Welp! Amber Rose certainly said it (and stepped in it, too,) when she recently uttered these words about her life growing up in South Philly:
“I grew up in a very poor neighborhood and I don’t know how I could say this without sounding f**ked up, but a lot of the people where I’m from aren’t traditionally attractive people. And for me, being blessed with beauty, as beautiful women know, is a blessing and a curse. To grow up in such an area and be blessed with beauty, it was very difficult for me.” And a lot of people, you know, used to be like: ‘You ain’t from South Philly. You’re from California or something.’ And, like, I would be on the bus, and they’re like: “Where are you from?” And I’m like: “I’m from Broad and Ellsworth.”‘
She’d also go on to say “I never felt like I belonged there. I always felt way bigger than the city was, like it wasn’t big enough for me.’
I mean, that’s not exactly a way to endear yourself to your home town. And quite predictably (and perhaps appropriately) Twitter snatched Amber Roses’ metaphorical edges to the high heavens for having made such simple minded remarks.
Now, I certainly don’t agree with Amber’s remarks and, no, I’m not going to justify them either. I do think, however, that in this particular instance she could use a bit of defending for three very salient reasons.
Firstly, let’s be real; Amber Rose is a former stripper, turned rapper’s girlfriend, turned other rappers wife, turned ex-wife, turned social media phenomenon, turned…well, you get my drift. She doesn’t exactly have a Ph.D. in Communication. Someone stuck a microphone in front of her face one day and because she could string together a sentence, we believed she was especially articulate. We can’t forget though, that she’s no skilled public speaker. So when asked how she made it out of South Philly, it’s not exactly difficult to see how, while trying to explain that she aspired to more than her surroundings, because people always told her that she could be more than her current surroundings, she poorly communicated her point and inadvertently managed to insult all of South Philadelphia (so whoops on us for thinking she’s the black Barbara Walters or something).
Secondly, and perhaps most saliently, is that, yeah, Amber’s remarks smack of colorism; the idea that lighter skinned African-Americans have an advantage in every area of American life over their darker skinned counterparts because they more closely resemble America’s dominant Caucasian majority. But what’s real is that colorism–particularly where black beauty is concerned—is an actual thing. One only has to watch Dark Girls, Light Girls, just about any music video girl or any other flick involving black women to see that light skin and “exotic” European features are a “gold standard” of black beauty. And that didn’t start with Amber Rose. Fair skinned black women have always been exalted and “othered.” Just look over nearly any vintage magazine photo of black women who were considered beautiful or any old image of black women in elite social clubs. Nearly all of them have fair skin, too. So, while it’s easy to be mad at Amber Rose for openly acknowledging that she benefitted from colorism, we have to admit that she didn’t start it. We have to blame “the culture” for that one. And while we’re at it, we also have to remember my third and final point, that colorism has certainly been a double-edged sword where Amber’s concerned.
Now, Amber may get on the radio and try to act as if she’s been nothing but victorious in the colorism game, but let’s not forget that she also suffered one of its most humiliating defeats (Ahem, Kim Kardashian!) That’s right, Amber was dating Kanye “And When He Gets On He’ll Leave Your A** for White Girl” West, that was until he got on and left her a** for a white girl. Not only did Kanye leave her for a white woman, but he also went on the radio to talk about how he had “to take 30 showers” after being with light-skinned Amber before he could be with his non-black wife.
So, you know, let’s give Amber a break. She’s not exactly a wordsmith and the phenomenon of colorism is hardly her fault. Just in case, you still don’t feel like letting her off of the hook, never forget that exotic or not, she knows–just like any other black woman who’s ever encountered colorism—what it feels like to be one-upped by someone more exotic looking than you.