Thoughts on ‘Dark Girls’ from a brown-skinned woman

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From Clutch Magazine:

The highly anticipated documentary, Dark Girls, made its debut on OWN Network last [Sunday]. In the days leading up to the world television premiere, as more and more promo materials were released, people began to reach out to me; and on yesterday, no less than a few dozen folks emailed, messaged, Facebook’ed, and tweeted me – “Dark Girls is on! Are you watching?” I had already seen the film during its national tour last year, but I needed to watch it again, not because it was just that good, but because I wanted to see folks’ response to the film in real-time. My Facebook and Twitter timelines confirmed what I have long known to be true – we have been trained for war.

What I witnessed on social media last night was no different from what I’ve experienced time and time again. Whether in-person or on-line, conversations about skin color often transform into scenes that look like they were taken straight out of School Daze. While many dark-skinned women appreciate the acknowledgement of a pain that feels impossible to heal, others resent what feels like new picking at old sores, while many others reject the repetition of personal reflections that seemingly suggest that all dark-skinned women have issues. Some light-skinned women feel overlooked, their experiences seldom recognized as if their lightness somehow protects them from any pain. But if any of them dare say so, they are quickly and effectively dismissed if not silenced. Brown-skinned sisters who aren’t so light but aren’t that dark are somehow made to reflect on their own skin color as much lighter or much darker than it actually is, just so they can be a part of the conversation. Either that or they watch from the sidelines and remind us every now and again that we continue to push them to the sidelines. And where are the men? Either shaking their heads or being blamed for having us caught out there like so. And like clockwork, there are always more than a handful of brothers willing to offer their unsolicited opinions about their “preference.” In the end, we all head back to our corners exasperated and exhausted.

As I watched Dark Girls and the social media warfare that ensued, I couldn’t help but to question the film’s purpose. I mean, I know what Bill Duke and D. Channsin Berry have said – that they wanted to facilitate dialogue and help to move us towards healing. I get that, I support that, and I have the very same intentions for my own work. I wholeheartedly agree that a potential for our healing lies in open and honest conversation. However, we have to be purposeful about that conversation. Part of the reason why we aren’t able to have different conversations about skin color is because we aren’t talking about skin color any differently than we have been since forever. We can’t seem to talk about our color without our complex.

For nearly two hours, I watched dark-skinned women, faces tear-stained and emotions raw, testify about all the many and painful ways that colorism has damaged their beings. Unfortunately what I didn’t see were any of the myriad ways that the conversation could have and should have been nuanced. Yes, I am a dark-skinned woman, who was once a dark-skinned little girl who grew up in New Orleans, Louisiana and therefore knows all too well how colorism can break you if you let it. But I didn’t let it. And what Dark Girls was missing was that voice. The voice of the confident, assured, self-affirming, self-loving, “I wish you would tell me I’m not the ish” sister, who although she can relate to the pain refuses to stay stuck in it and has somehow figured out how to find beauty in her reflection. We needed that voice, not to distract from or to negate the experiences of pain, but rather to balance them with the capacity for triumph, if the purpose of the dialogue is in fact our healing. If we truly want to heal, we have to stop talking at each other and start talking with each other. And to do that, we need all voices at the table – dark, light, and every shade in-between – without the “vs.” While not with equal measure, colorism does impact us all. I’m not sure that those of us on the darker-end of the spectrum really need to maintain a monopoly on the pain. I think there’s room for other voices and other experiences. We needed the voice of the light-skinned sister to tell us what it’s like to walk into a room and have women who know nothing about her throw daggers with their eyes, or the light-skinned sister who stays in the sun and has either loc’ed her hair or cut it very close because she’s down for her people and doesn’t want anything about her presence to cause the browner-skinned women she considers her sisters to question their value. We needed that balance, if in fact the purpose of the dialogue is healing.

Read the rest of this story on Clutch Magazine.