In her photo on the jacket flap of Negroland: A Memoir, Margo Jefferson looks to me like an attractive white woman in her late sixties.
In the chapter where she delineates beauty standards for African American girls in the 1950s, when she was a child, her list of skin color options astounds me:
“Ivory, cream, beige, wheat, tan, moccasin, fawn, café au lait, and the paler shades of honey, amber, and bronze are best. Sienna, chocolate, saddle brown, umber (burnt or raw), and mahogany work best with decent-to-good hair and even-to-keen features… Generally, for women, the dark skin shades like walnut, chocolate brown, black, and black with blue undertones are off-limits.”
Off-limits? As Jefferson knows, she’s slyly implying the impossible: that women have a choice about their skin color—that they can decide whether to stay within limits or not. [Read more…]