Dark Girls….and Light Girls and Brown Girls

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by Kiara Lee of TheBlackerTheBerry

After watching the television premiere of Bill Duke’s “Dark Girls” documentary on OWN, not only do I feel enlightened by the provocative testimonies, but I also feel proud. Proud that our people are starting to open up the conversation on colorism in a larger light. However, as a colorism and self-esteem activist, I can say with all certainty that colorism isn’t an issue exclusive to dark girls alone; our light-skinned and brown skinned sistas face the ills of this form of discrimination too. And in order to start the arduous task of healing, we all must work together – light-skinned, dark-skinned and in-between – as it is a problem that effects ALL sistahs. To coin colorism a one-sided issue for black women is a dire mistake.

Don’t get me wrong -- I willingly accept the fact that dark-skinned African-Americans face the brunt of the ill-effects of colorism; statistics tell it all. Light-skinned African American women are 15% more likely to get married than dark-skinned African-American women (Shedding ‘Light’ on Marriage). A Villanova study found that after analyzing 12,000 legal cases in North Carolina involving African-American women, an overwhelming majority of cases involved light-skinned women receiving much more lenient prison sentences than dark-skinned women (The Persistent Problem of Colorism). And let’s not turn a blind eye to the use of skin bleaching and photo-editing to lighten in order to move up the ladder – all ladders, any ladder. But, are we forgetting to look at the bigger picture here?

I’ve done a decent amount of work with colorism over the past three years – a book, an amateur documentary, various published editorial pieces, speaking engagements, workshops, a theatre piece and a small feature in CNN’s Black in America 5 with Soledad O’Brien. In my experiences talking with people and hearing their stories, colorism’s effects are without a doubt all-inclusive.

In high school, I was isolated because girls thought that I thought I was better than them, simply because of my light skin. Of course I never thought I was better than anybody else, but you couldn’t tell the rest of the girls at school that. I didn’t have many friends during most of high school because of this. Because of people thinking I’m something I’m not, all because of how I looked.

Even in the church…the dark-skinned girls would make fun of me. Make eyes at me and funny gestures. I’m light-skinned…so? It was terrible.

Being brown-skinned, many times I went unnoticed. It was either you’re light or you’re dark. ‘So and so is beautiful, with that pretty clear dark skin.’ Or ‘She is gonna have some pretty babies, with that yellow skin and that good hair.” It made me feel like I wasn’t special, so I kinda just blended in for a long time – just another face in the crowd I guess.

Colorism – its everybody’s problem. For some, to a lesser extent and for others, to a greater extent. But let’s not make those differences separate us even more. I ask you all to not stand divided against this issue. No more dark girls vs. light girls. No more throwing shade on shade. No more blaming and no more self-loathing. I will say it once more -- I ask you all to not stand divided against this issue. We need each other, we need our sisters, we need sisterhood and we need cohesion. The longer we pit ourselves against each other, whether it is subtly or explicitly, the longer we remain shackled. The longer we remain enslaved. The longer we remain on the plantation.

Yet was I born, as you are, no man's slave,
An heir to all that liberal Nature gave;
My thoughts can reason, and my limbs can move,
The same as yours; like yours my heart can love:
Alike my body food and sleep sustains;
Alike our wants, our pleasures, and our pains.
One sun rolls o'er us, common skies around;
One globe supports us, and one grave must bound.

(Excerpt from Epilogue to The Padlock)

Dark girls.

Light girls.

Brown girls.

Black girls. We are one and the same.

The sooner we accept each other, the sooner we can accept ourselves.

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