The trailer for Dark Girls is probably one of the most moving trailers I’ve seen. It not only reminded me of the work the black community still has on eradicating colorism from within our ranks, but it reminded me of how rampant the issue of color was pervasive in my childhood, teenage and college years.
I grew up with three sisters. My older sister and I have lighter skinned (we’re actually about the color of a brown paper bag) and my two younger sisters were darker skinned. There was a time in which my older sister and myself both hurled anti-dark skinned slurs at my younger sisters, but that practice was nipped in the bud by my mother, who strongly discouraged colorism in our household. My dad’s side of the family is a different story. I can remember the lighter-skinned cousins being shown more favoritism than us brown and dark skinned cousins. I can remember my uncle passing out money to my cousin, who maybe was a tad bit lighter when we were young. I can remember my dark-skinned cousin almost being shunned on a subconscious level by my aunts and uncles for his “behavior.” When I look back on all this, my cousin wasn’t any worse than the other children in my dad’s family. I am convinced that his darker hue had a lot to do with why he was treated so poorly and why my aunts and uncles were quicker to lash out at him than at the other children.
Fortunately, my main influence was my mother, who took every chance to praise darker-skinned black women and men.
Still, I was saw the colorism at school. I can remember being the object of the boys’ affection because I was lighter skinned and had longer hair, but I still wasn’t good enough. I can remember seeing the boys at school falling over themselves, admiring the beauty of the high yellow girls with long hair. Even as a caramel colored sista, I can remember feeling somewhat perplexed –and jealous–of the attention the light skinned girls garnered over us brown and darker skinned girls.
I don’t think the trailer is designed for us to have a pity party over darker skinned black women. Instead, the documentary in my mind serves as a starting point for the black community to understand how our practice of colorism–and the insults we hurl on a daily basis to dark skinned black women–have caused serious damage and distrust among a large faction of our people.
When I viewed the trailer of Dark Girls, I couldn’t help but to think of the privilege my skin complexion and the length of my relaxed hair provided me as I came of age. I couldn’t help but to wonder if my experiences among black men and boys would have been more rocky and less pleasant if I had been just a shade or two darker and if my hair was more coarse. I couldn’t help to wonder why for so long I have been ambivalent, even complicit, in the colorism in my encounters with fellow black folk and my small group of friends. Sure, I may have denounced and shunned any colorism within my mind, but did I tolerate it among my friends? Has my lighter-skinned, longer hair privilege inoculated me from seeing the damaging and destructive effects of colorism? Furthermore, has my complicity allowed me to subconsciously encourage colorism among black friends when discussing what men or women they found attractive?
I had a white colleague recently ask me why colorism is so rampant and why do we as black folks perceive darker skinned black women as less attractive. I told her straight up that colorism stems from slavery (house niggers vs. field niggers), the worship of whiteness and societal pressure for all women, no matter what their race or nationality, to live up to the epitomized European standard of beauty. Ignoring this, this woman continued to say she didn’t understand the big deal and went on to assure me she thought it was pathetic. This woman, like so many others out there, refused to critically look at and examine the root causes of colorism.
The black community has long touted its independence from falling victim to white standards of beauty and the damaging effects of whiteness. Black women and black men continue to shower praise and love upon sisters who have wider hips, bigger thighs and larger asses and routinely decry any attempts to make black women appear more European. But, we’ve proven this praise is only worthy of girls and women who are on the lighter end of the color spectrum.
Widespread and pervasive colorism continues to prove that we as a people are still beholden to whiteness and its message that our black skin and our kinky/nappy hair won’t ever be good enough.