“Dark Girls” Documentary Explores Colorism, Self-Worth, and Prejudice

dark girlsThe captivating and well-received documentaryDark Girls” will be premiering on OWN this Sunday. And while the film touches on the topic of colorism, the intra-racial animus brought on by perceived worth associated with lighter variations in skin pigmentation in the black community, it also deals with social messaging, stigmas about natural hair textures, and relationships with darker women. Perhaps the most powerful aspect of the film is its authenticity as it is mainly told through firsthand accounts of “dark girls.” And, I have to say, even the preview brought up emotions for me that I had long ago believed to be gone.

I am a “Dark Girl”

I remember growing up in a predominantly black community and struggling with many of the same prejudices presented in the film. Boys would say my hair was too nappy, and the “light-skinned” girls were preferred by all the cutest guys. Not only that, the darker girls reviled the lighter girls making their lives absolutely miserable. Even in my church, I remember a few darker girls who would gang up on a girl named Stephanie. She was tall, thin, light in complexion, and amicable. But, it really didn’t matter because her mere existence greatly diminished the value of every other “dark girl” at church. They eventually ran her off after a few years of torture.

I heard folks say things about how they were going to marry someone lighter so their babies could be light. And, my fair-skinned cousins always got cat-called when we walked to the local liquor store for candy and soda. In my community, there was more than a prejudice toward darker girls or preference for lighter girls, there was a very clear social hierarchy in which all of us girls forcibly existed. We knew we would be measured by hair texture and length and skin complexion and hue much our before brain power and intellect. And, for some girls, that was a devastating reality. Even for my mother, the teasing of “tar baby”, “blackey”, and “skillet” haunted her later on into her life. And, there is truly no yard stick to measure the psychological impacts this systematized disparagement  might have on a young woman. When reinforced by family members, friends, teachers, and even the media, how does one, at such a nascent state of adolescence, parse out the stereotype from the truth? the prejudice from preference? the hatred from the ignorance? It is a daunting feat indeed.

Just like the girls in the film, I laid down at night and prayed to God, “Lord, please let me wake up in the morning with long hair like Tracy’s,” or, “God, please don’t let me get darker this summer.” And much to my chagrin, those prayers were never answered. I will never forget when I started dating my first high school boyfriend, Jason. We were walking hand in hand through the hallways and one of his friends said, “That’s your girlfriend?” as he looked me up and down. “She is cute. Chocolate. But cute.” And when he described me as “chocolate” I remember feeling like an absolute loser. Being called chocolate was like being called “so-so.” And, the social stigma of being a “chocolate” girl was something I struggled with throughout high school.

In essence, my story shows that the accounts in this film are real. So real that I am sure any woman of color, particularly any black woman, can find herself in the eyes of one of these beautiful, courageous ladies. I certainly did.

The Bigger, Darker Picture

But, beyond me and beyond these valiant women is a much deeper issue ailing the black community. These issues have remained over centuries since the institution of forced African and African-American slave labor was abolished. And, like many remnants of this era, it still plagues the black community in a dubiously invisible way. With celebrity icons like Beyoncé and Halle Berry as foremost images of beauty in this community, lighter complexions still seem to be associated with beauty as opposed to darker skin tones. And, instead of a collective “shirking off” of this misguided trope, black women have faced the genderized brunt of this social phenomenon. Dark men are seen as handsome, sexy, and mysterious while dark women are still hyper-sexualized images of the Jezebel.

And, it seems, no matter how ferociously women of color fight to disassemble these images, they are repeatedly reminded that straight hair, light-skin, and “whiter” phenotypes are the acceptable form of beauty. This film takes a step toward publicizing this unfortunate by-product of years of forced servitude of browns and blacks across the globe. And, efforts like these force the unaffected to pay a bit of attention to their own deep-seated prejudices, preferences, and biases against darker women.

The hope is that this topic will become less and less taboo as women continue to be brave and vocalize their experiences. It is evident that these experiences have a profound effect on these women’s social, romantic, and professional lives even well into adulthood. So, watch it for yourself, think about it, and reflect. Maybe even have a conversation or two about what you saw. The more we talk about it, hopefully, the better it will get.worthSignature