A lot of women are upset about “Dark Girls.” I understand it. Certain parts of the documentary made me feel a bit uncomfortable, too. Of course, dozens of dark-skinned girls were featured, their stories ranging from sad to heart-breaking. I related to many of them, but when I didn’t, I had to fight the urge to chalk it up to dramatics. Someone could easily chalk my story up to dramatics, as well. And no one wants to see themselves downtrodden, or watch their dirty laundry as it airs.
When I was a little girl, I looked just like my father, and everyone told me it. I was always a daddy’s girl, which is why I’m so ashamed to say that I hated hearing it. My father is 100 percent Igbo Nigerian, and darker than the deepest mahogany. I wanted to look like my mother, not only because she’s beautiful (and she is), but because she was light-skinned. I still remember my mother telling me I looked like my father when I was four years old, and crestfallen, I begged for reassurance that my skin, at least, matched hers. I got my reassurance, but as I grew older (and darker), the comfort faded away.
I know my story isn’t the same as all dark-skinned girls, but I would bet that most have something in common with it. And like many, I eventually learned. I stopped slathering SPF 80 obsessively in the summer time, I stopped refusing to swim before dark. I think my wake-up call was when my then 5-year old sister told me she wanted to be light-skinned because she wanted to be “pretty.” At that point, I knew that, like me, she would eventually learn to love her skin, I just didn’t want it to take as long as it took for me.
My sister doesn’t have the privilege of spending her early years in diversity as I did. When I was in high school, my family moved from Nashville to Brentwood, TN, an upper middle class, (vast) majority white, semi-rural, completely southern community. It was a complete social culture shock for me, but it’s all my sister has ever known. And she’s known from day one that she’s different from the other kids. When she forgot, she definitely encountered a few unwelcome reminders.
Yes, I understand that we are not to seek validation from ignorant men and ignorant people. Now. It’s something I had to learn. I get it, there are countless beautiful dark-skinned girls who know they’re fly regardless of the disproportionate color wheel in rappers’ music videos. There are Issa Raes who refuse to compromise their diverse projects for what is now a redbone norm, there are Tika Sumpters who knew they were fly from day one, just ‘cause their mommas told them. That’s amazing. We’ve come a long way.
I’m not worried about my sister growing into ignorance or self-hate. In my own experience, colorism isn’t as deep in West Africa as it is in America (although it’s still undeniably present), so I don’t think my parents saw it as something to address when I was younger, but that’s definitely changed now. Like Tika Sumpter’s mother, we tell her she’s fly everyday. Education wipes out ignorance, and my sister’s a pretty smart little girl. She’s already learning.
No, I’m worried about millions of little girls whose parents never learned the history behind their own self-hate, and live completely unaware of it. I’m worried about the little girls who actually feel complimented when someone tells them, “You’re pretty, for a ________.” I’m worried about little girls who won’t bat an eye when they see Nina Simone portrayed on film for the first time because they’re so used to it. I’m worried about the people who don’t even recognize the problem. Not the ones who are tired of talking about it. Those ones usually understand the problem.
I go to Howard University, an HBCU in Washington, D.C., and though the school is far from perfect, we’re well aware of colorism here. I’ve had candid conversations with people discussing tans and skin tones, and there’s little to get upset over when you know everyone’s educated intentions. In this context, the discussion can get tiring, because we’ve already benefited from it.
But when I go back to Nashville, it’s like I’ve been snapped back into reality. There are way too many people outside of the circles I experience who are completely ignorant for us to disregard a documentary like “Dark Girls.” I would never dare to disregard something I don’t experience, and I know that light-skinned black girls experience their own side of this coin, but I think undue privilege is undeniable. I can’t wait for Bill Duke’s next film. I hope people talk about this so much that it reaches every community. I hope we get to a point where everyone is tired of talking about it, not because we don’t want to air our dirty laundry, or risk our own pride, but because we’re all educated. I hope this topic becomes a moot point.
But until then, keep talking.