Two college degrees ago, I approached all club nights with a very specific understanding: The guys were most likely going to go for my light-skinned friend all night.
It didn't affect how I dressed or whether or not I wore makeup, and it certainly never stopped me from dancing the night away to the Top 40 playlists or my favorite southern ratchet hip-hop records.
I simply understood colorism to be a social disease that affects a lot of black people and can skew how dark-skinned women are selected in the dating pool. And yes, that included college Thursdays at whatever downtown Greensboro club I chose to frequent in (what I felt) was the baddest freaking dress in the building.
Guys just weren't going to go for me like that. Maybe they would always prefer the "long-haired thick red bone," to quote Lil' Wayne. Maybe they'd grow up and out of colorism, the way I was forced to.
I spent my early childhood years regularly getting called a "grease monkey," "Blacky," and whatever else people could say to try to change your mind about loving your dark skin. At some point you realize that it has nothing to do with that burst of bubbles you feel inside when you step into the mirror and realize, "You know what, this melanin is quite poppin'."
Maybe not in those words, but you get the point. Anyway, the guys did grow up like I thought they would.
Fast forward to years later and I've traded in southern clubs for casual, quaint Brooklyn bars. The guys are equally degreed and are now introducing themselves with professions like sales, music engineering, real estate, and I own a tech start-up. That's a long ways away from, "I'm a business major and I make beats in my dorm room on the side."
This new crop is even offering to buy my friends and I more than one of these swanky, high-ass New York City drinks.
Once they make their way through the crushing bar crowd and back to bring something fruity and usually pink, I check the bottom to make sure they didn't spike my drink or anything. Then they do the lean in and make the ask.
It's never for my name or my age, or my degrees, or what part of Brooklyn I live in.
The question, in more or less words, is, "So what are you?"
I've heard it so often that I've gotten the fake-squint and "Huh? It's loud in here" response down to a science.
I'm really just fishing to see how bold and passively racist they will actually cop to being with their follow-up clarification.
See, the way colorism plays out has evolved since college. Guys aren't always flocking to only light-skinned women in the room.
Instead, they vet you to see what kind of dark-skinned girl you are. At least, they vet me.
They usually respond with, "I mean, you're so pretty. I know you aren't from America. What island are you from? Trindad?"
Most people get the "what are you?" question when they have a racially ambiguous look that could really mean they are of any race.
So now, you're going to need a description and I've got a simple one: I look black as hell.
Of course, racial makeups can provide a bevy of looks. One black family can be full of everything from kinky to bone straight hair to deep, chocolate skin to melanin so scarce that the black person could pass for white.
That's genetics. All of these apples grow on my family tree.
But still, by all social consensus? I look black as hell. My skin is a rich, deep brown. My hair is the kinkiest texture on the kink chart, and often pulled into a puff at the top of my head.
My nose is wide and my accent leads people in New York to skip over asking me if I am from the south, and on to plainly ask me which southern state I'm from. I am proud of all of this, by the way.
Since these things are so dang obvious, I determined that I get the "what are you?" inquiry — always coupled with compliments on my "pretty" look — because of a specific strand of racism reserved for not just black people, but for black African-American people who are dark-skinned.
Colorism and racism has taught us all that dark skin is inferior and that African-Americans specifically are at the bottom of the totem pole.
How do I know this? Well, I'm both, but more than that, African-American stereotypes are often that we are loud, ghetto, lazy, thuggish, senseless baby makers, and any other unattractive thoughts ascribed to the black people whose ancestors lived, were enslaved, and died on U.S. soil.
This is why black people from the Caribbean or from other parts of Central and South America, are often viewed as "cultured" and "exotic" while that is not a widely-used description for African-Americans. We are just black and for many people -- even other black ones -- that's not enough.
These guys can deal with black and dark, but they need a few more qualifications before you make the cut, though. There has to be something else in your cultural background to help them rationalize the attraction they feel toward you, despite those stereotypes about African-American people.
It all tumbles out on the dance floor.
"I'm black" is usually my first answer when I'm asked, despite looking it, obviously.
"But you're so pretty though. Where are you from?" is usually what they counter with.
"No, but what country are you from originally?"
"America. I am a black African-American woman. I was born in North Carolina. I'm regular ole black."
So when a guy, usually one of color, approaches me like this, I instantly know it's because he's trying to rationalize his attraction to a dark-skinned black woman from America. It's evidenced by his refusal to accept that I am "just black" and wanting to pry some faux-information about me being from elsewhere.
This racial background interview conducted to the tunes of French Montana or some '90s throwback is annoying.
Countering with "but you're so pretty, you can't be" suggests that being attractive and also black American is impossible. It's as if to be as attractive as he considers me to be, I have to be from a country with an exoticism he can be comforted by. Maybe with an exoticism he can explain to his parents and friends.
God forbid he be attracted to a woman with no second language, nappy hair, and dark skin who was born in North Carolina to a country family of nurses and gardeners and cooks and handymen and sharecroppers.
So dear guys on dark dance floors approaching dark women with this BS: Black is beautiful. It doesn't need qualifiers like a grandmother from Barbados or a Spanish accent to be worthy. African-American culture is as diverse and storied as those with a history from the islands. And we ain't sorry for none of it.
Thanks for the drink. Now move along. Too $hort is playing, and you're in my twerking space.