Category Archives: colour

Dark Girls: A Personal Story

By Guest Contributor Kiana Fleming

darkgirls

The OWN channel aired the world premiere of the 2011 documentary Dark Girls by D. Channsin Berry and Bill Duke that explores the prejudice and often-internalized feelings of self-hatred experienced by darker-skinned black women in the United States. As a fellow Dark Girl, the documentary shed light on a subject that is all too familiar.

I distinctly remember my first high school dance. It was held at a Catholic high school for their African-American students. I was a freshman at an all-white secondary school in the Midwest, and needless to say, I was excited. St. Louis still gives off the chills of a racially polarized and sometimes overly conservative city. I stuck out at my school not simply because I was black but because I was a tad bit too ‘radical’ to conform. That year, my history teacher informed me that my assigned paper on my family’s “immigration” to the United States was too harsh and had to be altered. It was about slavery. Later in college, I was given the nickname Malcolmina X by my friends. But I digress.

For the party, I decided on black capris and a black crop top with silver glitter. I looked cute and the outfit showed off my athletic build. The party was full of hormone raged teenagers who dipped off into dark corners or huddled in packs with their friends. I was able to dance with a guy, who was known to be attractive and popular around the Catholic school black scene. He was tall, light-skinned and at the time I thought he was cute. A few days later, my girlfriend, who I attended the party with, and I chatted late into the night as most teenage girls do. She had gotten the 411 on the boy I danced with among other juicy gossip. I can’t remember much about the conversation but one thing: “he said you were too dark to wear all black.”

What? I was confused, hurt and embarrassed. What did that even mean? How was I too dark to wear all black? That quote sticks out to me to this day as the moment I knew my dark skin was perceived to be an issue. I struggled with self-esteem throughout high school and to make matters worse, my closest friends were both very light-skinned with long thick hair, the epitome of attractiveness in the black community. It seemed when we were out together, no one saw me. I didn’t exist. It became clear that my skin color put me in a box of unattractiveness by default, as many would prefer their coffee with cream rather than jet black. Compliments of “you’re pretty, for a dark-skinned girl,” “I don’t usually date dark girls,” “pretty black” and “pretty chocolate” never felt the same as simply being called pretty or someone being genuinely attracted to me rather than fetishizing my dark skin or being an exception to the rule. Once at Burger King, a man walked up to me and said: “I like my women like my meat, well done.” I was disgusted. And even more disgusted, when in college, a suitor thought calling me tar baby was a cute and playful nickname. It seemed also with my dark skin, I was sexualized and not worthy enough to date seriously. As my lighter-skinned friends went on extravagant dates, I was only asked to “kick it” at the guy’s house and it seemed they only wanted to experience what was between my legs rather than what was between my ears. While in college, I had a boyfriend from high school shamefully confess that his friends pressured him to break up with me because I was dark-skinned. He obliged. These differences in dating and mate selection followed me through college. The only time I felt beautiful, and I mean really beautiful – that it radiated in my smile and in my step – was when I lived in Europe for grad school. There, it seemed men of all walks of life, nationalities and colors were attracted to me, just me. My skin color made no difference at all.

After the eye opening experience at the dance, I wrote a research paper exploring the origins of the word black, its negative connotation, the development of its use to describe a group of darker-skinned people and colorism in the black community. I coupled that with a visual, thematic analysis of rap music videos to show the prominence and preference for light-skinned women in our society and often the media. Senior year, I wrote my college essay about this same experience for Spelman College, an all-women’s HBCU in Atlanta, Georgia, I later attended.

At 26, I still see how my skin color affects my dating experience and my overall perception of the world and my place in it. Skin color and hair texture are still as important as ever in the black community and people act accordingly and treat you as such, if just subtly. But with all that, I have learned to love my skin. I love the smoothness of it. The richness of its tone. I love the dark, reddish tint my skin gets in the summer, when I used to cringe at the possibility of tanning. I now sit with my fellow dark-skinned warrior sisters and discuss our pains, our triumphs and our still deep rooted insecurities that pop up from time to time that only we understand. No one but a dark skin girl knows how to feels to be the dark skin girl in the room.

The black community has a long way to go to remove the shackles of slavery’s ghost, of the undisputed effects of European colonization and Eurocentric beauty idolization. We, dark girls, must work to empower those following in our footsteps and let them know that it will be okay, it gets better. As a people, we must learn and teach others to appreciate one another and to respect differences locally, nationally and globally. If not for us personally, but to work collectively to change ideologies and encourage tolerance among all people. I wear my dark skin as a badge of honor and when asked how I would identity myself, I respond: I am black, I am a woman and I am dark. I have learned to embrace my beauty, to bask in all its glory, to appreciate its lessons on self-worth and acceptance. It has shaped me into who I am and I am forever grateful for all it has taught me.

305b689Kiana Fleming is a St. Louis native and received her BA in Sociology from Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia. She holds a dual MSc and MA in Global Media and Global Communications from the London School of Economics and Political Science and the University of Southern California where her research explored the role of First Lady Michelle Obama’s media persona, First Lady political rhetoric and gender formation.  Her personal, research and academic interests include the media’s effect on contemporary social roles and identity, race & gender relations and social advocacy and engagement through media.

 

 

A Brown-Skinned Lady and Her Sunblock

By Guest Contributor A. Sandosharaj; originally published in the April issue of River Teeth

In 1984, I–l ike every other girl in America–wanted a Cabbage Patch Kid. To impress everyone with my logic—I was one of those brats—I asked for the brown-skinned version, a request my Sri Lankan-born parents could only understand as preposterous: dark-skinned dolls were for black children. That this was pitiable for them—the dolls’
homeliness was a given—was no reason for me, however, to get a doll that matched my skin. At Zayre’s, my father held the boxed toy at arm’s length, wondering was I sure I didn’t want a regular doll?

A month later, I bored of her, but before abandoning her altogether, I made her over. Applying the ivory-shade foundation I (incompatibly, absurdly) wore when performing classical Indian dance, I deracinated my Cabbage Patch baby, covering her face in stage-strength makeup until she had a glistening beige face atop a cloth brown body.

Twenty-five years later, I noticed that my face was lighter than the rest of me—more “fair” in the lexicon of my mother—my hands and shoulders most conspicuously. This could potentially be explained as the ordinary outcome of idling on beaches while obsessively outfitted in hat and sunscreen, or the fact that I stroll, bike, and jog in the same
sort of protective accouterments. I am, after all, thirty-four and terror stricken by the inescapability of wrinkles.

Once, for example, I purchased a $125 vial of vitamin-C serum despite the fact that I was making nineteen grand as a grad student at the time, never mind that I was on the pill—the low-dose kind that eradicates blemishes—and that I ate compulsively well—grapes for their collagen, fish for their oils—and never mind that: I had no skin problems whatsoever.

Like many women, I feel a keen pressure to look as good as possible for as long as possible, “as possible” in this case meaning “as you can afford.” But as an American of South Asian descent, and thus a deeply-raced person, I have to question whether gender-based panic about aging is the sole reason I avoid the sun. With skin the color of a wet graham cracker (I would have failed the old paper-bag test), a graduate degree in critical race theory, and a lifetime preoccupied with color, I have to consider that for me, skin—youthful, poreless, undamaged skin—is never fully divorced from colorism.

A product of the ethnically mottled tenements of Langley Park, Maryland, I grew up drinking milk because I was told it would make me more fair and thus more appealing. When I wanted to punish my mother for some injustice, I would willfully play in the sun, then weep later over how dark I had become. How transformed.

Sucking her teeth, my mother would apply Fair & Lovely cream, purchased at what was only called the “Indian” store. On the pink tube of what was mostly sunscreen back then, silhouettes advanced in lightness and presumable attractiveness from left to right. I tried to pinpoint my location on the Fair & Lovely gradation.

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When Will The Media Start Portraying Black Women Without Betraying Them?

Lakesia Johnson’s new book Iconic highlights how negative stereotypes have followed black women from Sojourner Truth to Gabby Douglas, and shows how the black community can be among the worst perpetrators of negativity.

By Guest Contributor Tracey Ross

Recently, Lakesia Johnson, assistant professor at Grinell College, released her new book Iconic: Decoding Images of the Revolutionary Black Woman. Through her book, Johnson strives to demonstrate how black women throughout history have worked to counteract negative stereotypes placed on them–angry, emasculating, mammy, sex object–and reposition themselves to advance agendas for social change. She illustrates this by honing in on some of history’s most iconic figures–Sojourner Truth, Angela Davis, Alice Walker, and Michelle Obama, to name a few–and analyzes the imagery, interviews, film, literature, and music by and about these women. At times, Johnson seems to over-interpret some of the images she analyzes, offering deep meaning to what the eyes in a photograph might signal, but her work highlights the power that images of black women possess.

Throughout the book, a few important themes emerge. For instance, black women’s hair becomes a character of its own, from the “threatening” natural style of Angela Davis to the “peaceful” locks of Alice Walker to the “Afrocentric” braids and head wraps of Erykah Badu. Johnson believes these women’s intentionality with their looks helps direct their message towards their ultimate agendas. Another theme throughout is the idea that outside forces work to turn these “revolutionary” women into sexual objects, focusing on their beauty and appeal over their intellect in an attempt to diminish their power. Johnson covers lots of territory in only 128 pages, but the main contribution of her book is that it serves as a reminder that we need to do better by black women. Starting with the black community.

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DISGRASIAN OF THE WEAK! Vagina Whitening (That’s Right, You Heard Me)

By Guest Contributor Jen Wang, cross-posted from Disgrasian

One year I vacationed in Mexico and spent the entire time in the water, body surfing and boogie boarding. My skin got really dark, which I don’t care about one way or another, though I am afraid of sun damage and skin cancer, in that order. I made one mistake that trip though, and it wasn’t forgetting sunscreen (always, always remember sunscreen). My mistake was going to see my grandmother right after. The first thing she said, once she got over the shock, was “How did you get so dark?!” For the rest of the visit, she introduced me to her friends as “My Granddaughter-Who’s-Normally-Not-This-Dark.”

Light skin is still prized in Asia for a number of reasons that have to do with longstanding notions of race, class, and gender. Good thing then, that there’s a booming market for skin whitening creams, many of them manufactured by Western companies! And good thing the companies who make these creams also make commercials, because quite a few of them–beyond their creepy, disturbing premise–are kinda hilarious.
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Dark Girls: A Review of a Preview [Culturelicious]

By Sexual Correspondent Andrea (AJ) Plaid

**TRIGGER WARNING**

I recognize the women in this preview: these women were me when I was growing up. The kids at my mostly black Catholic school called me just about every black-related perjorative ever since 3rd grade, letting me know and telling others within my earshot that I was physically inferior solely because I was dark-skinned. I even remember a boy in my 7th grade class drew a picture of me being nothing more than a solid black square. Even though the same kids voted me 8th grade class president…I was still considered in their estimation an ugly (vis-a-vis my skin tone) girl. Even had the only boy who was my boyfriend (we were in 8th grade) dump me for a lighter-skinned and younger girl, to the mocking laughter of the lighter-skinned students.

My mom—a dark-skinned African American herself—told me something that didn’t make any sense through my woundedness: “You know those light-skinned girls people think are pretty in school? Wait ‘til you’re grown and see where you’re at and where they’re at.” Added to this was my mom’s constant admonition to “get an education.” Well, sure enough, what my mom said came to pass. I’ve had photographers approach me and ask to photograph me. I had lovers of various hues—even had a husband. (He was white.) And women of various hues, races, and ethnicities have given me love on the streets, at the job, and at workshops.

I’m not sure how—or even if—some of the women in the clip worked through the pain some black people have inflicted on them. But, instead of the usual devolving, derailing, and erasing conversations of “that’s happened to me, too, though I’m a lighter-skinned black person!” (that’s a thread for another post) or “it wasn’t me! I’m a down black person!” (will be met with an exasperated eyeroll)…it would be a really good thing to simply listen to these women’s truths, as uncomfortable–sometimes, as implicating–as they may be.

Transcript after the jump.

Dark Girls: Preview from Bradinn French on Vimeo.

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culture shockers: Nivea and Garnier want men in India to lighten their skin

By Guest Contributor Crissy, originally published at b-listed


When I went to India for the first time, I saw how beautiful everyone’s skin was. Being a person of color, regardless of what was on TV or in magazines I was raised to believe that color is beautiful. But what I did see too in India, were commercials on TV from companies advertising fade cream, or rather skin lightening/whitening cream. In India, while I couldn’t understand the language they were speaking in the commercial, I knew what was going on. A brown person is sad, enter lightening cream, everything is good.

In the states, I see these products in aisles of certain drug stores and want to see who’d dare actually bring a box of Ambi Fade Cream to the counter.  Enter that  recent Tyra show with African American women who not only bleach their own skin, but one woman even bleached her children’s skin.

And now a recent report from CNN is showing commercials in India that are targeting not only women, but men.  Note the freeze frame of the man in the salon chair with a bleaching agent all over his face, while the actor in the commercial says that these products make people, “fair and dashing.” And I know this is highlighting India, but it’s happening across the globe.  People, please. Get a grip, this is crazy, the chemicals are dangerous, and the colors in this world are far too beautiful.  Accept and love what you are given, it tends to work out better for people in the long run.