TK Saccoh is using social media to start a crucial conversation: “Are Black people just virtual beings?” Photo by Elias Williams for Huffpost

By Sage Howard

Earlier this year, when news broke that the AI-generated robot rapper FN Meka“signed” with Capitol Records Music Group, social media all but lost it. With all the exceptional living and breathing talent in the U.S., it made no sense that a major record label would give a sims-like character an opportunity that human artists would die for. A short glance at any content featuring the character was enough to know the move was, once again, about the profitability of Black culture backed by harmful stereotypes about my community. 

In the days following the hype — which ended with FN Meka being dropped after a day of social media backlash — TK Saccoh, founder of The Darkest Hue, an Instagram account designed to create community and call out colorism, used her social page to start a crucial conversation: “Are Black people just virtual beings?” she asked her followers. Through the examples of FN Meka and other famous avatars such as Shudu, Saccoh argues that the perpetuation of light-skin bias is evolving in an insidious way.

FN Meka, an artificial intelligence created rapper

Right away, FN Meka’s virtual presence was a trigger for me. It brought up feelings similar to when a therapist once asked me how I would feel if my skin color was indeed the reason I wasn’t being presented with the same opportunities as my white and lighter-skinned BIPOC counterparts. I’m still unsure if she was expressing her own discriminatory beliefs or if she was just being honest about how colorism works against people with skin darker than her own. 

In 2022, our society appears to thrive off the illusion of equality. Experiencing colorism from people inside and outside one’s community, and recognizing it as anti-blackness feels like a gut punch that leaves me quietly gasping for air. It’s an experience that is difficult to put into words, so more often than not, people choose not to. 

“Colorism is so isolating. So many other people are experiencing it, but there’s a stigma about being vulnerable about it. You just suppress it and keep it to yourself,” said Saccoh when I asked her about her motivation to focus her online presence on combating colorism.

Two years ago, Saccoh launched the profile as a safe space for Black and brown dark-skinned femmes to discuss their experiences — she found they weren’t sufficiently represented on social media. 

“I’d keep scrolling, keep scrolling, keep scrolling, and I’d see one type of Black person or one type of racially ambiguous person,” she said. “I started to curate my feed following dark skin girls, and my feed quickly became filtered to serve me, and my needs.” 

There is such an over-saturation of a “certain type of Black girl.” And that was by design, of course. 

Saccoh designed her Instagram account to create community and call out colorism.

Saccoh designed her Instagram account to create community and call out colorism.

Saccoh, now 22, migrated to the U.S. from Sierra Leone when she was 5, first moving to Washington state (where she recalls first experiencing observable racism) and then to Philadelphia when she was 8 years old. Before moving, she recalls looking forward to being in spaces with people that looked like her, but she quickly found herself on the receiving end of dark-skin and xenophobic jokes by other Black people. 

“I would get very explicit comments from classmates like, ‘oh you’re too Black, you’re ugly,’ there was no need to read between the lines,” said Saccoh. Around this time, she also became more aware of the widespread use of bleaching cream in her home country, Sierra Leone. “I internalized these things even before I had the language of colorism.”

As an adult, I still struggle with finding words to explain colorism when I am experiencing it, and often question whether I am overreacting. A misconception often passed around when discussing colorism is that it is based on “preference,” making it difficult to call out. However, preferring lighter skin is an indelible symptom of a colonized mind where Eurocentric standards of beauty reign and darker-hued skin is seen as undesirable. 

Dr. Seanna Leath, an assistant professor of psychological and brain science at Washington State University in St. Louis, emphasizes the roots of colorism as a tool used by white supremacists during slavery to create dissension amongst enslaved people. 

“These were practices like only allowing lighter skin people to work inside the house, or giving lighter skin people certain privileges that then led to a division amongst Black folks,” said Leath. 

However, the stench of these white-centric practices continues to show up in the content we consume today, from music to beauty tutorials that teach us how to contour our noses to look more narrow. 

“When you ask how colorism is different than racism, I think that you are trying to tap into the notion that colorism exists within the Black community and other communities of color, where Black folks can’t be racist towards other Black folks, but we can show prejudicial beliefs or bias to one another,” said Leath. 

This intra-racial prejudice is just one of the critical issues Saccoh looks to address using her platform. 

“It started with me just talking about colorism, but I think colorism is an entryway for us to talk about other intra-racial violence,” said Saccoh. This violence includes sexism, featurism, fatphobia, queerphobia, ableism, and so on. “It’s been really interesting to have this digital space that is a little controversial, but I think that’s why my space is unique because there is a lot of accountability building.”

Fostering open dialogues about colorism is essential because of the ways colorism affects people in real life. These biases often show up not just on the ’gram and TikTok, but in the lack of access to safety, education, and care for dark skin femmes and poor, queer, fat and disabled people. The most recent trending example of this is the case of Pieper Lewis ― the 17-year-old girl Iowa courts ruled to pay $150,000 in restitution for killing her accused rapist.

Saccoh’s platform points out the toxic intricacies that lead to such detrimental consequences. “I’ve been able to highlight the interpersonal struggles of dark-skin women and girls, while also highlighting the structural consequences,” she said.

The author, Sage Howard, says she still struggles finding words to explain colorism when she is experiencing it, and often questions if she’s just overreacting.

The author, Sage Howard, says she still struggles finding words to explain colorism when she is experiencing it, and often questions if she’s just overreacting.

Growing up, I first became aware of colorism sitting in the hair salon and talking about what I experienced in the salon with my grandmother, an Afro-Latina from Panama. I would tell her how the women in the salon handled clients with deeper skin tones and complexions as if they were a burden, while women with lighter skin and looser curls were treated tenderly and taken ahead of other clients. 

My grandmother would listen and tell similar stories — specifically about catching people speaking poorly of her or other darker skin people in Spanish. “Sé leerlo, escribirlo, y hablarlo,” ― “I can read it, write it, and speak it,” she would say when people were surprised she understood. 

There is a stifling type of damage that lingers when something as toxic as white and light-skinned supremacy is a part of your childhood. In the digital age, these feelings are complicated by the notion that an algorithm determines everything. How do you fight a monster that is hidden in plain sight? For Saccoh, the birth of FN Meka, was a timely and crucial opportunity to call it out. 

The computer-generated rapper, who amassed millions of followers and views on TikTok, was created by Factory New, which claimed to be a futuristic music company. When news of the deal went public, Ryan Ruden, Capitol Music Group’s executive vice president of experiential marketing & business development, told told Music Business World that FN Meka “is just a preview of what’s to come.” 

Former Factory New co-founder Anthony Martini said, “Think about the biggest stars in the world. How many of them are just vessels for commercial endeavors?” These comments are nothing short of jarring when you consider FN Meka’s content: video game-like reenactments littered with harsh stereotypes about Black people, the n-word, and disturbing depictions of things like police brutality. 

In one post, Saccoh puts words to what we were experiencing. She points out the way technology is reducing ― and sometimes, even erasing ― the identities of people with brown skin to empty vessels meant to produce products that non-Black people profit from. She also points out how the internet has made surveilling darker skin communities, spreading stereotypes and exploiting darker-skinned bodies more familiar.