarcastic comment about a woman's race ("Yes, I am a cripple. And you, madam, are black.") to help establish his initial Jerkass tendencies. The actress playing the woman in question, however, is so light-skinned as to appear Caucasian.
  • Averted in Misfits by Curtis Donovan (played by Nathan Stewart-Jarred); played straight, however, with Alisha Bailey (played by Antonia Thomas).
  • Averted by The Jeffersons, where the darkest-skinned character (Roxy Roker's Helen Willis) was married to a white man, but Roxie Roker was actually married to a white man (Sid Kravitz; Lenny is their son). When the producer doubted she could play a black woman married to a white man, she showed him a family photo and got the part.
  • Averted in The Wire, where over half the cast is black, with skin tones being just what you'd expect from Baltimore residents. Also worth noting that arguably the show's moral core, Lt. Daniels (Lance Reddick) is very dark-skinned. This has also been speculated to be a reason for the show's low ratings.
  • A decent number of Soap Operas has been accused of this trope. Hispanics soapies even more so, since, save in Venezuela and Brazil (who follow this trope to a T), they tend to Monochrome Casting favoring white people.
  • Margaret Cho's short-lived sitcom All-American Girl is very But Not Too Asian. She makes reference to this a lot in her live shows. Ironically, they had hired an "Asian consultant" to teach the Korean-American woman to act more Asian. She was both too Asian and not Asian enough.
    • Much of Cho's comedy stems from the fact that she has "Classic" Asian looks, but has a very American Gen X attitude. The network wanted someone who looked western (read: slender) while certain Moral Guardians within the Asian-American community wanted her to act a certain way, essentially inverting her stage persona.
  • In the Green Hornet TV series, Bruce Lee was given a major role as Kato but told to keep his mask on to conceal his Asian eyes.
    • This seems doubtful, as there are several scenes per episode where Kato is maskless and the Hornet also wears an eye-covering mask when in costume.
  • Averted in several Star Trek iterations:
    • Lt. Uhura in The Original Series, Captain Sisko in Deep Space Nine, Geordi LaForge in TNG, and Tuvok in Voyager are all quite dark and have "typically" African facial and hair structure (when Sisko had hair, anyway). Same with Mayweather in Enterprise. Yes, there was such a character.
    • The 60s series was also very daring in refusing to sweep under the rug the fact that their non "average white American" characters were... not average white Americans. (Remember, they faced network pressure to have no non-white characters.) They could have easily named Uhura "Sue Jones" or something, but they all tend to have names that reflect their ethnicities. In addition to Uhura and Sulu, there was a black doctor named Dr. M'Benga who was a Recurrer. Chekov's white, yeah, but... in the 60s, when Russians were still the "bad guys," we have as a main cast member a guy named "Pavel Chekov" who always talks about how Russia did everything first. He's never treated as being any less than the other crew members.
    • Due to the quality of black and white television sets when The Original Series was first aired and the makeup Nichelle Nichols wore that emphasized the almond shape of her eyes, she states in Beyond Uhura: Star Trek and Other Memories that some earlier fan mail that got sent to them praised the television show for having both a male and female strong positive role model for Asian-Americans.
  • Very much intentional when it came to the casting of Anne Rice's Feast of All Saints. Because well, it was basically about fair skinned Creole folks during pre-Civil War America in New Orleans. A dazzling yet damned class caught between the world of white privilege and black oppression.
  • Girlfriends
    • Averted where Toni, the most attractive of the central characters (most attractive as in both seen that way by male viewers and treated that way on the show) is also the darkest skinned.
    • Played straight on the actual show as well; Toni refused to date anyone darker than her and eventually married and had a child with a White doctor.
    • They justified it in one episode by having her explain that she was apparently teased for her dark skin when she was younger and didn't want her own children going through the same thing, and it's later double-subverted in a way in that aside from her skin tone, of the titular girlfriends Toni fits the most into European beauty standards; long flowing hair, small nose, and slim-and-busty physique. This probably isn't intentional.
  • Kendra from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, averted with Olivia.
  • Jennifer Beals plays a biracial woman on The L Word. One episode focuses on her and her white wife at a group therapy session being accosted by a radical black lesbian poet. The latter accused her of embracing her lesbian lifestyle but ignoring her own blackness. Previously, she requested her wife accept a black donor's sperm for their child so s/he could racially reflect both parents, so she argued the poet down, but was very hurt.
  • Jennifer Beals played Cal Lightman's ex-wife on Lie to Me. Although she could be mistaken for white, her character's heritage mirrors her own (Black father and White mother), and again a character with the same parental mixture on The Chicago Code. Beals has insisted on this as background for her characters.
  • One HBO special, George Clinton's Cosmic Slop, was a set of several 'Twilight Zone' short episodes. In one episode, aliens land in the United States, and offer to solve all their economic and energy problems. In return, they wanted all the black people in America - everyone who would 'fail' the paper bag test - for undisclosed purposes. Guess how that story ended.
  • Rashida Jones is of mixed-race ancestry (her father is music mogul Quincy Jones and her mother is White actress Peggy Lipton) but few of Rashida's characters are actually identified as black. They made her look really white on this cover of Bust magazine, and Rashida rarely if ever play mixed characters let alone black ones.
  • Played straight and averted by Fringe; while Astrid is very fair-skinned, Broyles is very dark.
  • The whole main cast of UPN's Second Time Around was accused of this.
  • Glee:
    • It averts this with Mercedes, who is fairly dark-skinned, but plays it straighter with Matt. In addition, Mercedes' hair was curled in the pilot but gets straightened in later episodes.
    • The writers might have tried too hard to avert this trope. Mercedes is a borderline offensive Sassy Black Woman stereotype with very little character development.
    • Matt is an interesting case. Glee are really trying to be the most diverse cast on TV. If he was cast due to his light brown skin colour, it could be to contrast with Mercedes. (Nonetheless, Matt was really just a background character, who only had two lines, who was Put on a Bus in the start of the second season.)
    • Glee cast the very fair skinned Brian Stokes Mitchell as Rachel Berry's African-American gay dad.
      • Which is perfectly justified since it was stated early in the series that she didn't know which of her dads was biologically related to her, they could hardly have cast a very dark-skinned actor as a white (or white-looking, potentially-mixed-race if you prefer) girl's dad.
      • Then again, when compared to the way Rachel will continuously refer to her Jewish heritage (which may be that or simply establishing her as a Barbra Streisand Expy), with Puck courting her in season 1 for no other apparent reason than to be the Token Minority Couple, and one second-season episode even centering on whether or not she should have a rhinoplasty to "correct" her "Jew nose", it seems just as likely that her comment about not knowing which of her fathers was biologically related to her was intended as Played for Laughs. Especially since she later turns out to be adopted.
    • Don't watch their rendition of Michael Jackson's "Black or White." You know that montage at the end of the original video where people of all different races, ethnicities, and colors all morph into each other and mug for the camera? When Glee did it, it was just a pitiful reminder of how blindingly white their cast continues to be.
  • Some see actress Jessica Szohr as this. Although humorously she is playing a Caucasoid female on Gossip Girl.
    • Actually, the fabulous (very clearly black) Gina Torres was on the show playing her mother, so I guess her character—who was white in the books—is officially mixed race on the show.
    • Trope averted in Season 4 with Tika Sumpter's Raina Thorpe.
  • Averted on Dexter. Doakes has very dark skin and non-white features. LaGuerta, being Hispanic and black, still has a skin tone darker than the police force's other Hispanic cop, Angel. Then, at the end of season one, they bring in a very dark and beautiful woman who is also explicitly stated to be Haitian. Given that her Establishing Character Moment involves doing the right thing even when she knows it'll piss of her boss because she refuses to let a serial killer go free for the sake of job politics, the fandom was quite pleased.
  • Averted in the show Family Matters where Laura Winslow, the girl Steve Urkel is in love with (and has been on more than one occasion been referred to as 'the prettiest girl in school') is darker skinned. Ironically, many people in the fandom seem to think the very light skinned Myra, Urkel's on and off again girlfriend on the show, was much better looking... though that might better be explained by the Buxom Is Better trope.
  • Averted in 1980s cop show 21 Jump Street. Female police officer Judy Hoffs (played by brown skinned Holly Robinson Peete) is the object of everyone's affection, including Italian Doug Penhall (Peter De Luise) Asian Harry Ioki (Dustin Nguyen) and White/Native American Tom Hanson (Johnny Depp, who briefly dated Robinson in real life). Hoffs has multiple love interests of all ethnicities, mostly White.
  • Averted in Boy Meets World. Player Shawn Hunter becomes monogamous for the first time when he is romantically involved with new character Angela Moore during the last 3 seasons. In addition to not being light skinned, Angela wore her hair natural on the show.
  • Averted in Friends where actresses Gabrielle Union and Aisha Tyler guest star as love interests.
    • In the last seasons of the show. There was a Sassy Black Woman co-worker for Monica in the first season, a black boss for Chandler in the second, and Ross's divorce lawyer played by Ron Glass in the fifth. The show is the poster child for Monochrome Casting for a reason.
  • Averted and played straight in Saved by the Bell. Lisa is the object of Screech's affection, and while certainly a pretty girl, she had very fair skin and angular features, and her hairstyles were rarely very different from Kelly's or Jessie's (it helps that '80s Hair tends to look "ethnic", no matter who is sporting it). The character was originally supposed to be a white Jewish Princess. Lark Voorhies got the role based on the strength of her audition, despite the fact casting specifically asked for only white females.
  • How long before someone calls this on the leads of Undercovers? NBC's promos for the show (and all of their new programming) flash the phrase "more colorful" at the end, likely a nod to it.
  • The Law & Order episode "Blood" revolves around a black man who tries to pass himself off as white.
  • Cold Case:
    • An episode cast a dark complexioned actress as the victim and used lighting techniques to make her appear light-skinned, which didn't become relevant until near the end when her white lover tried to convince her to pass for white so they could be out in the open with each-other.
    • In two other episodes both a suspect and victim respectivly were African American but so light skinned that they were believed to be caucasian.
    • Also averted with the two series regulars Thom Barry and Tracie Thoms. While she is considerably lighter than him, she keeps her natural hair the entire time.
  • That's So Raven, with a cast of dark complexioned actors playing Raven's immediate and extended family (the members not played by Raven herself) but the title character and her friend being light-skinned.
  • Averted on My Name Is Earl with both 'Crabman' Darnell and Earl Jnr.
  • While Degrassi The Next Generation has had several black characters over the years, the only ones with any real development were Jimmy and Liberty. Both characters were portrayed by biracial actors. By comparison, the much darker-skinned Shante Black was on a high school show for six seasons before she got any character development.
  • Ugly Betty has an in-show example. Wilhelmina Slater underwent surgery and skin bleaching in order to conform to the fashion industry's standards as a model. Even as an ex-model, she is still ashamed of her previous appearance and real name, Wanda.
  • Criminal Minds: Derek Morgan has a white mother, black father, and several sisters. The actresses who played his sisters had range of skin tones. Shemar Moore himself has a black father and white mother.
  • The two leads of Key And Peele cater to this....and poke fun at the fact.
  • Pleasantly subverted with Angel Coulby on Merlin: in the promotional shots for series two she appears quite fair, yet in the shots for series four (the season in which she becomes Queen), she is portrayed as considerably darker.
  • It's a judgement call where Firefly's Gina Torres lands on this trope. She's of Cuban descent with mixed-race features. Early in her career she had a minor role in an episode of Law & Order (she found the corpse), and when a white cop at a coffee shop commented on her beauty, his black partner said it was only because she had "white features". She identifies as Latin.
  • Parodied on an episode of Howard Stern's syndicated TV show from the early-1990's. The segment was called "Black Folk With White Features" and was hosted by Stern dressed in Malcolm X gear, giving his name as 'Howard Washington Stern' and claiming that he and Robin Quivers were brother and sister, the idea being that he was a light-skinned black man instead of white.
  • On Chappelle's Show Charlie Murphy relates his friend Rick James' nickname for him: "Because of my complexion he used to call me 'Darkness'. He calls me and my brother Eddie 'Darkness'. Called us the "Darkness Brothers". See, this is long before Wesley Snipes. Back then we as the blackest niggas on the planet according to Rick James!"
  • Power Rangers is an interesting example. In almost every season, the show has had one Black person as a Ranger, ranging from the dark-skinned Joel and Zack to the medium-toned Jack to the very light skinned Kevin, and many shades in between. What's a bit unfortunate, however, is how Kevin, the most recent one, is not only fairly light skinned but also seen by many as an Uncle Tom.
  • Averted on A Different World. Set at a historically black university, the show featured African-Americans of a wide variety of skin tones and no skin tone in particular was portrayed as more intelligent/successful/desirable than the other. In fact, it was the dark-skinned, full-figured Kim who was paired with a white love interest. Though there might still have been Unfortunate Implications in that the light-skinned Whitley was cast in the role of the Rich Bitch.
  • Averted and stomped into submission by Scouts Safari. The show is set in post-apartheid South Africa, all but one of the main character's friends are black, and they are typically very dark skinned. It's notable that the show averts the Magical Negro trope by giving the ability to communicate with animals to Scout, who is white, and that her best friend, who she has multiple moments of Ship Tease with, is very dark skinned and embraces his Zulu heritage. The number of one shot characters who are black outweigh those who are white numberwise. Despite the perceived Minority Show Ghetto, it did very well during its' initial run on Discovery Kids, and subsequently went on to get good ratings in reruns over the course of several years.

    Music 
  • Averted by former Suffocation drummer Mike Smith, who was as dark as they came while playing an a heavily white genre. Likewise, Kele Okereke, frontman of Bloc Party.
    • Terrance Hobbs, also of Suffocation, is decidedly lighter-skinned, but he's also the force driving the band and shares Face of the Band duties with Frank Mullen.
    • For that matter, there's also Caller of the Storms from the Canadian black metal act Blasphemy. Dark-skinned while playing in an extremely white (and occasionally racist) genre, in addition to being a hulking juggernaut who met the other original members over, among other things, a mutual interest in powerlifting and bodybuilding. There are multiple stories of his beating other musicians who made racist comments or insults to a pulp floating around.
  • Probably a large part of the reason Drake (who is actually biracial) is more successful than say, Frank Ocean.
    • Keep in mind that his suburban middle class Canadian upbringing was also considered part of his appeal as a rapper as well.
  • Naturi Naughton of the R&B girl group 3LW was booted from the group for being too dark, though the other two members claim that was the reason they chose her to be in the group in the first place. Ironically when they became the The Cheetah Girls she was replaced by the very fair-skinned Sabrina Bryan - who is Caucasian (on her mother's side) and Mexican (on her father's side). All of the above had serious collateral damage too. Which caused HUGE Flame Wars and utterly decimated their fan base, especially their urban fans. Which is why the group was rebooted as the The Cheetah Girls so they could rebuild from the ashes of 3LW. It also caused burned bridges with rap group Bone Thugs-n-Harmony as they featured 3LW on their first single off of their Thug World Order album. The single was released, but the break up of the group put the music video up in the air, which kinda rubbed bone the wrong way as the single was doing very well. But it also didn't help that the group was actually forced on bone by Executive Meddling in the first place.
  • Fairly recently, hip-hop stars have come under fire for having predominantly light-skinned black women or other oiled up ethnically vague women of color (biracial, multiracial etc..), including Latina or even only white women in their videos. It could be argued that it's the casting director's fault, and not the fault of the artists themselves. This is also likely due to the fact that modeling agencies tend to favor ethnic women of a lighter shade, so they're more likely to be cast by default.
  • Hip Hop videos tend to cast dark-skinned models in large groups as the background eye candy but any video focusing on a single girl playing the singer's main squeeze will almost invariably be played by a model of caramel skin or lighter.
  • R&B videos have gotten the same type of criticism.
  • Alicia Keys was accused of benefiting from this once she received more Grammy wins over her much darker complexioned peer India.Arie at the The 44th Grammy Awards, especially since India had 7 nominations and won none.
  • Consider both Musician-Singer-Songwriters have put out four albums:
    • India Arie: 6 million worldwide and 3 grammys.
    • Mixed-race (White mother, Black father) Alicia Keys: 31 million worldwide and 12 grammys. (And is a favorite in 2011 to get even more)
  • Tommy Mottola wanted mixed-race Mariah Carey to be very vague about her background earlier in her career. Some believe she intentionally undermined this by appearing on the cover of Ebony Magazine's April 1994 issue.
  • Similarly Whitney Houston while not "light skinned" was marketed in the beginning by only sending her to white A/C radio stations while avoiding Urban Radio stations to promote her debut album.
  • Perri "Pebbles" Reid has also had album overs depicting her a lot lighter then what she actually was. This is especially jarring considering she was already fairly light complexioned.
  • Alternative hip-hop group The Jungle Brothers covers this trope in a song called "Black Is Black".
  • Mixed-race Lenny Kravitz said that his music was considered not black enough for some record labels, and not white enough for others. Of course he never changed his sound. And continues to blend retro-soul with classic rock.
  • Lampshaded by Nelly Furtado in the song "Powerless".
  • Michael Jackson's albums became a subversion of this starting with the Dangerous CD due to his music becoming more urban and less Pop/Rock oriented. Well in some fans opinion anyway, particularly the ones who preferred the more R&B disco Off The Wall Album to his Thriller, and Bad album.
    • Notoriously, Michael Jackson's actual appearance seemed to be playing this trope straight. His gradually paling skin from the mid-1980s onwards was the subject of much speculation that he was intentionally bleaching it, even though he was already hugely successful and didn't have to worry about this trope. He explained in a 1993 interview that he had the skin disorder vitiligo, which destroyed his skin pigmentation. Still, combined with his plastic surgeries, jokes may always be made about how he resembled a white woman (at best) in his later years: i.e. "Only in America can a poor black boy grow up to be a rich white woman." (You can do anything... IN AMERICA!)
    • Some people say MJ enforced this trope with his children, using a white sperm donor and a white surrogate because he didn't want black kidsnote 
  • R&B girl group from The Nineties called Shades averted this by embracing their varied skin complexions. Two of the members being fairly light skin, one being caramel toned, and the lead singer being brown.
  • Hip-hop mogul, Diddy has also come under fire. In March of 2009, he placed an ad seeking models for a Ciroc Vodka promotion - as long as they were "White, Hispanic, or light-skinned African American."
  • Teena Marie is an inversion as she was initially "But Not Too WHITE," so due to Executive Meddling her debut album didn't show her picture or let her appear in public.
  • Cab Calloway may have been one of the first people this trope was applied to. His lighter skin made him easier to accept for whites at the time (this being the 1930's, back when performing in blackface was still okay). He also came from a middle-class background - quite rare for blacks at the time - and so was able to transcend the "ghetto" and "sharecropper" stereotypes applied to poorer blacks.
  • Jelly Roll Morton was known to brag about his fair appearance and White ancestry and mocked other African-Americans for looking blacker than him. When interviewed about his past, he would emphasize his Cajun ancestors and gloss over his African ones.
  • Beyoncé anyone?
    • She not only has very light skin but has dyed her hair progressively lighter colors over the years (so that it's basically blonde now).
    • This is highlighted in the music video for "Beautiful Liar" where Beyonce duets with Shakira. Throughout the duration of the video, it is often difficult to identify which singer is which. Seriously. Check out the video on youtube here, you might start to doubt your powers of facial recognition.
    • Beyonce has recently come under fire for an African-inspired photo shoot in which she wears dark makeup.
    • Beyonce's skin has ranged for brown to light, depending on lighting/makeup/tanning. Naturally, she's "damn near white."
  • Besides the above mentioned Cab Calloway the Ur Example for female artists was probably the The Ronettes, Especially Ronnie Spector.
  • Nicki Minaj is a mild example, she is of Afro-and Indo- Trinidadian descent. Though some see this as unfortunate anyway due to hip-hop music showcasing light-skinned black females.
  • Thin Lizzy have maintained a strong cult following, and their Live and Dangerous album is often mentioned as among the greatest, if not the greatest, live albums in rock history. However, they achieved only moderate success in their day, and singer Phil Lynott has been described as "too black for America". Keep in mind: whether or not this was the case, if the record label believed so, then they were not going to be receiving adequate promotion. And it could fairly be said that they did not receive adequate label support; they remained semi-obscure despite a series of consistent albums, and a sound that went on to influence later hugely-successful acts such as Def Leppard and Iron Maiden. Same could be said about most black rock artists. As it was covered in the documentary, Electric Purgatory.
  • Lil Kim. When she first came out with Hard Core she looked like this. And now she looks less like a light-skinned black person and more like something that crawled out of the Uncanny Valley. Despite that, she kept the plastic surgery coming, and now people have made some harsh jokes that now she looks closer to "an Asian LeToya Jackson."
  • Some rappers have come under fire for praising light skin black women while trashing dark skin women. Rapper Yung Berg, who is barely fair skin, made a statement on XFM radio that he doesn't like dark skin women, going on calling them "dark butts". He then states in order for him to date a woman, they must pass a pool test. The pool test is if a woman jumps in the pool and don't look better than they did before jumping in, meaning their hair is nappy, then it's "not a good look". The day after he made an apology and stated that his mother is dark skin.
    • Lil Wayne made a similar comment when he encountered a dark-skinned black female fan. After another rapper, Gudda Gudda, commented that she was attractive for a dark girl, Wayne agreed by quoting a lyric from his song "Right Above" (Beautiful black woman, I bet that bitch look better red). The fan asked him how he could say something so disparaging when his oldest daughter shares his own brown skin tone, he allegedly replied "my daughter is a dark skinned millionaire. That’s the difference between her and you."
  • Rihanna is light-skinned to begin with, but for a recent British Vogue cover, they still lightened up her skin. The blurb for that link asks, "You think somebody forgot to tell British Vogue's retoucher that Rihanna is black?"
  • During the 70s and 80s, light-skinned black male artist were the most popular and presented to the public media in America, mainly because they had crossover appeal and were popular with both black and white females. Groups like Debarge and singers like Al-Be-Sure and Lionel Richie were the face of R&B music. Rappers like LL Cool J and Will Smith were the face of rap music. This changed during the 90s after gangster rap became popular for showing mostly dark-skinned black men in a strong, masculine, light regardless of the many negative factors of the music itself. It would help put dark-skinned black men on an equal playing field with light-skinned black men in the rap industry.
    • Yet which rapper in the 90s stirred up the most controversy with his song "Cop Killer"? The very light skinned Ice-T.
    • Also James Brown, Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett were the face of R&B in the 60s. Musical content does contribute a great deal to popularity.
  • J Cole on his song "Crooked Smile"
    • ->"I asked if my skin pale, would I then sell like Eminem or Adele?"
    • Worth noting that Eminem himself has said he believes his success is in part to do with being white, declaring on his song "White America".
      • ->"Look at these eyes, baby blue, baby just like yourself/If they were brown Shady'd lose, Shady sits on the shelf"
      • ->"Let's do the math: if I was black, I would've sold half"
  • Crossed with But Not Too White, musically this was Fishbone's biggest problem early in their career, since black radio wasn't interested due to the Punk Rock element, and white radio wasn't interested because they were a black band that didn't sound like anything else.
  • Afrobeat musician Fela Kuti tackled this topic in his 1976 song "Yellow Fever". It was a common view in Africa that lighter skin was more beautiful, and many women became physically ill from using unsafe skin-lightening creams. Fela criticized that view as a holdover from colonialism, and pointed out that those lightening creams just made you look sick anyway.

    Pinball 
  • Done with Data East's Star Trek pinball, where the depictions of Lt. Uhura on the playfield show her as notably lighter than Nichelle Nichols, to the point of looking like she has a mild tan.

     Professional Wrestling 
  • In what could have been a Take That to this trope, in 2003 the very dark Teddy Long developed the gimmick of an oppressed black man and starting a stable with black wrestlers and having them squash white jobbers in what he dubbed the "White Boy Challenge". The kicker? Most of the wrestlers he recruited were very light skinned such as D'Lo Brown and Rodney Mack. However he did also recruit the very dark Jazz and Mark Henry.
    • Jazz and Rodney Mack are married in real life, so they were a package deal.
  • WWE has averted this with regards to its female performers. For a stretch, African-American females made up the majority of the roster as it include Alicia Fox, Kharma, Cameron Lynn, Naomi Knight and the mixed race Layla El. Alicia Fox has also been paired with many white superstars though in 2012 they did start putting her with black superstars like Booker T and JTG.
    • Throughout much of the 2000s, however, WWE played the trope straight. The latte-colored Layla was the only Diva of African descent for quite a while (except for Booker T's wife Sharmell, and she was not a wrestler for most of her career). At the same time, interestingly, WWE offered up blonde Caucasian Divas - Stacy Keibler, Kelly Kelly, Maryse Ouellet - who were relatively dark-skinned. With the Spicy Latina Divas (most of them relatively light-skinned or even of mixed blood) added to the mix, one gets the sense that WWE in the past decade was aiming for an Ambiguously Brown collective portrait of its women's division.
  • Again averted with WWE Tough Enough where two of the three contestants that got signed were African-American and the third was Puerto Rican.

    Theatre 
  • Played with in Passing Strange: The Youth's high school infatuation Edwina wants him to "get some soul" and blacken up a bit, but, as she notes, not so much that he'll "become unhirable". The casting of the show itself naturally disregards this trope completely.
  • A stage direction in The Merchant of Venice refers to the Prince of Morocco as a "tawny moor", as opposed to a "black" moor.

    Toys 
  • The first black Barbie Dolls had the right skin tone, but were processed from the same mold used to make white Barbies; thus they had African-American skin but Caucasian features.
    • The Barbie So In Style line attempts to avert this, with mixed results. The dolls do have green/blue eyes and straight hair, but there was an effort to include many different types of skintones and they have distinct African facial features.
  • The American Girl dolls have a similar problem to Barbies, but with hair. While the black dolls arguably have black facial features, their hair is usually thicker than the white dolls but not as thick as most actual black dolls.
  • On the Disney Princess Merchandise, Jasmine, while not black, seems to have widely varying skintone. Sometimes she'll be the same tone as she was in the movie, but a lot of the more recent merchandise features her with much lighter skin. (on at least one of the children's books, she was almost as light as the caucasian princesses!)
    • A similar non-black example occurred with Mulan in the 2013 relaunch of the Disney Princess franchise, which included more "stylized", "fashionable" redesigns for the characters. In addition to her skin being lightened until she was literally whiter than Snow White, her face was altered to have more of an Anglo look and her eyes were made blue. Due to backlash, the skin tone and eyes, at least, were corrected to something closer to the movie.

    Video Games 
  • This is a common problem in many games with a "Create A Character" mode. In many cases, the option to play a really dark-skinned character doesn't even exist. This is especially jarring in games which allow you to play a "Dark Elf" which is black in the most literal sense, but do not allow you to make a dark-skinned human. Sometimes, even when there are options to darken the skin, there are still no facial features or hairstyles to match. So what's left is either Ambiguously Brown or the "white person in blackface" effect. Fortunately, there are exceptions.
  • The darkest gnome skin in World of Warcraft could barely pass for hispanic. Black humans, dwarves, and even orcs are creatable, though.
  • In Soul Calibur III, the first appearance of a black character and a create-a-fighter mode doesn't translate into a black skin option, as the darker you try to go, the more the saturation drops. So even though there's at least one face option that has somewhat African features, trying to pick a naturally darker skin color to match it just makes your character gray.
  • Oblivion is a very bad offender. Whenever you try to make a dark-skinned Redguard, they turn out with ugly green splotches that should NOT be there. Makes you wonder if the people at Bethesda have never seen a real dark-skinned black person before. The fact that Redguards share a skin texture file with the other human races does not help.
  • Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas are just as bad as Oblivion about this. "Black" characters often end up looking like dark-skinned Caucasians.
  • Elena from Street Fighter 3 has a caramel-colored sprite, which is especially ridiculous when you remember she's from Kenya. She also lacks any African features and has blue eyes and straight white hair. Though in 3rd Strike her official character art did get changed to a more realistic chocolate color.
  • The protagonist of The Suffering. If not for the photo he carries of his family (In which, for some reason, he's quite a bit darker) there'd be no way to tell if he was actually black. It came across like the studio got cold feet when making the character.
    • Made worst in the sequel, where they lightened him up to looking like a tanned white man.
  • Sheva from Resident Evil 5:
    • Yahtzee described her as looking like "a white woman who's been dipped in tea." She also doesn't sound very African, using some sort of meandering British/Australian accent. She was motion captured and modeled after an Australian actress Michelle Jade Van Der Water, who is on the lighter side...though it does cater to the trope in that every other African is darker in the game and she happens to have green eyes.
    • There is also the controversy after rumors that Sheva was only made black at all to combat the accusations of racism the game was receiving for having dark-skinned African villagers as the "monsters" of the game, so some people saw Sheva's light color as being an insufficient compromise and example of this trope (dark skinned Africans = crazy diseased zombies, light skinned African = female lead.
    • Sheva has always been a character in the development of the game, but her role changed after the allegations. However, Sheva's appearance is really jarring when compared to Josh, who averts the trope.
  • In Half-Life 2, if the player weren't shown Alyx Vance's father (who is an example of this trope himself), boards would probably be awash with debate around whether she was supposed to be Hispanic or just have a tan - which is because she's half-black, half-Asian. As a result, she's left off many lists of notable badass video game women of color.
    • And the only way we know she's supposed to be half-Asian inside the game is a picture of her with both of her parents from before the Black Mesa Incident.
  • Metal Gear series:
    • Crying Wolf is supposedly African, but looks more like a Japanese woman with a tan. Crying Wolf is based on model Mieko Rye who is light-skinned (and apparently mixed with other ethnicity) herself.
    • You can also accuse Screaming Mantis and Raging Raven of this...they're portrayed by fair-skinned women who aren't even the same nationality - Screaming Mantis is South American played by a Slovakian model and Raging Raven is Indonesian played by a Japanese woman.
    • Fortune from Metal Gear Solid 2 is African-American, and her in-game model is pretty brown-skinned (if not chocolate-toned, she's definitely not light skinned.) The official art for the character tells a different story, as she is very fair-skinned. She and her father are both blond (with blond eyebrows) and with blue eyes.
    • The Central Americans in Peace Walker consist of two pale, freckled, green-eyed redheads, and a blue-eyed girl with blond hair and fairer skin than the white Big Boss. (Weirdly, she mentions in one of her dialogues that she's not a "pale skinned Anglo-Saxon", suggesting her portrayal is for art reasons, but still...) There's also the weirdness that people repeatedly say Big Boss looks just like Che Guevara.
  • Jade from Mortal Kombat. In Mortal Kombat II and Mortal Kombat 3, she had a dark skin tone and in her next appearance in Mortal Kombat Deception, that got lightened a bit to a brown shade. In the concept art for Mortal Kombat 9. Jade is barely tan. However in the game, she has her usual brown shade. The team behind the game can't even decide what race she is, the casting call for the game asked for a African-American or Middle Eastern voice actress. The two alternative DLC skins she has (from Mortal Kombat II and Mortal Kombat 3) are barely darker than Kitana and Mileena.
  • Pokémon:
  • In Mass Effect, there were many Caucasians, Asians, Hispanics, and Ambiguously Brown characters, but no dark-skinned Africans until Jacob in the second game. Character creation is mixed on this. There are broad noses and full lips to select, but no appropriate hairstyles, at least for black men. The best attempts at creating a black male Shepard will still look off when standing next to Jacob, whose features are unique.
  • Dead or Alive does this to Zack and Lisa in the fifth installment. Compare how they looked in previous games to how they look now. Interestingly enough, due to DOA 5's new "realistic" aesthetic for the fighters, Lisa actually looks like a black woman (and the Asian characters look Asian and the White characters look white) instead of a generic anime babe painted brown.
  • An odd example from Dragon Age II: in the promotional materials for the game, Isabela had a far lighter skin tone than she actually has in-game. Unfortunately, this has persisted in comic covers and art books even after release.
    • The character creation also makes it hard for you to create a person of East African descent. You can make their skin dark brown, but there are no facial features or hair to complete the package.
  • Averted in Left 4 Dead 2 where two of the main protagonists are black,and realistically portrayed so. Also averts the Black Dude Dies First trope in the original game with Bill's deathin The Sacrifice campaign.

    Web Comics 
  • Played for Drama in Dumbing of Age: according to Sal, her twin brother Walky received Parental Favoritism because he "came out whiter," which Walky denies. (The pair have a white mother and mixed-race father.) There's no noticeable different between their skin tones, at least at the time of the comic, but Sal has naturally kinky hair that she works very hard to straighten.

    Western Animation 
  • This is often a concern of Jazmine Dubois, the mixed-race girl on The Boondocks.
    • Particularly when the subject of her hair comes up. Meanwhile, Huey is often prone to accusing her of not being black enough, particularly in regards to her hair. Poor girl can't win.
    • She could be Aaron's take on a Tragic Mulatto. Her mother is white and has blonde hair, which explains why Jazmine has lighter hair and skin then other characters.
    • On a least one occasion Uncle Ruckus claimed the Freeman family are stuck up because of their relatively light skin. Ruckus himself in very dark skinned, which is (probably intentionally) ironic considering he is racist against black people. He claims to have "de-vitiligo" that makes him get darker.
    • Also mentioned by Huey when describing the typical storyline for one of the Tyler Perry expy's movies.
  • Spider-Man: The Animated Series:
    • Blade is so light that it's difficult to tell he isn't white, well until you notice his other features.
    • Blade's mum is clearly African-American too.
  • In Archer, the character Lana is a light-skinned black woman. Archer calls her "black... ish." When she gets offended, he defends himself, saying she exploded when he called her a quadroon.
    • Archer himself appears to have this preference as evidenced by his ringtone
  • It appears every black character on Zevo3 falls into this trope, they're all caramel-colored.
  • American Dad! lampshaded this with Condoleeza Rice when Stan tries to sober up a drunken George W. Bush:
    Stan: Coffee! I'll get you some coffee! How do you take it?
    Bush: Well, Stan, I like my coffee like my Secretaries of State, not too dark and a little sweet.
  • Rocket Power: Twister's brother Lars for the first season had a dark skintone, but the seasons that followed afterwards, he had the same light brown skintone that his brother had. This was either Unfortunate Implications by lightening a character's skin or an aversion of the Unfortunate Implications since Lars was the Jerk Ass bully and "villian", and the only dark-skinned character at that.
  • Disney's Sofia the First features the first Latina princess, a very fair-skinned girl with reddish auburn hair. It is a given that Latinos come in a variety of shades, races and colors but a lot of people are taking issue that Disney declared her Latina just a short time before the show premiered. Mainly the fact that it seems "after the fact" and just declaring her Latina just to have a Latina princess, one of doesn't even debut in proper Disney Animated Canon movie, no less. Not to mention fair-skinned Latinos have more representation in the media.
  • Spyke from X-Men: Evolution had blond hair and spoke with a Totally Radical skater boy dialect. The writers were trying very hard to make him black without seeming "too urban" or something.
  • It's been noticed that in promotional works for Avatar: The Last Airbender , Katara's brown skin and Aang's olive tint get lightened to a light complexion.
  • Subtly alluded to on South Park. When the girls start Photoshopping their pictures to make them unrealistically hot, Nichole, the one black girl, makes her skin lighter. (Though oddly, later it's shown dark again.)

    Other 
  • Note that in comic strips and animation, it is allegedly justified for fully black characters to be lighter than in Real Life, because outlines, the only way of defining facial features, don't "read" as well against dark skin tones. The counterargument is that the industry doesn't have much need to find a way to better depict dark characters, because they historically haven't had to, thus perpetuating a vicious circle. (It's also common for darker complexion characters to be created simply because it looks cool rather than indicating race per se.)
  • Anyone who has ever taken a drawing class or used a 'how to draw' book that focused on drawing faces has probably run across this, or at least something which will LEAD to this, and will probably have people parrot it at them on artistic message boards and the like. There are certain well established rules to how to draw faces, specifically how to establish the proportions of features in relation to each other. These rules are all based on white people, but they are presented as universal, and if your face is not within the stated guidelines it is 'out of proportion' and thus, many artists believe, unrealistic and ugly. The one most relevant to black people is the nose width 'rule' which states that a nose is never, ever, wider than the width of the space between the eyes (which are in turn one eye width apart) When you get into how to actually draw the nose, again, you will get detailed instructions on how to draw caucasian noses, with no guidance on any other ethnicity. This simply isn't applicable to many black people, but for some artists is is VERY hard to break out of this mindset, so the result is a lot of art of supposed black people with caucasian features. There are exceptions, but it is very rare, especially when dealing with actual books rather than amateur made tutorials on the internet which, ironically, are often far better than the professional ones.
  • Dollbase art on deviantART:
    • In theory, a good way to practice shading and study anime anatomy or Art Major Biology as it applies to different series - the models are naked and in outline, showing body proportions better and allowing you to learn another artist's style better. The problem is that nearly every doll base is white. White couples, white girls, and white men make up the vast majority of this artwork. If a black person is shown, they'll be one in a group base of four or five, or be relegated to a Black Best Friend, and have no noticeable facial changes from the facial features base artists prefer. On the other hand, attempting to supply a black base starts a flame war over what the 'base tone' should be. Too dark and it's unusable, too light and it's racist. Most people who have black characters either work excessively hard on changing the whole base, or they do nothing but dunk a character in chocolate (or, as Zero Punctuation noted, tea) with no regard to hair texture or appearance being different between races. However, if you're anything that is neither white nor black, you will find no bases whatsoever supplied for your race. At all. This is the source of much controversy over on deviantART.
    • This is a big problem in the pixel dolling community - when it comes to bases, it's pretty rare for alternate skin tones to be provided, and when they are it's usually a straight re-colour of the 'default' white base, leading to, as described above with Barbie, dark skinned dolls with caucasian features and generally caucasian hair.
  • Fan art is notorious for lightening the complexion of brown skinned characters. Examples are cataloged here.
  • Contemporary depictions of Eliza Harris (who inspired her namesake in Uncle Tom's Cabin) and her heroic escape from slavery with her grandson on her arms by leaping across the ice over the Ohio River universally depict her as a white woman (the baby might even be light haired). It is unknown if she was deliberately whitewashed by abolitionists to make her story better appeal to white audiences (the idea that random white northerners might be abducted by slave catchers and sold as "light skinned negroes" in the South proved very effective at the time) or if she was really that light skinned because she had barely any African ancestry (see Real Life).
  • The vintage clothing website Mod Cloth was accused of this trope due to having only one person of color as a model when they launched. As of this writing during February 2014, they currently have four white models, three Asian models (one of Malaysian descent, one who is Chinese-American, and one who is Japanese-Canadian in origin) and two black models. Their black models both have very, very dark skin. Any Unfortunate Implications regarding everyone's hairstyles can be justifiably addressed by the fact it's a vintage clothing store and many of their models are fangirls of the site and the vintage scene in general. Back when they did interviews with the models and put their on their website, Grace Ohta, the aforementioned Japanese-Canadian model, stated this was the only vintage clothing store that would let her model because she was 'too dark' for others, meaning this trope is very alive and well in the vintage scene, if not as discussed as it should be.
  • Gothic Charm School has seen many questions answered in regard to Goths of Color, and it has in fact been the sole subject of three articles entirely. In these articles' comments section you'll find many people who embrace Goths of Color as One of Us, but at the same time the only reason there are enough letters to constitute whole articles is because of But Not Too Black, complete with black Goths saying they've fared better if they have light skin and worse if they have dark skin when it comes to being accepted. The runners of the site find this appalling, which is why it's one of few topics they come back to repeatedly.
  • On the podcast Another Pagan Podcast, they discuss a stereotype that applies to black pagans in particular - that all black pagans must follow an African pagan path. If they don't, they're viewed as trying to be white by white people and black people alike. And of course, in the spirit of this trope, mixed or mixed looking people get a pass on this.
  • This is oddly, very common in Latin American media. Although Latin American people comes in a variety of colors due the diversity of their populoation, given the kind of actors that get main roles in tv, you would think than most of the latino population are fair skinned caucassians. Chile may be the worst offender, since most mainstream actors are light haired white actors with colored eyes (and most of the even have European surnames) but you just have to take a walk around any chilean city to notice than most Chilean people have a wide range of brown skin tones, black hair and dark brown eyes. This has more to do with Chile's strong classism than an outright racism, since European-features are associated with a high economical and social position. However, since opportunities for the low and middle class have risen and the riches families have been diluted and dispersed (There are people with "important" last names that aren't getting any money outside their jobs because they are way too distant relatives) the portrayal of dark skinned latinos in major roles has come bigger, although is still small comparing it to the real population.
    • Still played straight in advertising, where it seems that 90% of Chilean population is blue-eyed and blond.

    Real Life 
  • In the slavery times of the colonial era throughout North and South America (1500s-1900), lighter-skinned blacks were more likely to be house slaves (partially because some of them were illegitimate children the slave owner had with a slave woman), whereas dark-skinned blacks were the ones more likely to work out in the field. Thus, it was generally preferred to be lighter-skinned, since it meant you had a great chance of working indoors instead of outside in the hot sun all day. Some have suggested that it partially explains why lighter skin and European features are often preferred among blacks and the media as the beauty standard. Not to mention sometimes mixed-race slaves were treated better by their owners, sometimes being arranged to get an education and apprenticeships.
    • Light skinned slave women were particularly sought for one reason. That one. Which in turn produced even more light skinned slaves. This resulted in so many slaves indistiguisable from their owners by the 1850s, particularly in Louisiana, that it was claimed that thousands escaped slavery every year just by moving out of town and adopting a new name.
  • Barack Obama:
    • When he first started running for president he was questioned in the fall of 2007 with the racist musing of whether he was "black enough" to be considered black...though that rapidly vanished when he started winning a huge percentage of the African-American vote, and switched to a racist "is he too black?" question briefly in the spring of 2008. As a side note, Obama himself is biracial, but identifies as black.
    • In the last days of the election, pundits started talking about the "Bradley Effect"note , where supposedly, white Americans afraid of being called racist would lie to pollsters about voting for a black man. They were wrong.
    • A lot of cynical conservatives, (and liberals too) blogged that this trope is the real reason Obama was elected. In fact they believe this is the only way a black politician is electable. They point to cases like the aforementioned Obama and Cory Booker and even Michael Steele for the RNC. Some note reoccurring trends and also make this an issue of class.
    • Political Bloggers noted that the term "post-racial" is only applied to Ambiguously Brown black politicians with some Ivy League back ground. Politicians such as Adrian Fenty, Harold Ford Jr., Cory Booker, and the aforementioned Obama. Some don't think this is a coincidence.
    • Gwen Ifill pretty much covers this in her book The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama. Basically saying that Black politicians with the same type of background as the above mentioned politicians are highly more likely to appeal to whites in general as opposed to blacks and poor whites.
    • Others have said that Obama doesn't count as a "real" African-American because his black ancestry comes from his father, who was Kenyan, not American. Amusingly, Obama is a distant descendant of John Punch, the first black slave documented in 17th century Virginia - through his white mother's side.
  • There's an urban legend about the 'paper bag test', in which actors and actresses for theater and movies early in the century (and some claim even now) have to be lighter than a paper bag to even be considered for the part. Which becomes a Fridge Logic issue in itself, since a lot of White people become as dark or darker than a paper bag when fully tanned.
  • Wanda Sykes has a routine that every time the half-black half-Thai Tiger Woods wins a tournament, the media reports that his black heritage is smaller than they did before. She predicts that if he ever gets in serious legal trouble, all the headlines will be along the lines of "Black golfer arrested." And now that Woods has been caught up in an adultery scandal, Sykes' joke is now Truth in Television and Hilarious in Hindsight!
  • News anchor Soledad O'Brien said she went through this. And considers herself black, but was annoyed that whites were only comfortable with her for all the wrong reasons.
  • Actress Jennifer Beals expressed great frustration over this saying, I'm either not white enough or not black enough. Although she was reluctant to admit her black heritage at first.
  • Z100 radio host John Bell is very light skinned, and when he once explicitly mentioned that he's black a call quickly came in by someone who was surprised about it after seeing his picture on the show's website. He also says there that he'd like Denzel Washington to play him if a movie was made about him.
  • There are plenty of places — in the Caribbean for example — where there are layers and layers of this. History records that quite a few of the immigrants to the UK from the Caribbean were appalled to be described as 'black', having been several grades of colourism 'higher' back home. The British, for their part, have a distressing historical tendency to take the "one drop" rule Up to Eleven; our racists target basically everyone who isn't "ethnically British"note , which is even-handed if nothing else.
  • The old Code noir of the Caribbean plantation culture had over one hundred divisions, specifying exact percentages of blackness, with the less-black ones considered "higher-class." The Spanish version of a similar code has names for most of those divisions, depending of their ascendancy.
  • Pre-Civil War American Southern plantation owners used to hold "Octoroon Balls" (which were named after what one eighth-black people were called), where they would judge whether partially-black women were "white enough" to join "polite society". The fate of the losers was... ugh.
    • In contrast, during the Spanish colonial domination, any non-white person who wasn't a slave and could amass enough money, could buy his/her "whiteness"... or, more accurately, the privileges of the white people and the legal right of being treated as "white", no matter what skin color or racial ascendant could have. Not that it wasn't controversial, to say the least. In Venezuela, there was the case of the Bejarano sisters, a trio of beautiful sisters of mixed race in the very spirit of this trope, who made a fortune thanks to their famed dessert-making abilities, and then, to the scandal of colonial society, bought their "white rights". Certain people of "high class" complained, and when the sisters tried to buy more privileges, those were denied because of their non-whiteness.
    • On an episode of Oprah during Tiger Woods' meteoric initial rise to national attention, there was considerable controversy after Tiger said that when he was a child, knowing he was of mixed heritage—having not only white and black, but Asian and Native American (American Indian) ancestry—led him to cobbling together a word for himself, "Cablinasian". Some black celebrities took offense to this, with one even citing the "one-drop" rule (that being, if you have one drop of black blood, you're black). It was noted on a follow-up episode discussing the issue and how it related to race in America that this was a rule invented by slavers to expand their potential "product base".
    • Inverted in the Gatorade Focus commercials, in which the animators seem to have assiduously eradicated any trace of non-black features on animated!Tiger.
  • The overwhelming majority of Brazilian are of mixed race, according to genetic studies, so ancestry doesn't really play a big role on ascertaining a person's race. Instead, people will call themselves 'black' or 'white' purely on how they perceive themselves, which is a cultural factor, as well as the color of their skin and their facial features, which can lead to Brazilians in other areas being called a race different than they thought they were.
  • When Vanessa L. Williams became the first "black" Miss America, a number of observers noted that she had not only very light skin, but also a significant number of European features (blue eyes, non-kinky hair, etc.). That didn't stop the Ku Klux Klan from raising a stink over her.
  • Time Magazine caught a lot of flak for artificially darkening OJ Simpson's skin in the mugshot that ran on their cover. Back when you could actually get in trouble for "fauxtography", as opposed to it being par for the course.
  • Comedian Paul Mooney joked about these people being "Double Agents", and only choosing to be black when it's convenient for them.
  • It has been noted that skin creams that lighten your skin are sharply targeted towards blacks and Asians. And most of these creams are considered to be dangerous (physically, not just socially!).
    • Decades ago there was a much worse product aimed at black people in the US to 'lighten' their skin. It involved giving them a hefty dose of X-rays. It lightened their skin, all right, and killed a good many of them rather quickly as well.
    • In primarily Indian or Pakistani neighborhoods in Dubai, there are billboards advertising skin lightening cream. The model on the billboard is usually a very light skinned Indian in a business suit. Obviously, this is meant to imply that having lighter skin will increase your chances of being successful (unfortunately in Dubai, that may be true).
    • Skin lightening creams are also popular in India. Most Bollywood actresses are very light, because it's very difficult for dark-skinned women to get acting jobs in India. Even in South Indian regional films, directors often prefer to cast North Indian actresses, as they tend to be fairer. And like Beyonce, they can be made to look even lighter on camera. There are a few actresses with tan or wheatish skin, who are often touted as "dark beauties", but rarely do you find truly dark actresses.
    • Somewhat averted with Parminder Nagra (E.R. and Alcatraz), considered by some to be one of the most beautiful women in the world. Her skin color is about middle or average for Indian. Her IMDB cover photo however ...
  • There has been quite a bit of controversy over Beyoncé Knowles (who is already fair-skinned) on various advertisements and magazine covers, as seen in the header picture. That Beyoncé is also rumored to bleach her skin in real life only adds to the confusion.
  • America's Next Top Model has been accused.
  • Averted with models like, Naomi Campbell, Oluchi Onweagba, Roshumba Williams, Nnenna Agba, and Alek Wek. It's somewhat a trend to have dark models. Frustratingly enough it hasn't completely caught on.
  • Many believe Alek Wek is primarily being used, and that her "inclusion" in the model world is very disingenuous. Believing she's been positioned only for cultural shock value. Which is doubly sad since Alek Wek is, by any standard other than the fashion industry's, perfectly attractive. It should be noted that light complected blacks with African facial features are less likely to have their ethnicity called into question no matter how light they are (for example model Carmen Solomon). While on the other hand, a dark complected person with naturally straight relaxed hair, and European facial features are MORE likely to get asked "What they're mixed with?" despite how dark they are. So it's not just skin tone, but facial features that plays a huge part of this trope as well. It doesn't really mean they're just as better off as a light complected black with European facial features though. Interestingly enough brown skin, or dark skin black people are less likely to be called biracial even when they genuinely are biracial. A good example of this is Freema Agyeman. This is because people only see lightskin as the only complexion biracial/multiracial people can have. While dark, or medium brown is the only complexion black people can have, Not realizing that there are fair skin Africans who weren't effected by colonialism. Body types also plays just as much a role as facial features does. This includes slim waist, lean legs, slim thighs, silky straight/curly/wavy hair and medium to small sized butt. Basically every black Victoria secret model.
    • Conversely, though it's very common, there are light-skinned people who are NOT mixed. (Not directly anyway. It's possible that there is a white grandparent or great-grandparent somewhere in their lineage and only now has the coloring become evident).
  • Professional Wrestler turned movie star The Rock ran into this issue when he first heel turn. As part of said heel turn, The Rock joined a militant black pride group (the Nation of Domination, loosely based on the Nation of Islam) and his skin color suddenly darkened considerably from its normal shade. The Rock, being well aware of and uncomfortable with some of the implications, had his character make both the heel turn and joining the Nation be more about fan disrespect than about color.
    • This trope in relation to Dwayne Johnson was parodied in Family Guy, when the voiceover for the trailer to a movie starring him and Stewie shows confusion over what his ethnicity actually is. It then moves on to others, such as asking "Come to think of it, what the hell is Creator/JessicaAlba?"
      • Of course, Rocky himself is of mixed Black and Polynesian ancestry (Alba is Danish, French, Spanish, and Amerind).
  • Australian historical example: Part Aboriginal children were often taken away from their parents (citing "child protection") and sent to orphanages or missions. The lighter skinned ones could be adopted by white families and become part of white, mainstream society. The darker ones were sent to be trained as domestic servants so they could be sent to work for white men and produce more lighter skinned kids. The "whiter" Aborigines were sometimes able to claim citizenship denied to their darker skinned counterparts.
  • In South Africa under apartheid, if you were "Coloured" (mixed-race), you were legally better off than Blacks — you could vote (after 1983), though with significant restrictions, for example — but still not quite equal to Whites, and still subject to segregation and relocation. It should be noted, however, that not all Coloureds are mixed race, with many being descendants of the Khoisan (the original inhabitants of South Africa before blacks and whites started pitching up) and Malay people who were brought to the Cape by the Dutch as slaves. "Coloured" was a catch-all category for people who were regarded as neither White, nor Black, nor Asian.
    • Though after apartheid they did not receive any Affimative Action benefits. As one person said "Not white enough for apartheid; not black enough for ANC". They in some ways had it the worse in South Africa, along with Asians who were in a similar position with them (except for Japanese, South Koreans and Taiwanese people. Their countries were quite close (economically) to the apartheid government so, to avoid embarrassing race issues, their citizens were declared "honourary whites" — the same thing happened to the (very rare) African-American singer who was willing to tour in South Africa).
    • Recently this was supposed to have changed with the introduction of Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment (BBBEE); but since few Coloureds are members of the ANC, and "empowerment" is most often used as a (transparent) blind for nepotism, it hasn't made much of a difference.
  • Enjoy a photo of Kim Kardashian edited for a magazine. Among her "improvements"? Even lighter skin.
    • Again, recall the cultural stereotypes mentioned in the Saved By The Bell example. Kim is often classed as "shallow rich girl," which is not a cultural type commonly associated with Asian/Middle Eastern women.
  • Every now and then, the pages under Race Tropes show a banner ad for interracial dating site afroromance.com. Fair enough, except that the "black" girl in the photo looks like a white girl with a deep tan.
  • The page with this trope usually has ads either for dating sites or for skin care ("blackskin") or for hair care products ("mixedchicks"). And yep, all the girls on the picture pretty much have the skin tone of a caucasian after one week at the beach.
  • There's a market in Kenya and Uganda where women buy products that bleaches their skin. It's outlawed in Kenya, but they are still able to buy the products due to smuggling. The products in question are extremely unhealthy, since it gives the women cancer and causes chronic skin poisoning. They use it anyway, because they want to look prettier. What's worse is that they are all encouraged by the culture, since women with a lighter skin have more advantages than a women with the average black skin.
  • Women with a lighter skin have more advantages than a women with the average black skin is actually becoming a huge medical concern in the Caribbean, where darker women are literally rubbing laundry bleach on their and their children's skin.
  • Like their northern neighbors Cubanos also acknowledge the one drop rule, but its inverted in that having a single drop of white blood makes you white. Many people defend their whiteness no matter how prominent their African features are leading to the saying, "White with your hat on, black with it off." Fidel Castro's made some efforts to improve things.
  • A more dicey example is the Flame War that erupts on message boards about whether or not to call light complected black celebrities biracial or black (even on this very page there's Justifying edits pointing out a actor as bi-racial). People seem to take the debates very personally. It's usually between black and white posters. But depending on who you ask it's mostly about which term makes them more socially acceptable to one of the opposing groups.
  • Controversially on any Image Board, racist and sexist Flame Wars erupt every time someone makes a thread devoted to pics of Black Females.
    • Some arguing over the fact that there's too many light skinned girls, and others saying that the light skinned girls can't be black (I.E. they're too attractive to be considered black), as if sending the message that it's physically impossible for black women to be attractive unless they're mixed with something, or light complected. Which is what this trope is really about.
    • Some of the pics with light skin black girls are posted intentionally as a kind of snide, condescending Take That, to the thread dedicated to black women. Some saying "Thank god for mixed race women."
    • And those are the serious ones! 4chan's /s/ is especially bad with this due to Japanophilia, as they also criticize average-weight porn/web models as being too fat or too bulky and not like their beloved Gravures. The trolls simply drop N-bombs and post pictures of dark animals.
    • Something similar happened on a Killswitch Engage message board. One guy said "cool a black guy leading a metal band." Which of course he was corrected with unparalelled zeal for some reason.
  • On the old Donahue daytime talk show, they covered this. Talking to lightskin blacks who tried to pass as biracial or white. When in reality they were just black usually born of 2 light complected parents. Some changed their stance when they got older, Needless to say some of their family wasn't too please with their black acceptance.
  • A LOT of daytime talk shows covered this trope, especially during the 90's. So much so it made it clear how pervasive this trope is.
  • Tyra Banks had a few episodes about this subject on her talk show, with one mixed black man (who was not terribly light-skinned himself) saying that he thought all dark-skinned men looked like cockroaches.
  • Ice hockey goaltender Grant Fuhr played 19 seasons in the NHL, helped the Edmonton Oilers win five Stanley Cups, and was regarded by no less than Wayne Gretzky as the greatest goalie in hockey history. Only when be was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame did many fans realize (or, more likely, had themselves beaten over the head with the fact) that Fuhr is black, and notably, the first black inducted to the HHoF. Being raised in Alberta by white Canadians and spending his entire career in the older-style goalie mask may have had something to do with that.
  • This Vlogger Talks about how people automatically assume that you're DIRECTLY biracial if you're light complected with curly hair. Not realizing that they could just be black.
  • Being a spectacular aversion of this trope was probably a big part of Grace Jones's appeal.
  • On a French talk show, model Noemie Lenoir & and fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld argue about this trope and how it applies to the modeling/high fashion world....They disagree. Karl said that there is no racism in fashion. Noemie said the contrary. Then Karl said she's the proof there's no racism because she's famous. Noemie points out that light complected and or biracial black models are the new trend.
  • Played straight in Western gay culture. Gay people of color with heavy ethnic features are often shunned by the majority of white gays and are rarely featured in gay media, being Fetish Fuel at best and nonexistent at worst. Racial bias (sometimes leading to flat-out racism) has long been the gay community's dirty secret.
  • Averted with this Facebook Group
  • Elle Magazine has been accused of lightening the skin of actress Gabourey Sidibe. Of course to play Devil's Advocate, it could just be a result of flash photography.
  • Bill Cosby, This goes way back to the 60's, and was first accused by the comedian Redd Foxx.
  • Gawker wrote recently about AA’s (American Apparel) looks-based hiring policies, leaking internal documents that discuss AA’s “New Standard”: “Classy-Vintage-Chic-Late 80s-Early 90s- Ralph Lauren-Vogue-Nautical-High end brand.” Their employees are the front line of the brand’s new image, and should represent the company accordingly. So who are they looking for to help represent the new look? The more important question is (and always should be in cases like this), who aren’t they looking for?
    “None of those trashy [black girls],” said one e-mail from corporate. "We’re not trying to sell our clothes to them. Try to find some of those classy black girls, with the nice hair, you know?"
    By "nice hair", AA means natural hair; hair that is not chemically relaxed to permanent straightness. Ironically, among African Americans, natural/kinky hair has traditionally been known as "bad" hair, associated with being "too black" (some derisively call kinky hair/roots "letting your Africa show"). So-called "Nice hair" or "good hair" is pin straight.
  • Outliers: The Story of Success is a book by Malcolm Gladwell that looks into how systems and cultures can accidentally create bias where none might otherwise exist, predisposing some people to succeed and others to fail. The most dramatic example is in the Canadian Youth Hockey League (in Canada, hockey is Serious Business and begins at an early age), where the majority of players are born in the early months of the year. This is because each league is age based and the cut-off date is January 1st. Children born earlier in the year are older, larger, and better coordinated than children born later in the year and as they progress, continual sifting and selection gives them better coaching and more practice such that by the time they're 17, when the accident of birth no longer matters in terms of native talent, the cumulative effect of all that extra work has made them into elite players. The theme of accidental success is personal for Gladwell. Generations earlier, one of his African ancestors was purchased to be a concubine in Jamaica, thus granting all her descendants extra whiteness. Jamaican racism, as described by Gladwell, differentiates with acuity based on the skin color, and he credits much of his own success to the easier successes of each generation of his family. His mother grew up relatively affluent, which allowed her to get a better education, eventually studying in London before moving to Canada.
  • This commentary on Jennifer Hudson's weight loss puts recent and older pictures of her side by side. While it goes on at length about how different she looks size-wise, it apparently completely fails to notice that the recent pictures have not only been de-browned but also pinked-up.
  • In the documentary Afro-Punk (a film about black punk rockers, and fans) covered this issue. Some stated that they felt that other white kids liked them for the wrong reasons.
  • This is one reason among many that Rosa Parks became one of the faces of the Civil Rights struggle in the United States.
  • Racial Identity also can become a issue when this trope comes into play. You'll get people splitting hairs when it comes to describing their ethnicity. Some cultural critics say this is because of a negative racist stigma African Americans have thanks to negative stereotypes. Like negative depictions of blacks in mainstream media such as film, news, and Hip Hop probably didn't help (especially rap videos). So it's no surprise that some black folks would like to sub-divide themselves from black Americans and black American culture anyway they can (especially immigrants, and even second gen black immigrants). Making being black a type of Mark of Shame metaphorically speaking.
    Of course, white Americans have this introductory ritual where they specify what bits of Europe their ancestors came from and express it in terms of fractions. There's no reason black Americans who have any way of knowing shouldn't do their own versions of this...except that for the majority they really can't know. "Probably somewhere within several hundred miles of the Bight of Benin" does not help.
  • It can, and has, been argued that the whole concept of relaxing (straightening) your hair relates to this.
  • Zoe Saldana is black Hispanic (Puerto Rican and Dominican) and identifies as a black woman. Bringing up her ethnicity seems to be a big Berserk Button; she stated whenever she does Dominican press they downplay her blackness and call her "trigueñita" (light-brown) as opposed to being black.
    • And now she's been chosen to play Nina Simone in an upcoming biopic. There has been considerable outcry over this, not because of her acting skills, but because she looks absolutely nothing like Ms. Simone, who had very dark skin and African features and while not fat, was nowhere near as slim as the waif-like Saldana. Critics of the casting decision have called this one of Hollywood's most blatant examples of colorism ever.
  • Averted in a Harris Interactive Poll that in 2001 named Martin Luther King and Colin Powell as two of the top three choices of hero/role model for Americans (the other one was Jesus).
    • And Jesus was probably as dark as either of those two gentlemen. If you want to talk about famous people who are "lightened" in most depictions, you can start with him.
  • Cleopatra, for some reason, is more likely to be dark-skinned in animated form than in live action — both Asterix and Cleopatra and an episode of Maxies World (of all things) portrayed the famed Egyptian queen as several shades darker than, say, Elizabeth Taylor. The historical Cleopatra was a product of several generations of inbred Macedonian Greeks (descended from Ptolemy, one of Alexander's generals, and his Macedonian wife), so she was probably this trope in real life.
  • In the post civil war United States this was very much an invoked trope among the more affluent (or at least financially successful) black community. Back in those days any for of tan on anyone was a sign of poverty because it meant they had to work in the sun. This went double for rich black people who felt they had to distance themselves from "the common negro" as much as possible. As a result these people never went outside without the protection of a wide brim had or a veiled bonnet, so that people wouldn't think they were lowly.
  • Skin-whitening products are very popular in the Philippines, where most people are naturally dark-skinned. Some think that this is because of centuries of Western colonialism.
  • Retired porn star Heather Hunter claimed that earlier in her career she was pressured to do scenes only with white performers. Although most of her partners were white (and mainly females), she arguably never fully obliged. On the other hand she didn't start having black co-stars until her last couple years in the industry, so there might have been some hesitation. To her credit she did bring in more black performers into the industry and was the first black major contract girl.
  • According to one porn industry blog, if the black female performer has a nice body, and especially if she's Ambiguously Brown chances are that their partner will almost always be white.
    • As if the female performers know they are a valuable commodity within the industry (or their agents think so). Which brings a whole other Unfortunate Implications. The implication being But Not Too Black girls are highly more favorable, and too good for black male performers.
    • A lot of top white female performers refuse to perform with black performers out of fear of losing their "marketing value", but would make exceptions for Ambiguously Brown performers though. However this appears to be changing some. In fact some of the ones who said they wouldn't, completely reneged later on in there careers. But MOST still don't (despite the fact that interracial porn is a selling point for much of the marketing, and industry as well).
    • Unfortunately, when used as a selling point, it tends to be along the lines of "Scary Black Man dominates helpless lily white female" (way, way more than merely Unfortunate Implications). So it's not something the top performers want to be associated with. On the other hand it doesn't explain why their managers/agents tell them to avoid black men in their private life as well (some are not even allowed to use black sex toys on set!). Nina Hartley had a alternate explanation, saying that a lot of top white female actresses didn't want to do IR because of the fear of a backlash from their white male audience. However The taboo of interracial porn has almost been completely shattered. The ones who refuse to do it likely don't because of a personal preference that they don't want to own up to. Alektra Blue pretty much confirmed the preference thing, At least on her part.
      • Jenna Haze, Tori Black, and Sasha Grey's career success pretty much disputes this, as they were three of the biggest stars in the whole industry probably because they did interracial note . Something else is definitely at play here. Most tend to blame all the "gatekeepers" and higher ups within the porn industry for pressuring white women not to do scenes with black men (same for Anglo looking Latinas, Asians, and even black women in the industry are pressured not to). Most say its just flat out spiteful discrimination and racism.
    • Marie Luv said if she was lighter, or white she would be better known and better paid.
    • On one message board where porn stars frequent, the question is brought up. And some of the actresses respond by saying that when they go on strip club tours they might not get hired because of the fact they do/did interracial. According to them, this is what their managers tell them. So their might be some truth to the marketing argument. Whether or not it's a legitimate concern or something made up by the performers, and or agents is up for debate.
    • Interestingly enough this is subverted in Japan, where Japanese starlets would come all the way to America just to do a scene with black male stars. Although currently a niche there seems to be a growing interest in watching interracial porn with black males and Japanese women in Japan.
      • There's also a niche trend of having white women do scenes with Japanese men.
    • There are collections of (SFW) images circulating on the net showing what porn stars look like without makeup. Some look nice, some not so, some seem to deliberately make faces... and of course, there is at least one case of this trope.
  • One study shows that skin tone plays alot in the sentencing of blacks. Blacks with a lighter shade received lesser sentencing. Apparently this trope also shows up during job hiring. Even "black sounding" names could hinder you from getting hired, regardless of whether you're qualified.
  • Other studies have shown that referees are likely to put harsher sanctions on players with darker skin - or merely wearing darker suits - without even realizing it.
  • Troian Bellisario has a white father and black mother, but looks completely white.

BrownfaceBlack IndexElectric Black Guy
BrownfaceRace TropesBut Not Too Foreign
But I Play One on TVCharacters and CastingBut Not Too White
Book DumbDouble StandardChained to a Rock
Black Dude Dies FirstTropes In AggregateBut Not Too White
Boy BandTurn of the MillenniumBlue Orange Contrast
British Royal GuardsWe Are Not Alone IndexByronic Hero
BeyoncéImageSource/MusicJustin Bieber
Blessed Are the CheesemakersImageSource/OtherThe Calls Are Coming from Inside the House

alternative title(s): Colorism
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