When colorism takes its hold in the black community, nobody wins. Not the light skinned girl. Not the dark-skinned girl. Not the black men that also span the color spectrum. But even with its divisive nature, those with lighter skin are afforded privileges that those with darker hues do not have.
To say that the “Light Girls” documentary did a superb job executing the points above would be a lie.
In case you’re unaware of the recent happenings in Black America, the Oprah Winfrey Network aired documentary “Light Girls” three days ago. I suppose its airing now makes this a continuation of the colorism conversation that began in 2011 when “Dark Girls” aired. Black people all around America held their breath as soon as it began, many not really expecting what would come out of it while others were fully anticipating a disaster. During its premiere, Black Twitter went ablaze and the conversation still continues there. Two days ago, I brought myself to watch it out of pure curiosity and upon its conclusion, I was left with confusion and disappointment but with a little bit of hope.
In order to cover all bases, I will be discussing the documentary in a three-part series. When it comes to the delivering of good news and bad news on a particular subject, I prefer the bad news first so instead of sharing “the good” first, the series is going to begin with “the ugly” parts of this documentary experience.
1. The reinforcement of hurtful stereotypes.
Dark-skinned girls are portrayed as predatory beings that seek to bully and harm light-skinned girls because of their damaged self-perception and their jealousy of light-skinned women. This stereotype was made very clear through the various stories that told of unfortunate encounters the lighter skinned girls had with dark skinned girls. I do not erase their experiences and I appreciate that this documentary mentioned that this bullying needs to be addressed and dealt with. However, there are plenty of dark-skinned black women (like myself) who feel wonderful in their dark skin, who have no problem with light skinned women, and have not ever raised their hand towards a light skinned girl or woman. Where was that in this “conversation”?
With regards to more stereotypes, light skinned women were portrayed to be stuck up snobs in the dating scene (which is also not true of every light-skinned girl you meet). This was reinforced by the portion of the documentary dedicated to getting the perspective of black men on black women which brings me to the next problematic part of this documentary…
2. Almost all of the “Men on Women” segment.
Y’all. This part had my eyes rolling so hard they could have gotten stuck in their sockets. At the end of it, I was also left feeling pretty sad. If the goal of this segment was to showcase how a number of black men stereotype, fetishize, and dehumanize black women, they succeeded. To begin, the light-skinned women were likened to red corvettes and trophies, basically unique commodities to help black men achieve status, gain uniqueness in the entertainment industry, and successfully breed children that aren’t as dark as the night because that’s a terrible thing, obviously. And, of course, light-skinned women are objects and prizes to be won, not people. There was a brief mention much later by Iyanla Vanzant on how dark skinned women are also told the “light is better” story but since dark-skinned women don’t meet the standard, those men are not expected to see them as beautiful.
As this segment continued, a black actor by the name of Gary Johnson explained that his preference for dark skinned women is, in so many words, due to his generalizations of black women (as was the case for the majority of the men in this segment). He said that dark-skinned women are more supportive while light skinned women are superficial. James Harris, a black comedian, continued on with the portrayal of light skinned girls being stuck up brats who can get away with snobby behavior in romantic relationships while dark-skinned women are “ready to get down to get dirty and get the work in” with regards to serving her man.
“Ready to get down to get dirty and get the work in”
No word in the dictionary can express how badly that phrase rubbed me the wrong way.
And just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, Shamoy Allen, an entrepreneur, reiterated the whole “light-skinned girls are prizes” bit. But not to fear, dark skinned girl! You can be a prize too! Just make up for it with your other physical features.
Obviously, this does not capture the entirety of the black male populous as there were some men who provided great insights in this segment that will be discussed later in the series. But my thing is, if you’re obsessed about legs, thighs, breasts, and the meat it comes in or what have you, please make your way to your nearest deli mart (I wish that was completely my original).
3. Light-skinned black women not acknowledging their privilege despite their challenges.
I think this was the part that left me most disappointed. After being given a space to voice their frustrations and challenges with being light-skinned, they couldn’t, at least admit the privileges that come along with being light skinned as many other light skinned people did via Twitter while watching the documentary. As saddening as that “Men On Women” segment was, there was some truth to it. The fact is, light-skinned girls can get away with things and are perceived to be nicer and are treated better overall compared to dark-skinned girls. The blogger at Bougie Black Girl wrote an informative piece titled We are all Black but you as a light skin person are benefiting from light skin privilege. It includes a list of 30 ways light-skinned people benefit from their skin tone, some of which are debatable and come at the cost of slighting the existence of their blackness which can be a source of identity struggles, I’m sure. So yes, light-skinned girls and women feel the effects of colorism and yes their experiences are different from that of dark-skinned girls who feel the brunt of colorism. And one of the best ways to acknowledge those differences is for light-skinned women to acknowledge their privilege in these conversations.
To be honest, I was actually initially opposed to the airing of “Light Girls.” I figured that since light-skinned women do not experience the brunt of colorism, there was no point for them to get airtime to voice their experiences. And that was wrong of me because, at the end of the day, colorism does affect us all. It’s different for each of us but it affects us all. And because of this documentary, I was able to hear some honest, painful experiences and perspectives that will be discussed later in this series, points of view that I probably would not have heard since the likelihood of me bringing up this conversation with my light-skinned black friends would be low. But now, I can be confident to make this a point of conversation with my light-skinned friends. I just wish that this documentary did a better job of facilitating the continuation of this conversation on OWN.
Did you watch the documentary? What are your thoughts on “the ugly” parts of the documentary? If you haven’t watched it, were you aware of the documentary prior to this post? Stay tuned for part 2 of this series to be posted this Saturday!