Saturday, February 15, 2020

What The African American Saying "All My Skinfolk Ain't My Kinfolk" REALLY Means

Edited by Azizi Powell

Latest Update: June 17, 2021

This pancocojams post provides explanations for the African American saying "All my skinfolk ain't kinfolk" (or similarly worded sayings).

This post also showcases seven excerpts from several online sources that include the saying "All my skinfolk ain't my kinfolk" (or similarly worded sayings).

The content of this post is presented for cultural and linguistic purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Novelist, essayist, anthropologist, and filmaker Zora Neale Hurston is widely credited as popularizing the saying "All my skinfolks ain't kinfolks".

Thanks to Zora Neale Hurston for her cultural legacy. Thanks also to all those who are quoted in this post.

The saying "All my kinfolk ain't my skinfolk" is widely credited to Zora Neale Hurston. Read the quote given as #1 below that indicates that Zora Neale Hurston popularized that saying (as opposed to originated [coined] that saying).

Here's information about Zora Neale Hurston from
"Zora Neale Hurston (January 7, 1891[1][2] – January 28, 1960) was an American author, anthropologist, and filmmaker. She portrayed racial struggles in the early-20th-century American South and published research on Hoodoo.[3] The most popular of her four novels is Their Eyes Were Watching God, published in 1937. She also wrote more than 50 short stories, plays, and essays.


Hurston's works concerned both the African-American experience and her struggles as an African-American woman. Her novels went relatively unrecognized by the literary world for decades. Interest was revived in 1975 after author Alice Walker published an article, "In Search of Zora Neale Hurston", in the March issue of Ms. magazine that year."...

Unfortunately, although numerous online sources attribute the saying "All my skinfolk ain't my kinfolk" to Zora Neale Hurston, none of those sources indicate when and where Huston used that saying (for instance, in which of her books or essays). Also, I wonder how widespread the saying "All my skinfolk ain't my kinfolk" actually was among African Americans before Zora Neale Huston popularized it.
Thanks to commenter Jonathan, June 17, 2021 for sharing information about an April 21,  1985 article written by Henry Louis Gates Jr. that includes an excerpt from Zora Neale Huston's 1942 autobiography "Dust Tracks on a Road": 

Here's the passage as it is given in that article which includes a form of the saying which is the subject of this pancocojams post:
MY PEOPLE, MY PEOPLE!' Say that a brown young woman, fresh from the classic halls of Barnard College and escorted by a black boy from Yale, enters the subway at 50th street. They are well-dressed, well- mannered and good to look at. . . . They are returning from a concert by Marian Anderson and are still vibrating from her glowing tones. They are saying happy things about the tribute the huge white audience paid her genius and her arts. Oh yes, they say, ''The Race is going to amount to something after all. Definitely! Look at George W. Carver and Ernest Just and Abram Harris, and Barthe is getting on right well with his sculpture. . . . Paul Robeson, E. Franklin Frazier, Roland Hayes, well you just take them for granted. There is hope indeed for the Race.'' By that time the train pulls into 72nd street. Two scabby-looking Negroes come scrambling into the coach. . . . There are plenty of seats, but no matter how many vacant seats there are, no other place will do, except side by side with the Yale-Barnard couple. . . . They woof, bookoo, broadcast . . . from one end of the coach to the other. They consider it a golden opportunity to put on a show. Everybody in the coach being new to them, they naturally have not heard about the way one of the pair beat his woman on Lenox Avenue. Therefore they must be told in great detail what led up to the fracas, how many teeth he knocked out during the fight, and what happened after. . . . Barnard and Yale sit there and dwindle and dwindle. They do not look around the coach to see what is in the faces of the white passengers. . . . Yale and Barnard shake their heads and moan, ''My People, My People!'' . . . Certain of My People have come to dread railway day coaches for this same reason. They dread such scenes more than they do the dirty upholstery and other inconveniences of a Jim Crow coach. . . . So when sensitive souls are forced to travel that way they sit there numb and when some free soul takes off his shoes and socks, they mutter, ''My race but not My taste.'' When somebody else eats fried fish, bananas, and a mess of peanuts and throws all the leavings on the floor, they gasp, ''My skinfolks but not my kinfolks.'' And sadly over all, they keep sighing, ''My People, My People!'' - From ''Dust Tracks on a Road.''

In my online perusal of published examples of "All my skinfolk ain't my kinfolk", the earliest example of that saying was in 2004. Here's an excerpt of that example:
From,9171,880301,00.html 10 Questions For Tavis Smiley
By Christopher John Farley; Tavis Smiley Sunday, Dec. 05, 2004

Bush's Cabinet. It is ironic that a Republican President has an Administration that is more inclusive and more diverse than a so-called liberal-media-elite network.


There is a distinction between symbolism and substance — Zora Neale Hurston once said, "All my skinfolk ain't my kinfolk." But whether one likes or loathes the people Bush has chosen to be part of his Administration, he is reaching out."...
If you know of any published examples prior to 2004 of the saying "All my skinfolk ain't my kinfolk" other than the quote attributed to Zora Neale Hurston, please share that information in the comment section below. Thanks in advance!

Your kinfolk are the people in your family. Even very distant cousins you've never met can be described as your kinfolk.

When anthropologists use the term kinfolk, they mean people who are related by blood and share a common ancestor. You can use the word in a much wider way, though, to include people related by marriage and adoption, as well as friends who are so close you consider them part of your family. Kinfolk combines the Old English roots cynn, or "family," and folc, "people." "

Someone who is of your own race or skin colour but not your family or friends , probably not someone you even like
All my skinfolk are not my kinfolk
by Deebaby January 18, 2017
This bold font was used in this comment on that page. This is the only entry for "skinfolk" on that page (as of the date & time of this pancocojams post).

I think that Deebaby meant "not [just] your family or friends".

One's skinfolk usually also include one's kinfolk. However, for various reasons (including interracial marriage and adoption), members of a person's family may not be the same race/s and/or ethnicity/s as that person. Also, a person can have friends who aren't the same race/ethnicity/s that they are.

The saying "All my skinfolk ain't my kinfolk" means that just because a person has the same skin color that you do (is a member of the same race/ethnicity as you are), that doesn't mean that they will treat you like a family member (i.e. be supportive and considerate of you, and/or agree with you on the issues that you consider important.)


(These excerpts are given in no particular order and are numbered for referencing purposes only.)

1. From 25 Black American English Expressions You Should Know (II)
By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D., Sunday, February 23, 2014

"24. “Skin folk.” This is a Black English expression for members of one’s race. It’s modeled on the Standard English expression “kinfolk,” which means members of one’s nuclear and extended family. The phrase was popularized by Zora Neale Hurston, an African-American folklorist and author who once famously said “All my skinfolk ain't kinfolk.” It is a witty and creative way to say “not all people who share the same racial identity as me are my family.” In other words, there is more to friendship and affinity than mere racial similarity. African-Americans say this when they are betrayed by fellow blacks."

2. From “All my skinfolk ain’t kinfolk” by TCCHITIMA, NOVEMBER 3, 2017
"In my time at Girls’ College I came to the realisation that “all my skinfolk ain’t my kinfolk” This quote by Zara Neale Hurston perfectly describes the system at my school. The quote means that not all people who share the same racial identity as me are my family. This hit me hard. For a while, I’ve been wanting to speak up about the system that is rooted in inequality at my school and I’ve been getting messages from other black people telling me not to speak up because I’m still at the school or not to speak up because I’m leaving and it is no longer my issue. What they don’t understand is it is and always will be my issue! I am a proud black girl who loves everything about herself! I personally may not have been broken down by the system but my sisters have and they may not always be able to voice out their opinions!


The school encourages a snitch system reminiscent of apartheid/colonial eras and what I consider a disingenuous “campaign game” where you are rewarded according to your level of conformity. This has led to deeply engrained fear in a majority of the girls – afraid to speak up even when given a platform to do so anonymously… This is heartbreaking.

I stand in solidarity with all of the girls at my school affected by the racist remarks that were made at my school and attempts to erase our ethnicity and identity. I stand with those who have already spoken out and we stand for those who haven’t found the courage to speak up!"

3. From
"All My Skinfolk Ain’t My Kinfolk" NOVEMBER 5, 2015 ~ LMICKENS
"One of Republican presidential hopeful Ben Carson’s schticks is his insistence that if nominated and elected, he would be America’s first “real black president.” As opposed to the “fake black” president we have now. This assertion isn’t new, since Herman Cain was saying the same thing during his own failed presidential run, and this meme is being reiterated by white Republicans who are desperate to run a black candidate to make them seem less white and less racist. Whatever one thinks of Obama’s policies, the notion that he is somehow “less black” than Carson or Cain ignores the way in which blackness was and is constructed in the United States.

As I have mentioned before, using the one drop rule as the basis for determining who is black “defines blackness down” to the point where it has no meaning. If you go to Latin America or Europe, black people are considered to be, well, black. Beige, tan, coffee-colored,and copper-colored people are considered to be in a different category altogether, but in the United States all would be considered “black.” Booker T. Washington and Frederick Douglass both had white fathers, yet no one questions whether they are black.

Perhaps what Carson means is that Obama’s background and personal history differ too much too from that of the “average black person.” To which I would ask: so what? Contrary to what many people would have you believe, there is no single normative black experience. I know a lot of people would consider my own experiences — private secondary schools, private colleges, extensive post-graduate education, socialized mainly among white people, no experience in “the black church” — to not be a normative black experience.

There are as many black experiences as there are black people, and each experience is peculiar to that person. It’s particularly ironic, because Obama did everything right according to the conservative life plan (go to elite schools, wait until marriage to have children, got a number of high-paying positions) and actually governs to the right of Nixon, but is considered to be some kind of fire-breathing communist.

I think what is really going on is that conservatives think that black people voted for Obama simply because he’s black, so if they can get a black candidate of their own to field, they can finally get some of those sweet, sweet minority votes. Except if you actually look at the statistics .


What Carson actually shows to me is that wingnuttery comes in many colors. Every day he seems to come up with some new ridiculous statement, like the pyramids were built by the Biblical character Joseph to store grain ( or that the Holocaust could have been prevented if the Jews had been armed ( While Carson may be a skilled surgeon, he has no business making public policy. Indeed, I think fellow black atheist Zora Neal Hurston said it best when she said, “All my skinfolk ain’t my kinfolk.”....

4. From "The Politics of Being Woke" Lawrence Ware, 7/14/16
..."This is the heart of what it means to be “woke.” The masses of black folks who were lulled to sleep by economic opportunity have now awoken to the fact that race is, and will remain, a central part of the black experience. Yet there is disagreement about who is allowed to be woke and what is expected of those who have now entered into this new existential state of being.

Who Gets Access?
For me, being woke means awakening to the pervasive, intersectional insidiousness of white supremacy. This awakening is not limited to people of color. Black folks are not the only ones who needed a wake-up call.

Souls that inhabit white bodies can be allies and accomplices in the fight against oppression, in the same way that black folks can be agents and accomplices in promoting, promulgating and protecting white supremacy. As my grandmother once said, conjuring Zora Neale Hurston, “All your skinfolk ain’t your kinfolk.” Meaning that you can inhabit a black body and be an agent of white supremacy. Just ask Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, or any of the thousands of black Americans who are more concerned with white feelings than with black lives and bodies. Black folks don’t have the market cornered on being “woke,” and there is no agreement about how best to actualize the potentiality of the black community.”...

5. From "Melanin in Milan: Finding My People Abroad"
by Kandise Le Blanc, October 16, 2019
...."There’s a popular quote from Zora Neale Hurston within the Black community: “All my skinfolk ain’t kinfolk.” Meaning that just because someone is Black doesn’t mean that they’ll always have your back. Zora Neale Hurston’s quote highlights how Black folks can be pitted against one another. But when Black people support one another, we have the incredible capability to lift up one another. Time and time again, the Black students at IES Abroad Milan have shown up for me. From making dinner together to cheering like proud parents anytime I sing, these amazing people have become la mia famiglia (my family)."
In the context of that post, "IES" means "The Institute for the International Education of Students, or IES Abroad, is a non-profit study abroad organization that administers study abroad programs for U.S. college-aged students."

6. From
For Black Women ONLY, March 1, 2016
"All skin-folk ain't kinfolk". Don't be bullied or psychologically blackmailed into supporting just anyone because they are black, especially if the work they produce or the values they uphold aren't in line with your values.
If they:

-denigrate black women's image for laughs
-abuse black women and children off-stage
-degrade and devalue blackness and the black identity (e.g. by stating that mixed race people are better looking, etc.)
-establish disparities among black people by cultures
-pander to racist Whites by placing the onus of racism on black people
and that is NOT about who you are and what you stand for, stick to your guns and REMOVE ALL FORMS OF SUPPORT."....
The word "sh&t" (fully spelled out) is used several times in that post.

7. From
Black Kos, Tuesday's Chile: Remembering Zora's words and wisdom
“All my skinfolk ain’t my kinfolk” ~ Zora Neale Hurston

Commentary by Black Kos Editor Denise Oliver-Velez

"As I watch certain folks, who may share melanated skin with me, and a family history of enslavement, persist in sucking up to the very people who would gladly sell us all back into shackles in hopes of gaining favor with the orange massa in the White House and his lackeys, I hear the words of Sistah Zora Neale Hurston in my head.

“All my skinfolk ain’t my kinfolk”

At a time when an all-white slate of Democratic Presidential candidates are fightin’ like yard dogs over a bone, to win over the black vote with new promises and plans, and blue check mark black Twitterati are pontificatin’ and vying to deliver that which they actually cannot do (but will get brownie points for trying) I hear Zora’s voice again, which smart politicians should heed (though I doubt many or any of them have read her)

“But for the national welfare, it is urgent to realize that the minorities do think, and think about something other than the race problem.”

She coulda been talking about Donald Trump when she quipped:

“Anytime you catch folks lying, they scared of something.”

On the anniversary of her death, I seek the wisdom she offered during her life.

There is so much of it."...

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  1. For what it's worth, I'm an African American who grew up in the 1950s and have lived in the Northeast state of New Jersey and since 1969 I've lived in the (almost?) Midwest state of Pennsylvania. And I've never heard anyone say "All my skinfolk" ain't my kinfolk."

    I first read that saying in 2019 (in some online article whose source I can't recall).

    I wonder how widespread that saying is. Is it mostly a folk saying among African Americans from the South?

  2. It comes from her Autobiography “Dust Tracks on a Road”. Excerpt from the autobiography is included in The NY Times article published here:

    1. Thanks, Jonathan for sharing that information. links to a digitized version of the April 21, 1985 New York Time article entitled "A Negro Way Of Saying" by Henry Louis Gates Jr.

      That article is about Zora Neale Hurston's 1942 autobiography "Dust Tracks on A Road" and includes the passage from that book with the "my kinfolks but not my skinfolks" saying.

      As mentioned in this pancocojams post, it appears that Zora Neale Huston didn't coin this saying, but used it in her autobiography, thus documenting its informal use among Black Americans during that time.

      I've added that passage to this pancocojams post with a hat tip to you.

      Best wishes!

  3. Here's a comment exchange in the discussion thread for
    that includes the saying "all skinfolks ain't kinfolks":

    Philippe Armbruster, July 19, 2021
    ..."Let’s look at slavery and Tanzania: they did not ‘sell’ any slaves. The British brought slaves from India to Tanzania to work on British projects.
    It is a great country to move to but it doesn’t ‘owe’ Americans (white or black) any favors for historic wrongs."

    Shamoya Shamoya, July 19, 2021
    "@Philippe Armbruster is looking forward to a welcome home the same as looking for favors? Afro Americans have a saying, “all skinfolk ain’t kinfolk “. This means, just because we’re black doesnt mean we’re the same people or support each other”"...

  4. Here's a comment exchange from

    Rak Hit, 2020
    "Trevor talking (aka educating) about what it means to be Black in America to a sea of white folk. Who laugh and clap at everything he says.


    ExquisiteCoils, 2020
    "Educating? LOL!! He's telling n-word jokes about being a South African immigrant in front of his core audience. Black Americans laughing at him are under the delusion that he's complimenting them when he's mocking them in an accent. All skin folk ain't kinfolk."
    [Pancocojams Editor: There's some interesting comment exchanges between ExquisiteCoils and Elle Marie (both of who identified themselves as African American) about whether South African Trevor Noah was stereotyping African Americans in that comedy show. The two commenters respectfully disagreed about that commenters, but agreed that they disliked his use of the "n word". Here's a comment from Elle Marie (2020)
    "@ExquisiteCoils No, you're good. I really dont think he truly thinks horribly of African Americans though. I watched his interviews on the breakfast club and he praised African Americans alot which seemed really sincere especially when he was comparing apartheid to segregation. I dont like it when people who aren't African American use the n word either. Not gonna lie, it does make me cringe just because it isnt their story to be told but i was able to laugh at his other jokes just because I've been watching him for a while and i know he truly doesn't look down on AA. But maybe he does🀷🏾‍♀️ i dont know him personally so i wouldn't really know but I think its good to be able to laugh at yourself sometimes."...

  5. The Oct. 24, 2022 Daily Kos article by has the title "Black Kos Tuesday's Chile. Republi-con and Tory game. Reminder. Skinfolks ain't always kinfolks."

    Here's an excerpt of that article with Commentary by Black Kos Editor Denise Oliver-Velez:
    "I don’t care if we are talking about Herschel Walker, Clarence Thomas, Kanye West, Killer Mike, Candace Owens...or any other melanated political pawns and panderers to right-wing, supremacist politics. They all fit a pattern. They are tools of a white supremacist agenda to give license to their open suppression of Black folks. They are used as the “see, I’m not racist cause one of my besties is Black” facade that doesn’t begin to mask the virulent racism of the U.S. Republikklan Party and its MAGA adherents.

    It isn’t just here either, and not just about putting blackface on right-wing politics — there’s brown face as well. Look at the Tory mess in England, where the Tories are celebrating the “first” South Asian Prime Minister as if that has any meaning at all for the people they oppress.


    So just remember, that the saying popularized by and attributed to Black anthropologist and author Zora Neal Hurston, that "All my skinfolk ain’t my kinfolk" remains true, and these folks ain’t getting invites to the BBQ."

  6. Here's a comment from a YouTube discussion thread that includes a version of that saying:

    MamaKenya, 2023, African American houses demolished by Ghana authorities for L@BT Hotel Resort Allegedly; published byGoBack2Africa, March16, 2023
    "This is heartbreaking πŸ’”…. Unfortunately Not all skin folk are kin folk people …..Kenyan πŸ‡°πŸ‡ͺ American πŸ‡ΊπŸ‡Έ here . Mom was born & raised in Kenya πŸ‡°πŸ‡ͺ Dad is Mzungu .

    As a child every time I would visit, my cousins would steal something out of my carry-on bag, and my mom would not allow me to go to the market with her even though I’m dark skin bi racial . She said it’s obvious I’m American & they’ll overcharge us .

    Now that I’m older I understand why. My cousins saw me as American, and assumed Im made of money and have unlimited access to it

    What’s really heartbreaking is how quickly most of us will point the finger at the colonizer, but we never look in the mirror at ourselves. I understand our fellow brothers and sisters in Africa look down on us, but that that does not give them the right to steal from us/do us dirty when we move to their country"
    "Mzungu" is an East African term that is usually translated as "White" [person]. However, that word is also used as a referent for African Americans and other people who aren't local to that East African country. (The equivalent Ghanaian -West African- term is "obroni").

    In addition, people from African nations who have lived among White people (attending a university or working) in the USA or in Europe and thus presumably had picked up some Western lifestyles are also referred to as mzungu or obroni. The original meaning of both of those words is "wanderer" or "foreigner".

  7. Here's a comment that includes the "all skin folks ain't kin folks" saying from "My Opinion: African American Development Unlawfully Demolished in Ghana"

    Jaya Jaya, 2023
    "All skin folks aren't kin folks!!! Sometimes we can be our own worst enemies...We don't stick together and that's the problem because of the jealousy and hate that we continue to have for each see that it's not just in America it also is in Africa!!1 Let's not sugarcoat it!!! Now we all know that Africa rather takes other people's money than ours...that is real"