Nearly all black and brown skins are beautiful, but a beautiful white skin is rare….Where dark complexions are massed, they make the whites look bleached-out, unwholesome, and sometimes frankly ghastly. I could notice this as a boy, down South in the slavery days before the war. The splendid black satin skin of the South African Zulus of Durban seemed to me to come very close to perfection….
The white man’s complexion makes no concealments. It can’t. It seemed to have been designed as a catch-all for everything that can damage it. Ladies have to paint it, and powder it, and cosmetic it, and diet it with arsenic, and enamel it, and be always enticing it, and persuading it, and pestering it, and fussing at it, to make it beautiful; and they do not succeed. But these efforts show what they think of the natural complexion, as distributed. As distributed it needs these helps. The complexion which they try to counterfeit is one which nature restricts to the few–to the very few. To ninety-nine persons she gives a bad complexion, to the hundredth a good one. The hundredth can keep it–how long? Ten years, perhaps.
The advantage is with the Zulu, I think. He starts with a beautiful complexion, and it will last him through. And as for the Indian brown–firm, smooth, blemishless, pleasant, and restful to the eye, afraid of no color, harmonizing with all colors and adding a grace to them all–I think there is no sort of chance for the average white complexion against that rich and perfect tint.
– Following the Equator by Mark Twain