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A series, inspired by the CNN special, dedicated to race related identity issues concerning Black people in America.

The Story

I recently watched the documentary Dark Girls by Bill Duke and D. Channsin Berry. The documentary discusses the issues of complexion or colorism in the Black community, especially as it applies to Black women. The documentary is thoughtful and emotional. There are so many moments when watching these women share their secret pain and shame behind their complexions, that I found myself holding my breath.

The documentary is very worthwhile and I would think it mean a lot for any dark skinned woman to watch. However, the film doesn’t focus on how to combat the issue of complexion and colorism. It depicts several people giving the standard ‘Love yourself’ get your self-steem together words of motivation. After watching the movie it became clear to me that we have been giving dark skinned people this advice for so long and yet, silently, there is still something there. That tells me that what we have been trying, is not working. We need another plan.

The History of Black Colorism

The aesthetic preference of lighter skin in the Black community is a direct result of white supremacist thinking that values that which is most like it. Due to the rape of Black women by White men that produced mixed-race children whose skin color and facial features differed from the Black norm, a color caste aesthetic was created. This aesthetic placed higher value and regard for Black people whose skin was lighter and had more european looking features because Black people found that those possessing these qualities were treated differently and afforded more possibilities.

As a strategy of colonization, encouraging enslaved blacks to embrace and uphold white supremacist aesthetics was a masterstroke.

– Bell Hooks, Salvation

953338_1329349516506_fullAs a community we internalized the notion of lighter skin being more desirable. We quantified that thought because of the higher social standing or social opportunities that we was lighter skinned people obtaining. We began to see light skin as our way into the mainstream of society and we wanted that at all costs. That’s where the stories about passing like the movie Imitation of Life. Then later it wasn’t so much about passing for White as it was being having White-like features even though you were Black.

The Power of the Media

Identity begins externally. Psychologically we come to know ourselves through the world around us and we fit into it. That is why the first things we learn about the world come from the environment in which we are raised. We learn who we are by our connection to our family members. We learn how to interact with the world from our family. Then we go out into the world and we gauge those experiences against what we learn at home. As we get older we find some contradictions and we work to reconcile them by shunning what we have learned home, assimilating them into what we have learned at home, or shunning that which is in opposition to what we have learned at home. The thing to remember is that all of these things that are influencing the identity we create come from outside of us. It is a lifelong lesson that only barely get to understand after we have been on this planet several decades. In the beginning, it’s all external.

When I think about where these issues come from. How it is that we came to detest dark skin. I think about the psychological bombardment from external forces. Colonialism was not about the chains and whips, that was just the slavery part. The colonialism was what happened inside the minds of Black people from decades of having our skin hated and being told that because of our skin we were inferior, stupid, savage, and uncivilized. The messages were verbalized, visualized, and institutionalized. We internalized those messages. Therein, I believe, lies the keys to our liberty.

This clip from the documentary stood out to me the most because of the point that Douglas Kearney makes about the power of the media. The media tries to pretend that it is powerless in terms of affecting and changing the lives and minds of people when it comes to the negative impacts that the media has, but they will take al the credit when the impact is positive. We cannot be fooled. Psychologists have studied the impact of images (even without sound) on the human brain. Images are powerful. In social cognitive theory it is stated that when viewers pay attention to attractive or similar characters performing positively reinforced relevant behaviors they are affected. These behaviors can instill a sense of hope or direct the desires and behaviors of the viewers. This goes to prove the psychological affects that images can have on the human psyche.

The Problem

While we often think of the detest of dark skin as a personal thing that dark skinned people must combat through developing their self-esteem and loving themselves, we have ignored the greater truth. It is not simply a personal subjective change that needs to take place. In fact, the internal personal part is the easiest part of it.

dark-skin-vs-light-skin

I submit to you that the majority of dark skinned people do not (or did not begin out having) a low sense of self-worth. Most of the began their lives not realizing that there was anything wrong with them — that there was anything to hate

about themselves. That was something they were taught later when they encountered media images, the internalized notions of white-supremacy that have corrupted our institutions, and the ignorance of people in their own community who perpetuate those ideals.

To suggest that the answer to the psychic pain dark skinned people have felt and endured because of their complexion is to trivialize a major psychological dilemma. It is like suggesting to a person who has been shot by another individual that if they just stop bleeding they won’t die — what about the motherfucker who’s shooting them?? Even if they stop bleeding, that person will just keep shooting them. So how do they not, at some point, bleed to death. That is what is happening to dark skinned people who are plagued by the pain of Black colorism. The answer is bigger than that.

The Point

The answer to defeating Black colorism is to combat the external forces that teach our children to hate themselves. We need to infiltrate media messages with images that combat the ideology that lighter skin and European features places a person in a more desirable station in life. One thing that has changed in the past few decades is our access to mainstream media. We have to take the images and representations that we create. It is one thing for a White person to present a stereotypical image of a Black person in the ignorance of the affect it may have, we do not have such a luxury. We have to think critically about the counterproductive images that we create when we have the power to do otherwise. Those who oppress know all to well the power of media and they invest time, money, and opinion into the images they present and those images influence us for generations (whether they admit it or not). In turn we have to be mindful of the power of media images and use it to our advantage instead of choosing to be culturally destructive in our attempts to keep it “real.” There is a stark difference between representation and reality…but that’s another post.

I’m not sayin; I’m just sayin,

An Angry Black Man

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Comments
  1. Adjua Dubb says:

    As an AA, having lived in west africa, I found that being in a place where Black is the majority, if u have light skin, u feel outta place, while our color/complexions are many even in Africa, you find a greater wealth and concentration of deep dark hues that are astoundingly beautiful. I found myself just wanting to stay in the sun, the darker i became, the more i felt I belonged. Living in a white drowned society creates this complexes, being called a ‘minority’ doesn’t help. But when we are somewhere we are the majority, to be so very very Black is the most beautiful.

  2. I hated Dark Girls because it presented Colorism as a African-American Female “Only” problem and as we both know Colorism is a global problem that’s not gender related. Females may feel it more due to society telling women that their value is in how they look but any female that internalized that message ends up discriminating against Dark Skin Boys because they are extra conscious of hue/shade. I was bullied by Black girls growing up because I was dark-skinned so I know where it comes from to be Color-struck. I dated Spanish and Asian girls as a result of that rejection from Black girls and it wasn’t until I was grown that Black “Women” started checking for me.
    Overall I found the whole Dark Girls’ special to be pathetic and pandering to the insecurities and desires of Black women hence the whole segment about them not feeling beautiful until I white or light person told them so.
    There was little in the form of merit to that “mockumentary”. They went out of their way to interview ignorant black males thus it wasn’t fair or balanced. Even the few black guys they did show that had favorable views of dark skin was overwhelming ignorant. Then they went out of their way to find white guys that had favorable views of black women to parallel all the negative black men they had speaking. It was nothing more than propaganda to fuel the Gender War. Black women that praise this probably got ‘The Princess and the Frog’ on dvd and a member on BeyondBlackWhite.com

    I love how YOUR article is written in the sense it flat out talks about Colorism in Black America as oppose to Dark Girls which clearly presents a one-sided picture where African-American men are once again the bad guys holding black women down.

    • correction; This ‘Dark Girls’ is different than the Oprah special I was talking about which focused solely on African-American women

    • DesiBjorn says:

      I definitely feel you on your thoughts. I agree that colorism is not just a Black female issue. I definitely know that dark skinned men feel the same pain from the assaults on their self esteem due to complexion. As an 80’s baby I can remember when dark skinned men were not in vogue. I.e. The era of Al B. Sure, El Debarge, Prince, and L.L. Cool J.

      The documentary definitely had it’s flaws and I almost wrote about that but decided to instead focus on colorism itself. But I agree that the few Black men that they showed talking positively about dark skinned women were hugely ignorant and had no substantive articulation for their preference (I actually doubted any of them except one actually meant it). And again with the contrasting of that with White men who spoke positively about dating dark skinned Black women. I could go all day on that alone. I really didn’t think they should have included them at all because I’ve often noticed that white men and women who prefer to date Black people tend to gravitate towards those of darker complexions and I question whether there isn’t some level of exoticism or fetishism in those desires. Regardless I don’t think it’s the same as a Black person who dates or prefers darker skinned complexions simply because they are not subject to the same messages regarding dark skinned as Black people are.

      I didn’t mind that they focused on dark skinned women only because as the title suggests it is about dark girls. And also, I think the nuances of colorism are experienced a little differently as it applies to each gender. And I thought it was okay as a sort of opening the door to having the conversation.

      But definitely appreciate you reading and responding. I have a few more posts coming on this topic as I started writing I realized there was too much to say and address for just one post. Come back through and speak anytime.

    • Anonymous says:

      I feel that what ever color you are you should love it. I am a black women light some and I wish I was darker because the back colr is beautiful to me. Color goes way above and beyond rasim and begin slaved back in the day.all that bleaching and talking above color comes with the pass like me I was not rasism to no nationality I would love a black man as well as white.a lot of people should leave the pass behind. Because at birth only the lord know what color you will be. Every one bleed the same color.

      • DesiBjorn says:

        Indefinitely agree that this issue of skin lightening goes beyond racism and has become a world issue as we see more and more countries picking up the trend. And you’re right beauty comes on every shade and at the end of the day we do all bleed the same color.

        Thanks for reading and responding.

  3. Oh God! I am so tired of this. My whole life I’ve been hearing this and arguments about it. It’s really ingenious if you think about it. Just keep them Blacks tied up in bullshit, and we don’t have to bother too often with them.

    I’m gonna sit this one out, y’all keep me posted.

  4. mizdoss says:

    I posted a similar post to this one a while back after viewing a special program on Oprah entitled Dark Girls. My post is entitled Love the Skin You’re In- check it out!

    http://mizdoss.wordpress.com/2013/06/25/love-the-skin-youre-in/

    • DesiBjorn says:

      I read your post. I am referring to the same documentary here. You should check out the part 2 to this as I get more into my thought that this is not a self esteem or beauty issue as much as it is about image and persona.

      thanks for reading and responding.

      • Anonymous says:

        I live in atlanta ga born an raised I am an always have been dark skin I have always had women from around the world look at me be with me as if I was the only man on earth from my childhood to now I have alway been a leader I have never been to prison I have never…ever worked on no mans job I have always employed blacks,whites, indians,etc,…thank you mother & father for this pretty black smooth skin an extra white teeth…think im lyin about dark skin …ask all the women on earth.

      • DesiBjorn says:

        Thanks for reading and responding.

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