‘Light Girls’: The Ugly, The Bad, and The Good (Part 2)

This post is the second of a three-part series review of the documentary Light Girls. If you haven’t already, check out part 1 of the series.

With “The Ugly” part of the documentary discussed and out of the way, we are now met with parts of it that could have used a little work. Here are “The Bad” portions of the documentary that stood out most to me.

1. Wayne Brady’s remark on who is to blame for colorism.

The well-known black entertainer notable in the popular comedy show, Whose Line Is It Anyway, made an appearance on the documentary and had something to say about colorism:

It’s not the white people who attribute [colorism] to us — maybe in the beginning…but until we deal with it, it will be here.  -Wayne Brady

The problem here is more about what he didn’t. Those of us in the black community, are we responsible for the colorist remarks or actions we commit against each other? Definitely. Should we be proactive in fighting against colorism in our community? Absolutely. But his statement gives the impression that colorism was merely a thing that started during slavery and its propagation in the black community today is happening within a vacuum. That is far from the truth. We live in a white-centric society and we have a global beauty industry, both of which implement the “fair-skinned is best” standard. The dominant white society we live in upheld colorism then and they are still upholding it now. We should not only be proactive in calling out colorism when we see it in our community, but we need to call out the implementation of that standard at large, for instance, with Dove making bank selling skin lightening creams and putting whitening ingredients in products overseas…yet they’re recently telling us to love our curls. Hmm… *sips tea*

Thankfully the truths of the beauty industry were discussed in detail later in the documentary. But, as I mentioned earlier in part 1 of the series, I wish the documentary also explicitly dialogued on how having light skin works in a light-skinned girl’s favor, for example, in the way she is disciplined in school. 

2. While the objectification and stereotyping of black women by black men in the community was put on full display, the take away message was for black women to stop hurting each other via colorism.

This was probably done unintentionally. But both black men and black women can participate in colorism so both of them should be advised to stop it.

3. The reinforcement of the idea that light skin equals long, silky flowing hair or spirally curls.

More than once, some of the light skinned women featured in the film mentioned how part of their issues with growing up light-skinned included their hair. These two body features being synonymous with one another was like a marriage that couldn’t be split. It was evident in the way some darker women treated them, including threats to cut their hair and actually doing the deed. However, there are elements, other than genetics, that contribute to one’s hair length, one of those elements including hair care. If your hair texture, whether curly or straight, has that natural silky feel or slip often seen in European hair, you are guaranteed hair care products and hair care regimens that are not near as demanding as that of a person with naturally dry, brittle hair that requires a whole lot more TLC. People with either textures and strands are capable of having long hair if it’s given the specific and proper care it demands.

 

Since light skin is considered standard and “good” and since colorism seeks to automatically attribute good character traits to light skinned black people (again, one of those privileges), I guess it is consistent to attribute “good hair”, that is, hair that imitates the feel and texture of white people, to light skinned girls. But doing that overlooks the Civil Rights era, an age when history books and other documentations of the 60s and 70s showed how African Americans, light and dark alike, wore kinky afros as demonstration of resistance. Of course, not every light skinned girl has that hair texture but nowadays, it is often assumed that light-skinned women do not/cannot have a natural hair texture that is like mine or close to mine, a perception that is highly inaccurate.

 

Even with the recent revival of black women wearing their hair in natural state, it is not a thing to be commonly seen among black women in Hollywood. Often times, black women who are not wearing their hair straight via straightener or relaxer in Hollywood opt for weaves and wigs to achieve this look or use wigs and weaves to wear different hair textures. And many of us women in the black community mimic these looks for various reasons ranging from the convenience they bring to the idea that our natural, coarse hair isn’t pretty (which is a lie). There are also those of us who achieve these looks for the very fact that we can do it. Whatever the case may be, seeing natural, unstraightened hair among notable black women in the industry is not common so we do not know the true nature of their hair. However, for some reason, we tend to assume that women with lighter skin are not wearing weaves or wigs while women with darker skin have their hair held to much more scrutiny.

 

4. No thorough discussion of genetics.

This, in my opinion, was the greatest blunder of the things listed here. If there was anything I learned in the penultimate course of my undergraduate career as biochemistry student, it’s that genetics is messy. Straight and curly will not always equal wavy and black and white will not always equal brown. In fact, when in comes to skin color alone, the International Federation of Pigment Cell Society found that there are 378 points in DNA sequence involved in determining skin color in human and mice.  There are family friends of mine who are a dark-skinned couple who gave birth to a light-skinned child. There are cases where biracial twins are born and one comes out darker with dark hair and eyes while the other is fairer with blonde hair and blue eyes. My old hairdresser was one of 10 kids whose complexions ranged from very dark to the lightest of tans. In fact, this is not uncommon among black families, especially those with many children. And while there was mention of the experiences of a woman with albinism in the documentary, the opportunity to use the bulk of genetic diversity among light-skinned black people to their advantage in order to have meaningful discussion surrounding blackness was lost.

It is this discussion that could have acted as a launching pad to explore the question “what does it mean to be black?”

It is this discussion that could potentially lead us to the realization that blackness is not a rigid box.

It is this discussion that could have highlight the ridiculousness of marrying a light-skinned with the 100% guarantee that their kids will be “pretty” because they will be light-skinned.

It is this discussion that could have allowed those who were vouching for light skinned children through future or current relationships who were not aware of the many variables that lead to skin color to be asked, “What if your child is not light? Will you still love them all the same? Will you still love your husband or wife all the same? What really matters at the end of all of this?”

All that and more could have been a prominent aspect of this documentary. Unfortunately, substantial effort to do the above was non-existent which plays a huge role as to why this documentary fell short.

What are your thoughts on these points? Did you watch the documentary? If you haven’t watched it, were you aware of the documentary prior to this post? Stay tuned for part 3 of this series to be posted this Tuesday!

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