I recently watched the documentary “Dark Girls”. The film highlights the struggle of being a dark-skinned women in the African-American community and also within the world. As a dark-skinned African American woman, I was intrigued by the topic and interested in hearing stories from other women regarding their experiences.
I can remember the first time I ever heard someone categorize themselves as caramel-skinned or light-skinned. I had just moved to Brooklyn, NY for high school and my high-school was predominately African-American. Coming from the suburbs and going to a predominately Caucasian school, this is not really something I had ever encountered. In my opinion if you’re black, you’re black. One of the many things that I love about the Black community is that our skin can be so many different shades of the color spectrum. From the lightest shade of beige, to a sensuous chocolate, to the purest black you’ll ever see. It’s truly beautiful. However, within the African-American community, being lighter is seen as better. The same is true in other cultures as well, which is highlighted in the film. It’s an interesting phenomenon because white people are constantly tanning themselves to look dark, but everyone else is bleaching themselves to look white. It seems as though no one is content with the beautiful skin that they have been born with.
Here in America, our issues with skin and race can be traced back to slavery. Europeans colonized Africa and took Africans from their home, here to what is now the United States. Not only were your stripped away from your family and land, but you were subjected to tremendous emotional and physical abuse. The best way to keep someone enslaved is not physically but mentally; breaking down their humanity until none is left. Slaves were called awful names such as “nigger” and others. Many of the validations for slavery stemmed from the darker skin tones of Africans. It was believed that because of their skin they could withstand being in the sun for long periods of time, making it easy to pick cotton. Their skin tone was also said to make them less intelligent, thus justifying why they needed to be ruled over. This is racism in one of its cruelest forms and unfortunately the slaves began to believe that the closer you looked to those who were colonizing you, the better you were. There was the separation of house slaves from field slaves. House slaves were usually lighter in complexion, the result of rape by slave masters. Field slaves because they were in the sun all day, were darker. Your skin became a status signal. This thinking is still held within our community today.
Being lighter is often seen as more desirable. I will never forget when one of my friend’s was recalling an incident with her daughter. Her daughter had been hit in the eye and it left a rather large bruise around her eye. We were all really worried about her because this could ruin her sight. Her mother seemed hardly concerned about her daughter being able to see, but was more concerned with her daughter’s skin because she’s a “light bright”. She repeated this statement multiple times and each time I wanted to ask, but her sight? A bruise will fade but if she can no longer see clearly then that seems to be the bigger issue.
Our obsession with skin tone often clouds all sound judgement. The skin lightening industry is expected to grow from $4.8b to $8.9b by 2027 in part by demand from Asia. When I went to Thailand, my friend was astonished at how every product even deodorant contained skin bleach. All the ads had models who looked as close to European as a Thai person could. There was no one that depicted the darker skin of the people around us.
I remember once reading in a magazine, that darker skin can wear any shade of eyeshadow because it will really pop on our skin tone. I was maybe 13 at the time and had never really thought about it but you best believe I used to wear the brightest color eyeshadow. When I was a little older, someone commented that I always wore really bright colors. I did because they looked good on me. Now that I’m older my color choices have changed a bit but I still love a super bright color on me because it does pop on my beautiful brown skin. The melanin that God has gifted me with is something that I would never change. It’s stupid to me to judge someone based on something as arbitrary as their skin-tone. But if you’re going to find ways to bring me down about it, please believe that it won’t work. I take pride in who I am and if you don’t like it, that’s your problem not mine. To all my beautiful dark-skinned sisters, please remember what First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent”.