Part Of the Solution Or Part Of the Problem? You and "Dark Girls"
Maybe four names into the conversation, I threw out the name of a girl who was really pretty, smart and nice. From the guy's visceral, over-the-top reaction, I might as well have suggested he go on a date with the spawn of Satan. "Heeellll no! She ugly as HELL! You can't even see her, she's so black. Skin all crispy and burnt up lookin'. Nooooo...I don't like them dark skinneded girls. Nuh uh."
It's been a long time since high school, but over the years, I've heard many versions of that same sentiment. And I've had many heart to heart conversations with friends who've been on the receiving end of that racist attitude. Indeed, our long-standing problem with colorism in the black community is nothing new. But I still cried when I saw the trailer for the upcoming Bill Duke and D. Channsin Berry documentary Dark Girls.
I don't think the point of this film is for us to have a big pity party for darker skinned black women, or to espouse general sentiments of support like, "I think everyone is beautiful" or "I don't see color." Whenever I've heard my friend's experiences, I've realized that it's far too easy for me, with my light skinned privilege to say, "But I think you're pretty!" Instead, this film presents a unique opportunity for each of us to ask ourselves some tough questions, do some soul searching about our personal attitudes and actions toward darker skinned black women, and figure out what we need to change to solve this in the next generation.
I know I have to inoculate my 7 and 10-year-old sons against the colorism in our society. Whenever we are out in public--like if we're in a store--if we see another black woman (keep in mind that in my section of Los Angeles, this is not an everyday happening), I try to make a positive remark about her to my boys. No, I don't like making comments about people's physical appearance to my sons, but since I know they will rarely hear good things about black women, particularly darker skinned women, I figure pointing out, "Isn't that lady over there so pretty?" is alright.
My son's school principal is black and darker skinned, and I am so grateful to have her as a role model for them. I always make it a point to rave about how smart she is and how she's the kind of woman I really admire. When MSNBC broadcaster Tamryn Hall is on TV, I yap about how much I like her. And, when I'm talking to my husband or other friends about the racism that permeates our society, I don't shoo the kids out of the room. I want my boys to understand the big picture of why this issue of colorism continues.
We can't frame the colorism in the black community as something black people just keep going all on our lonesome, and need to solve on our own. Sure, black people have to work on our internalized racism. We do need to recognize our inherent nobility and call each other out when that "I'm not really into dark skinned girls" mess rears it's ugly head. At the same time, I was half joking yesterday with a friend that the real solution to this actually doesn't lie with black folks at all.
If mass numbers of white men--the group at the top of our socially constructed hierarchy of race and power--suddenly begin pursuing darker skinned black women, our problem would be 100 percent solved. Really, if Leonardo di Caprio starts dating are dark skinned black model, well, the world might sit up and take notice. If director Darren Aronofsky casts a dark skinned black actress in his film...and she's not just a stereotypical I-got-jungle-fever sexpot, yeah, things might start changing.
The fact that we can't see either of those things happening right now is a sign of just how bad the general disdain for dark skinned black women is, and why documentaries like Dark Girls are so needed. It's like our whole society needs to go to the AA for colorism. Seriously, the first step is admitting the problem. But if you already know there's a problem, if I already know there's a problem, what is our responsibility to the dark girls, our darker sisters, in our midst?