Made of Shade: Bill Duke’s ‘Dark Girls’ is A Necessary Conversation
By// Quassan Castro
Dark Girls premiered on the OWN network earlier this week, featuring the narratives of women wounded by the effects of colorism, and it’s about time the taboo conversation was brought to a mainstream platform. In the superb documentary, one of the most haunting accounts of colorism was a woman that recalls her mother praising her because of her light skin while shaming the existence of her dark skinned daughter. Of her dark skin daughter, the colorism-affected mother says, “Could you imagine if she had any lightness in her skin at all? She’d be gorgeous.”
Colorism is still something that a lot of African Americans try hide but I’m glad that Dark Girls brought the issue to the forefront. However, for some, the point of the film was missed, which became evident with the negative backlash that included people taking sides on Twitter with hashtags like, #TeamLightSkin and #TeamDarksin in something similar to the digital equivalent of the infamous scene in School Daze (from more than twenty years ago) that pit the “jiggaboos” and the “wannabes” against each other.
Unfortunately, colorism goes back to slavery where light skin slaves were often given favorable treatment over dark skin slaves. Slaves began to internalize this system of separation and eventually resentment lead to the chasm that still exists in the Black community today.
Over the course of our history we have endured ignorance like the paper bag test, where if your hand was darker than the paper bag, you were considered too dark, and in some cases excluded from Black upper class social organizations. We had replaced the slave owners with our own oppression due to the residual psychological trauma of slavery being deeply ingrained in our psyches and also perpetuated by media stereotypes.
When representations of beauty do not mirror all skin complexions, it’s no wonder why the narratives in Dark Girls reflected self-hatred. Since women are encouraged to be beautiful and held to insular standards, it’s no wonder why issues of colorism as it relates to Black men never become the forefront of conversations. Women are made to be the face of colorism but although Black men’s struggles with self-hate aren’t much discussed, we are not exempt, which was evidenced in the documentary where you hear Black men admitting to excluding women of a certain skin color for ignorant reasons like “Dark skin women have attitudes,” or “I want light babies.”
In some homes of friends I can recall light skin black males being encouraged to pursue highest levels of academic achievement, while darker skin siblings were encouraged to pursue athletics. One dark skin male associate spoke openly about how in vicious fights with his lighter skin siblings, they would almost always use his skin tone as a basis of shaming. We cried together in private as we spoke of ways in which we could bond in solidarity void of colorism. However, I worried that as a light skin Black male, I might soon be looked upon as the enemy by my psychologically wounded friend.
As I speak, I speak to you not in the language of the oppressor but as your brother and comrade. Let us go back to the “Black is beautiful” movement that took place over 50 years ago in part as resistance to the dominant culture’s limited ideas of beauty. Those rigid standards of beauty undermines our capacity to be self-loving and loving towards each other but it’s time we find validation in our the diverse but unique beauty whether we’re dark, light, have big lips or whatever.
We have perpetuated this problem far too long and it’s time to embrace positive changes in how we think. I want to live in a world where my one-year-old niece does not have to battle sexism, racism and colorism. We must go back to chanting “Black is beautiful,” for the sake of every color in our rainbow.
Quassan Castro is a news and entertainment journalist.
Follow him on Twitter @Quassan.