After over a year of teasers and online chatter, Bill Duke’s Dark Girls will be making it’s debut on OWN on this Sunday. While some folks are eagerly awaiting the documentary, a good number of folks in my personal networks have let it be known that they are oh-so-tired of talking skin color.
Theoretically, it’s hard to blame them. While one would be foolish to suggest that the color complex doesn’t exist anymore, the conversations about it often hit the same notes over and over again. You’ve got the references to the NOT ACTUALLY REAL Willie Lynch letter. The person who equates preferences for light skin to preference around height or body type. The summarily dismissed evidence that complexion bias is real and does have a negative impact on people’s lives. The people who swear they don’t think in terms of skin color and have never experienced the color problem and, thus, it must not exist/exist anymore. Those folks who, as some do when it comes to racism, suggest that talking about light and dark skin is what’s keeping us divided—the conversation is the real culprit.
But more often than not, you also have the voices of those who say “This has hurt me.” The anecdotes about women being told “You’re pretty for a dark-skinned girl,” or feeling invisible/overlooked in the presence of “fairer” skin. You’ve got those people who can attest to the pain they have experienced because so much of our world (not just our community and our country) favors light skin, particularly in women. And until that is no more, until one can pick up a magazine or watch a movie or block of music videos without seeing an obvious over-indexing of light-skinned/mixed-race women…suck it up. We must continue talking about color until we are over color.
I am a paler-colored Black girl (insert the oft-repeated “Why are light-skinned people so militant” retort here) and I can attest to being treated favorably for no other reason but being tall, tan and not-so-terrific so much as I’m just, well, light. I don’t need any pity, but I don’t deserve any privilege. I’m not going to Tim Wise the game (that is, assert myself as a person of privilege as the ultimate authority to speak on bias), but I feel that I must call it out when I see it and encourage others to get past the fatigue of talking about color and continue confronting our issues with it.
Growing up, I was a wild child. Marginal grades, bad temper, messy hair and clothes. My younger sister was a model student and model child—poised, accomplished and a delight to be around. Yet my grandmother paid her dust and fussed over me at every turn. It wasn’t hard to understand why, as her subtle jabs about our complexions were rarely subtle. My sister’s hair was her “saving grace,” but she was wise to avoid the sun. Thank God she was smart, because who was going to marry her? Meanwhile, I was a bum by the age of 12 and couldn’t be bothered to comb my curls or do much of anything on the other side of mischief. Guess who was told she’d be a prized wife someday? I was born in the North in the late 1980s, mind you.
As a kindergarten teacher, I’ve witnessed these same issues play out over and over again. Don’t believe the famed “doll test”? I’ve seen it with my own eyes many times before. Brown eyes brimming with tears over the availability of a blonde haired Barbie that some other student has claimed—“I want the pretty one!” Children who repeat the things their moms and aunts say about color verbatim: “She think she cute ‘cause she yellow!” The obsession with people who don’t look like them.
All that to say…suck it up. We discuss far more insignificant things regularly. And from what I’ve heard about Dark Girls, it’s a smart, well-done film (not the sad “WOE IS ME, FOR BEING DARK IS A TRAGEDY” cry fest some had feared). If color is not the issue that has caused you pain or frustration, great! But until others can say the same, it isn’t for you to write it off.