Where were the empowered deep brown women in ‘Dark Girls’?
If you are a dark-hued sister on social media, like myself, you probably remember the day that the Dark Girls trailer came out. My Facebook page and Gmail inbox exploded as my friends and relatives shared the emotionally-charged video of dark-skinned women and girls discussing their struggles to see their own beauty and worth in a society that consistently values lighter skin tones over darker hues.
After watching the entire movie multiple times, I continue to applaud Bill Duke and D. Channsin Berry’s heroism in tackling the controversial topic of colorism. I’m also grateful to them for providing a platform for so many darker-skinned black women to express their truths. But I believe that there is another truth worth exploring: dark-skinned women’s pride and resilience in spite of society’s structural colorism.
Digging deeper into colorism
The movie Dark Girls largely positions colorism as a stubborn relic of slavery that remains pervasive in the African-American community. The movie begins with the history of light-skinned slaves, who were often the illegitimate children of the masters, being assigned easier work in the big house and dark-skinned non-mixed slaves receiving more taxing labor in the fields. The filmmakers appear to assert the view that African-American’s continued glorification of light-skinned, presumably mixed race, women and denigration of dark-skinned non-mixed women is the result some sort of post-traumatic stress disorder that African-Americans have since suffered from, perpetuating this “slave mentality.”
Additionally, various dark-skinned women in the film discuss the fact that white people tend to appreciate their rich chocolate complexions more than their own people. In these ways, the movie gives off the false impression that bias against dark skin is only experienced intraracially, within the black community, and that it only has subjective, emotional implications.
However, this could not be farther from the truth. White supremacy is based on the assumption that lighter skin is more valuable than darker skin. Thus, those with lighter skin, regardless of race, often experience privilege. A 2011 study by Villanova University discovered that black women who were perceived to have a light skin tone were sentenced to significantly more lenient sentences for crimes — roughly 12 percent less prison time than those African-American women with darker skin. Light-skinned black women also served roughly 11 percent less time in prison than their dark skinned-counterparts for similar crimes.
Similarly, a 2010 study conducted by University of Chicago professor Margaret Beale Spencer on children’s perceptions of color revealed that white and black children alike demonstrated a bias towards whiteness. In fact, white children were even more convinced of white and light superiority than black children.
Dark-skinned women remain confident
Despite American society’s proven structural and cultural bias against dark skin, dark-skinned women have remained resilient.
Has bias against dark skin prevented American society from widely acknowledging the beauty of women such as Lauryn Hill, Kenya Moore, Naomi Campbell, Roshumba Williams or Kelly Rowland?
Has bias against dark skin prevented men such as President Barack Obama, Dwayne Wade, Denzel Washington, Samuel L. Jackson, George Lucas, Peter Norton and Wissam Al Mana from seeking love and companionship from darker-hued women such as first lady Michelle Obama, Gabrielle Union, Pauletta Pearson, LaTanya Richardson, Mellody Hobson, Gwen Adams and Janet Jackson?
Did having dark skin prevent Oprah Winfrey from becoming one of the richest and most influential human beings on the planet, or Ursula Burns from becoming chairman and CEO of the Xerox corporation?
Sure, the examples that I give are all anecdotal. However, the movie Dark Girls was also largely anecdotal; and by failing to include the testimony of just one “dark girl” who, for the most part, has always known her own beauty, intelligence and worth, the movie failed to tell the whole truth.
Learning lessons from resilient “dark girls”
Yes, most dark-skinned girls and women are acutely aware of society’s preference for lighter skin, but that does not negate the fact that many dark-skinned women understand and have always understood their inherent beauty and worth.
I personally know many brilliant and successful dark-skinned women who were the “it” girls in high-school and college. They are ascending the corporate ladder while beating off suitors with a stick. I think that providing such examples of deep-chocolate-toned women would have been inspirational and instructional in a film that seeks to heal, as Dark Girls does.
Sharing these positive “dark girl” experiences of growing up in affirming homes and communities would teach us how to raise proud and confident brown-skinned women, rather than uniformly feeling sorry for them. Further, such testimonies would help to accelerate our collective healing process by demonstrating that common acknowledgement of dark-skinned beauty is not just possible, but actual.
Let’s stop the dark girls pity party and start telling our stories of triumph.
Ama Yawson is a co-founder of Loveessence.com, a romantic networking site for black women who are ready for love and men of all races who are ready to love them in return. Ms. Yawson earned a BA from Harvard University, an MBA from the Wharton School, and a JD from the University of Pennsylvania Law School. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two sons.