Why We Have Many Names For Our Skin Colour - Malik Kolade

Malik Kolade
6 min readMay 30, 2020


I haven’t lived in a country where there’s first class racism, neither have I experienced racism consciously, but somehow, I feel the presence of racism everywhere in my country. In the food we eat, the accent we speak, the regalia we choose to wear and in the many names we give our skin colour, to pacify us on the effect of racism that was inflicted not directly on us, or rather to let us have the sense of belonging to a world we both own without having to travel across the Atlantic or Mediterranean.

Having grown up to a world where you filter between reading how a Black man is shot down for taking a walk on the street, or another pinned down for the colour of his skin, to others who haven't been shot or pinned down wear fear every day, asking themselves and one another, what if we become the victims tomorrow? What if it doesn't end with us dying? What if we are mere preys walking in our predator’s land? What if our crime is why did we trespass our boundary or is Africa not large enough for us all to live in? Having grown up to that world, I tell myself whenever my aspirations surged through in me, "calm down with your aspirations, Ademola, you don't want to end up being another causation of #BlackLivesMatter. Your not-so-developed country wouldn't treat your skin as a colour, and that's far better than wearing fear on your skin every day in another man's land in the name of greener pasture."

But I was wrong. I was wrong to think the effect of racism ends in the transatlantic despite it clustering my timelines, putting itself here and there just so my eyes can feed on it. I was wrong to think that racism can only be between two opposing colours; White and Black, and never between two identical colours, most importantly, not between Black and Black. I never wanted to call it racism or termed it the effect of racism on my colour, but this concept has been here in my native country for long, and I have, on several occasions, been a victim of this concept which is subconsciously orchestrated with humor by my country people. If it’s not the effect of racism or its remnant finding home in my native country, which we will argue otherwise vehemently, how then will you conceptualize this question of complexion from my fellow countrymen, "why are you soooo Black?"

This first time I was asked that question, I didn’t think of it harmful, neither harboured the thought of it having effect on my psyche. In fact, it was humorous to me, holding to the fact that it was my friend who asked me the question. I couldn’t think of it harmful because we were young and dumb, and such thought of racism or its remnants could not find room in our frail heart to live in since we didn’t live in a country that preached it. So, we laughed it off, it was easy to do that because she had asked in the most humorous way. But if it had ended with her, that concept might not have formed in my head, afterwards, I get disturbed when I am asked that question, whether it came with humor or not, that I replied in a mild tone, "so, that your skin is not as dark as mine means you’re a White?" As much as I don’t want to be too inquisitive about Identity, but that question and its other relative forms became a proponent to the perturbing questions of complexion and identity that I asked myself, "who is the dictator of the colours we use as representation of identity? Most importantly, who chose or gave the colour Black to Africans?

But overtime, I have resolved that the identity crises that we found ourselves in today in my native country isn’t our doing in entirety, at least we have never visited the place where racism is at its peak neither have we experienced it first class, so how did we find ourselves between the web of choosing a skin colour that we gave it so many names? Something has to be the architect of this concept; it did not just erupt out of the blues. What can it be? We all have answers muffled up in us, but in my regards, I can’t but say it’s the effect of racism swimming across the Atlantic to the shores of our Sub-Saharan. This do not only accentuate the manifestation of its remnant in my native country, it’s also means racism is a psychological phenomenon that you can showcase either consciously or subconsciously, which in the case of my native country, it’s the latter.

As I grew older, from being a young, dumb sophomore to a sensitive adult in his ultimate year in school, reality forced me to choke on answers of some of my identity questions, like in the case of Black being a Colour or an Identity. Having realized that even the Northern Africans, despite their fair skin, are still called Black in the general concept of referring to Africans has made me choose Black, without argument, as my identity rather than my colour. But here in my native country, it is still worrisome when you ask the question of complexion and you get answers that will make you ask yourself, are they doing the black race/skin a favour by giving it so many (non-racist) names? Or giving it so many names means they could actually be free from the stereotype that comes with being a Black person?

In the time of growing up, the response to complexion question in my native country has taken several dimensions. We no longer find it uncomfortable to deviate from the usual response of fair and dark when we are asked about our complexion, thus giving our skin colour many names like, "Brown Skin", "Melanin popping", "Chocolate", "Ebony Black", and "others I am not familiar with." These responses, often times, make me feel coloured among my folks whenever I am thrown against their complexion. And times when I feel too abashed about this, I find some concept of biology to explain my Blackness to myself, that it is actually the abundance of melanin in my skin that makes it black, an advantage for me against the UV rays which may cause sunburn or skin cancer. But I am tired of finding a concept to explain my Blackness to myself, like how I am now tired of how we practice that racism in my country without acknowledgement.

"Sometimes I feel there is a war knocking on our door, threatening to tear us down." Maybe Kanyinsola Olorunnisola is right about a war threatening to tear us down in his book, "In my country, we're all cross dressers". Maybe he is also right when he further said, "sometimes I feel the war is already inside of us." Because there's a war of feeling pity for the black skin/race among us in my native country, thus we give it many names (out of shame). There's war of latent racism, present but without acknowledgement. There's war of identity crises among my kind, that we live everyday as if we would drag all of humanity into the Black race. And the war goes on to how we choose accents and reduce our language to a vernacular. Maybe Kanyinsola Olorunnisola is also right when he said, "our fathers have the secrets to winning this war, but they long died selling us to the white man." Maybe if there was less Black to act racism on, there won't be enough remnants of racism traveling across the Atlantic back to our shore. But then, our fathers have the secrets of not making this happen, but they also long died milking our treasury dry every day.

I could be wrong, maybe it’s not racism or its remnant having effect on us. Maybe I took it quite far to say it is because I am a sensitive person. Maybe why we give our skin colour many names is to further put us in subgroups as a race, to know ourselves better, to know who to identify as Melanin, Chocolate, or Ebony Black, because our classification as a race is so tangled that we need to clarify it. Maybe. I am human and I could be wrong with my feelings (or assumptions) of Why We Have Many Names For Our Skin Colour.