Part Of the Solution Or Part Of the Problem? You and "Dark Girls"

When I was a freshman in high school I got into an extremely juvenile conversation with a fellow classmate about which girls he liked. I'd ask, "What about such-and-such? Y'all might make a cute couple," and he'd reply, "Yeah, she's cute. You think she likes me?" or "Nah, she ain't really my type."

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?


As a black woman whose skin is a little lighter than milk chocolate, I got called "black" (as a derogatory term) on a pretty regular basis while growing up. I learned early on that having dark skin was not seen as desirable, but I was fortunate to have an inner strength that allowed me formulate my own decision on the matter. I decided that I looked cute, dark skin was just fine, and that people who said otherwise didn't know what they were talking about. I feel the same way today.

That said, I know that there are people who do internalize it and don't have the ability to sustain prolonged attacks in that area. I recommend a healthy dose of education (to understand how we got to the place where a skin color can be "right" or "wrong"), and some therapy to shore up their self-esteem and to learn how to slice somebody (figuratively) who tells them that they are "too black."

White people may have started this mess, but I don't think they are the primary culprit in perpetuating it in this day & age. I have never been called ugly, black, too dark or any of that nonsense by a non-black person. I really believe it's up to black people to confront colorism wherever it rears its ugly head - be it in the form of rebuking someone using terms like "black & ugly" or doling out back-handed compliments by calling someone a "pretty redbone."

And when "black & ugly" is gone, "good hair" needs to be tossed out of the window right behind it.
Jameil said…
I was so turned off by this trailer. Why is it filled with women who have had these horrible experiences? I've been called black like it was disgusting and it is absolutely an issue that needs to be addressed but 7+ mins of downer? No thanks.
nick said…
It never even occurred to me that darker skinned women might be less attractive. Crispy and burnt up looking? Weird. How would these guys feel if they were told super-pale white women were ugly as hell?

I think you're right about the solution being white men getting a taste for darker skinned women. And black women thinking like Nicole that dark is just fine anyway, who gives a fuck what these creeps think?
The solution for me was to move out of America.

I know that's not an option for everyone. I'm glad I don't have to deal with this colorism nonsense anymore.
Kjen said…
I've heard about the documentary and though I love a good doc, I don't know if I'll go see it or even rent it. I don't know if I feel like "going there." I've read different academic tomes and popular articles and pretty much the consensus is that - yes, colorism does exist.
I hope the documentary goes a step further - how to overcome colorism on an individual and a societal level. That's why I really appreciated reading your comments that you make to your children, I hope the conversation veers more toward that avenue.
Daniel said…
Los Angelista,
I'm not sure what to say, or even if I should.

I fully agree with Nicole J. Butler's comment, about where it started, but who now actually perpetuate it.

Truthfully? I’ve been a bit fortunate with this one. Because I’ve always preferred darker, more African-featured girls/women, all my life. So for me, the colorism within the A/A community is about all that has saved me from a continuous string of rejections, as I would often be about the only male, period, to ask them out. They would say “Yes”, despite the obviousness of my YT-guy status, because I was the one who actually wanted to go out with them. How do I know this? Because from junior high days until present (minus the gap of the “married years”), they would tell me so, verifying absolutely what I’ve witnessed for myself for years.
In the typical way of “only in America could it get this weird”, the colorism of many A/A males has allowed me far greater opportunity for what I like anyway. I very likely would have had far less opportunities without it.
I’m sure that shakes the emotion cage a bit, but should I lie instead?
No hard feelings?

As far as the movie? I don’t take my life’s cues from such things.
Anonymous said…
Africans, Caribbean and Europeans seem to have a more inclusive idea of beauty.

They don't dwell on the skin tone of the black person. They pay more attention to the facial features and size of the person.

Africans and Caribbean like curvy women while Europeans like the slim ones. All groups like balanced facial features, so no particular feature is coveted as long as all the facial features work well and the person has the right body then the person is considered pretty.

If Americans find Michelle Obama, Kelly Rowland, Kerri Washington, Naomi Campbell etc ugly and unattractive then they must have a serious inferiority complex.

If any of those women were single and they went to a country outside of the US, they wouldn't be single for a minute.
Daniel said…
Los Angelista,
Well, I regret writing that last bit, lol!
I didn’t mean it to sound so antagonistic and echo any prejudice.
I also know people cannot be categorized into confined boxes, so the over-generalization is very inappropriate (and wrong) on my part.

I know, with personal friendships, (and can publicly see through observation) that the concepts of colorism are by no means a feature in the lives of all A/A. There are plenty of A/A men whom I’ve met, are friends with or will see in daily life who have beautiful, darker, wives/girlfriends and are not overcome by trends of colorism. While some may, not all do, so indiscriminate judgments are invalid.

It was wrong of me to portray anyone in the context of some kind of blanket coverage of actions or beliefs. That’s never true about anything in life.
And it was just as wrong for me to reflect, even a little bit, such ideas in this context.
My apologies.
Liz Dwyer said…
Wish we could all get in a room and discuss in person--with plenty of snacks! Thanks for commenting and I promise to put in my 2 cents before the end of the day! ;)
Liz Dwyer said…
Isn't it disgusting how being called black is seen as an insult? You're right that white folks don't usually say someone's too dark or too black--well... unless they're casting a fashion show or shooting a magazine cover, or casting a movie or TV show. But hmm, you have me thinking how the oppressor IS most successful when the oppressed does his work for him, which is what's happening now. Ugh, yes, good hair totally needs to go.

Good point...and it totally makes me wonder what'll happen in the full documentary. I don't want to see an hour or more of sad stories.

Yup. We got some sick, twisted mess going on in the States. What makes it worse is that we simply don't have honest conversations about race or our history of slavery and segregation. I don't know if my half-joking solution is really the solution. But I thought about it because if the folks at the top of the power structure change what they say is acceptable...maybe it would trickle down.

I believe you 100 percent, which is so sad. But when I've left the States, wow, totally different world from what I found here.

Yeah, at first I was like, um, is this a surprise that colorism still exists? And, thanks for saying you appreciate me sharing the convos I have with my boys. I firmly believe that if we don't deliberately address such things with the next generation, they'll just grow up repeating the same sick attitudes. Yeah, I'm big on figuring out solutions, but I also know there are plenty of people who don't even admit there's a problem, and stories that need telling. I suppose this documentary fits that space.

You can, of course, always speak your mind here. I'm glad you shared what you did--true that...only in America could it get this weird. No, not all black folks, or black men, are color struck, but we all sure do know someone who is, or have experienced it. Heck, you got me thinking about the time a brother I wasn't interested in called me a yellow bitch and then yelled, "I'm gonna get me a white girl and then I won't need you anyway." It was disturbing for so many reasons, but wow, he really really thought getting a white girl was an upgrade, just like too many black folks think lighter skin is better.

Thanks for sharing. I think it probably depends on the folks you meet. I've met some Africans, Caribbean and Euro folks who have more love for blackness--explains why Kelly Rowland is a bigger star in the UK than Beyonce--but some don't. It all depends.
Bronwyn said…
I wrote about it here:

I'm a white woman and admit I have a lot to learn still. But when I saw this in my classroom it just broke my heart. The most beautiful little girls were calling themselves ugly and burnt up...
Temple said…
Hmmm. . .I'm one of those dark hued black women. While I can definitely understand that some don't want to sit through 20 mins, an hour of a "downer" documentary, many little black girls (I say girls because we seem to forget that there are many, many little girls dealing with this as we comment) deal with this on a daily sometimes all day basis. That's the real downer.

My partner is white & told me from the first that I was beautiful & still tells me daily (well, mostly daily). I will admit that I am very happy that my contact with black folk, many of whom have color issues, no longer affects me. Seriously, it is draining to have to spend so much of your time & energy defending your right to breath-while-dark.

Great post, Los Angelista : >
BlackLiterature said…
Thanks for posting honestly.

I've read other folks discussing the documentary and frankly I'm surprised that so many Black women seem to be living in a reality very different than mine. I my parents didn't push those issue on me, but I also know what I heard as a kid. I'm in my 40's so maybe it was different for women in their 30's.

Somehow I don't think it was much different. I just think this level of honesty is too painful for many to admit.

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