Last night, I watched a film called “Dark Girls” on Netflix at an event that was being put on by the AFAM department. I thoroughly enjoyed the film, and being a woman of color myself , I was incredibly interested in what the movie had to say.
The main discussion point of the film was colorism, emphasis on the lightness or darkness of person’s skin (usually within one’s own ethnic group). It was said that dark skin, especially when it comes to dark skinned women of any race, is often considered synonymous with “ugliness,” “stupidity,” “unsophisticated,” and “attitude.” These ideas have becomes so ingrained within the psyche of young women and girls that there is a cultural phenomenon of little dark girls willingly calling themselves by these hateful labels with no other basis but the pigment of their skin.
This movie was very relatable for me. I can remember being in elementary school, a private all-black elementary school in the heart of South Dallas, and suddenly being made aware that it wasn’t enough that we were all black kids, that we were able to break down even further. Once on the playground, in the 3rd grade I believe, the girls in my class broke into “clubs” based on pigmentation. The boys in our class had been debating whether they liked dark girl or light skinned girls. And the girls in our class had started a “dark-skinned club” and a “light-skinned club.” As a medium toned person, I didn’t fit in anywhere. At the time, I was just upset that I didn’t have a group to go to and thus ended up playing on the swings by myself (I was also a weird kid, so I was used to people not wanting to play with me). But looking back, I wonder: “Why were kids so young able to act on colorism?”
I can only assume that we learned it in our homes and our communities. And that’s an issue, because children should be told that they are beautiful no matter how dark or light they are, and that their talents or failures have nothing to do with being “red-boned” or “yellow-boned.”
My family basically covers the spectrum when it comes to “brown.” I have cousins and uncles and aunts, even my brother, who are a little lighter than what people think of when they think “black.” And I have grandparents and parents and cousins who are brown, medium toned like myself. And I have cousins and uncles and a sister who are “dark-skinned” and no less beautiful for it. And we are a talented, intelligent, beautiful bunch. An African-American family is like a bouquet of flowers: all different colors and shapes and sizes, but beautiful apart and together, regardless of shade.
And this is not limited to African American families. There are skin-lightening products all through out India and Taiwan and Northern Africa, because of the stigma that “the closer to white you are, the more beautiful/intelligent/talented you are.” This comes from a historically colonial or systematically color-based society, and frankly, the fact there are still remnants of this mindset is saddening. Women and men across the globe should be able to be proud of who they are and how they look, and should judge and be judged on merit alone, not lose their confidence in themselves because of how dark or light their skin is. But even though we intellectually know that skin color is arbitrary, its difficult to be emotionally aware of it when we are put into situations like the one I encountered in the third grade.
So they only way to make sure that children of color don’t worry that they are “less than” because they darker, is to stop letting them think that color has anything to do with their skills or talents or beauty. Honestly, how much is melanin worth?
Certainly not a person’s happiness.