Last night OWN aired a documentary entitled “Dark Girls“. And both Facebook and Twitter were buzzing in response. Men and women alike seemed to be promoting the documentary and engaging in dialogue around color issues. Admittedly I did not get the opportunity to watch the documentary, so my comments in response to the “color/complexion” is largely drawn from discussions I glanced on social media.
I won’t go into the history of color complexes in the Black American community, or even discuss the issues of color that plagues cultures of people from all over the world. The issues are deep rooted and a lot to tackle in this space, on a Monday no less. Plus, there are probably many more qualified folks to tackle that beast. For now, I’ll just write a few thoughts that came to mind on the subject of color.
Now, I’m considered “light skinned” to most Black people who care enough to label me. I’ve always just considered myself brown. Mainly because “light skinned” makes me feel uneasy and categorized as something that is often meant to be a compliment but is more like an insult. Growing up, I hated being singled out as “the light skinned girl” and being referred to as “Red” (I’m not even that light!). I had friends of all different shades, but even as an adolescent, I could see that many people in my age group exalted light skinned-ness. At school, light skinned girls/boys were considered more attractive and received the most attention from the opposite sex (of all shades). And if a kid was light skinned and had “good hair”? JACKPOT! I was placed into yet another category – the light skinned mixed girl with pretty hair, a trifecta. The only thing that could skyrocket that combination would have been an added pair of green eyes. While many girls like me loved the attention and used their assests to their advantage, I HATED being praised for something I had no control over. And I hated even more that people with dark brown/black skin, were teased and made to feel ashamed. I didn’t find my skin color, hair texture, or mixed ethnicity to be a badge of honor or something that made me higher than anyone. Sure, I was proud of who I was but I didn’t adhere to the notion that these appearances made me more attractive or better than anyone else. I didn’t want to be set apart, I just wanted to fit in.
It has always offended me to hear people tell some one dark brown skinned that they are “pretty for a dark skinned girl” or acting surprised when they met a dark skinned girl who was pretty. When I would express my dislike of people (namely men) saying this, it would enrage me for them to respond with, “but you’re light skinned, why do you care? You should be flattered.” As if I would accept your ignorance and shameful perspective as a compliment! While to some degree I understand how people can associate attractiveness with skin color (especially after reading Survival of the Prettiest with #NBR), it still pisses me off to hear these things as an adult. It’s 2013 – get some therapy and read a book!!
I’m thankful to have the parents I did and be surrounded by people who taught me that all black/brown is beautiful. My parents didn’t teach me to place value in fairer skin and straighter hair. Most of my dolls and barbies were brown skinned (they didn’t really make “light skint Black” baby dolls in my childhood lol). I loved being in the sun and watching my skin become a deep bronze. For me, darker skin was a prize. My best friend and I would have competitions of who could get darker. I think for us, Blackness was a gold beauty standard, so we wanted to be as close to Black as we could. I guess we’re afforded the luxury to have these desires because we didn’t face the cruel attention or lack of attention all together because of our skin.
Though I will never know the personal struggles of being a dark skinned Black woman, and I can only speak from the outside looking in, I appreciate this conversation and the awareness that it brings. So much of our individual identities and self worth are tied into how the world sees us. And if the world is telling us we’re not pretty because our this is ugly and of no worth – and we have no one else combating this by telling us we’re beautiful as we are – then we will begin to internalize that and hate the skin we’re in. I hope the more dialogue we can have about this, the more we can change our perceptions and how we treat each other so we don’t have to make another Dark Girls in 2033 because we’re still battling the same ignorance.
Did you see the Dark Girls documentary? What are some things that come to mind when you think about issues of color/complexions? Did you grow up with a color complex, and if so how did you deal with it?
I’m brown dammit,