Tag Archives: Oprah

Dark Girls: A Personal Story

By Guest Contributor Kiana Fleming


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.



Scandal Roundtable 2.17: “Snake In The Garden”

Photo: George Burns. Image via Oprah.com.

To start, I’m going to veer ever so slightly off the usual topic to suggest some Scandal-related viewing pleasure. Oprah’s Next Chapter did a whole special on Shonda Rhimes, Kerry Washington, and Judy Smith called “The Real Olivia Pope.”  Although it premiered in November last year (bad TV Editor), it holds some great tidbits. Not to mention all the rah-rahs I cheered at this quartet’s fabulosity. I never realized how very true to life it is that someone like Olivia and only Olivia, handles everyone’s public problems. Fun fact: Fitz is  based on George Bush, Sr. Partially…obviously.

This week, Johnathan Fields, Jordan St. John, and Kendra James discuss episode 2.17, “Snake in the Garden” Spoilers ahead!


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Meet the Newbos

by Guest Contributor Jesse Singal, originally published at CampusProgress.org

Newbos: The Rise of America’s New Black Overclass, a one-hour CNBC documentary examining megarich black entrepreneurs which premiered last night, comes at an odd time. Hosted by Lee Hawkins of The Wall Street Journal (who is also a CNBC contributor), the show emphasizes the tremendous successes a select group of African-Americans have had in the sports and entertainment industries, but does so during a period in which African-Americans as a whole—along with just about every other demographic—are suffering immensely as a result of the United States’ collapsing economy. Why, then, focus an hour on stories of stratospheric accomplishment, some of which have as much to do with freakish distributions of natural talent as business savvy? Don’t we have more important things to learn about race and wealth, especially given that African-Americans were disproportionately affected by the subprime mortgage crisis?

Newbos could have overcome these troublesome questions if it had explained something novel about how race and wealth interact in America, or if it had advanced some bold new argument about what it means to be rich and African-American. Unfortunately, it does neither. In many regards, Newbos instead follows in the footsteps of the chronically ill and chronically myopic economic reporting that failed to predict the current collapse (a lot of which emanated from, ahem, CNBC). This reporting—which often looked more like cheerleading—was fixated on success stories, treated “millionaires created” as one of the only meaningful economic metrics, and decided not to bother tackling that whole pesky inequality thing. Newbos, despite the occasional noteworthy nugget, makes all the same blunders: It celebrates black entrepreneurship and focuses on some of the obstacles that very successful African-Americans must overcome, but refuses to face or address any of the real issues related to wealth distribution and race. Continue reading

Push Gets Oprah and Tyler Perry

by Guest Contributor Melissa Silverstein, originally published at Women and Hollywood

When Push won the big awards at Sundance over a week ago I posited that it would be an awesome opportunity for Tyler Perry to use his mailing list and developed audience to promote a film outside his comfort zone which is pretty much himself. Here’s what I wrote on January 25th:

    Film doesn’t yet have distribution, but hopefully now someone will sign on. I think this would be a great opportunity for Tyler Perry. I know that he is pretty much focused on his own work but he has a built in list and if he (or even Oprah) would put their names and muscle behind this film I bet it could get a release. Even though I have not seen the film I would guess that from the reception and reviews and awards that the issue with this film will be its hard content especially in this market.

Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that this would happen. I am shocked and thrilled. The film was bought by Lion’s Gate for approx $5.5 million making it the biggest deal of the festival. Since it won both the audience and jury prize it make sense to me that it got the biggest deal. (Things should work this way yet hardly ever do.) Oprah and Tyler Perry are both going to put their muscle behind the film to get the word out. Props to Lion’s Gate for really thinking outside of their comfort zone on this film. They do very well with Tyler Perry and it makes sense that this film also has potential, but Tyler Perry’s films sell themselves and this one will take a lot of work.

Here’s what Oprah and Perry had to say about the film

“I’ve never seen anything like it. The moment I saw ‘Push: Based on the Novel by Sapphire,’ I knew I wanted to do whatever I could to encourage other people to see this movie. The film is so raw and powerful — it split me open,” Winfrey said.

“I am honored to join Oprah Winfrey and Lionsgate in releasing Lee Daniels’ exceptional film,” Perry said.

Lionsgate, Winfrey, Perry push ‘Push‘ (Variety)

Are eyelids the no. 1 beauty concern in the Asian community?

by Carmen Van Kerckhove

Did any of you catch Friday’s episode of the Oprah show? It was titled “Children Ashamed of the Way They Look” and included interviews with:

  • Kiri Davis, the young filmmaker who created the phenomenal short film A Girl Like Me
  • Grey’s Anatomy star Chandra Wilson about her own views on beauty growing up and how she’s raising her daughters
  • A black woman who prayed that her son wouldn’t come out as dark-skinned as her. The son, not surprisingly, has developed quite a complex about colorism.
  • Korean-American MTV host SuChin Pak, about beauty ideals in the Asian and Asian-American communities.

I’m not going to summarize the whole episode in this post, but you can watch clips of it on the Oprah web site.

As usual, I was a bit annoyed by the treatment of the eyelid issue. Anytime the mainstream media covers this story, it always makes the same few assumptions.

First, it never mentions the fact that there are many, many Asians who do have eyelid folds. I’ve never seen any statistics, but it seems to me that there are at least as many eyelid-having Asians as non-eyelid-having Asians. Actually I wouldn’t be surprised if the eyelid-having Asians are in the majority. (Excuse my crude terminology here – just trying to keep the language simple.)

Second, it equates getting eyelid surgery with wanting to look white. I don’t think that’s necessarily the case. As I wrote in this comment on Reappropriate awhile back, there are many Asians with eyelids. Often they are considered to be more attractive, and yes, that is because of the omnipresent Western beauty ideal. But people who want to get eyelid surgery are doing it so they look more like those Asians with the big eyelids. Not so they look like Caucasians. White supremacist ideals may be informing the desire indirectly, but it’s not such a direct link of wanting to be white.

And finally, I was a little taken aback by Pak’s assertion that eyelids are the no. 1 beauty issue in the Asian and Asian-American community.

In my experience, the no. 1 beauty/looks-ism issue by far among Asians and Asian-Americans is weight. The standards of thinness among Asian women are far more punishing than those among white women. Growing up in Hong Kong, it seemed as if pretty much anyone over 105 lbs was considered a fat-ass.

And then in my opinion, the no. 2 issue would be skintone. No surprises here: fair is good, tanned and darker skintones are undesirable.

Eyelids do come up, but in my experience it trails far behind weight and skintone. But of course, that’s just my experience.

What do you all think?

Oprah’s town hall meetings on misogyny in hip hop

by guest contributor Nina

Over two days this week, Oprah dedicated her show to a Town Hall Meeting to address misogyny in hip-hop. All this as a result of Don Imus’ “nappy headed ho” comment, and his trite excuse that black women are called these names by their own men. I was interested to see how Oprah would handle this matter since she has long come under fire for not having hip-hop artists on her show and she has said that she does not appreciate the degradation of women in hip-hop music.

The first show aired on Monday and was entitled “Now What?” It consisted of panel of black men and women, including a former CBS executive, two journalists, two author/magazine editors, activist Al Sharpton and the artist, India Arie. The second show on Tuesday entitled “The Hip-Hop Community Responds” was made up of a much smaller panel, Russell Simmons and Dr. Ben Chavis of the Hip-Hop Action Network, record executive Kevin Liles, and the rapper Common. There were no women on this second panel and there certainly were no female artists whose careers are built on their overt sexuality (L’il Kim, Foxy Brown, Khia etc.). Nor were there any of the female video performers who so willingly prance around in thongs and bikini tops pouring Cristal down their bodies while shaking their “bump, bump, bumps.” Female students from Spelman College attended both shows by satellite from their campus.

[Note from Carmen: Oprah has actually had Karinne “Superhead” Steffans on the show before to talk about the objectification of women, believe it or not.]

All the panelists (except the Spelman students) seemed to talk in circles around the issues and used far too many metaphors (Dr. Robin Smith’s “you feed someone garbage, eventually it starts to taste good”) to address the issue of female degradation in the hip-hop world. The world of which they spoke was of course mainstream hip-hop-rap videos you see on MTV/BET (both owned by Viacom) or songs you hear on commercial radio stations (many owned by ClearChannel). But there were some strong comments. Diane Weathers, former editor of Essence magazine called for Snoop Dogg to lose his contract due not only to his lyrics and videos but his side hustle as a pornographer.

Stanley Crouch called the hip-hop music world a minstrel show and said he would not allow these “clowns” to relinquish their responsibility due to the poverty and crime that they came up in. Panelists on the second show continued with the metaphors. Common stated that hip-hop, at only 30 years old, was just a child that needed tending to by its parents. Common has certainly evolved into a conscious artist since his first few albums contained plenty of bitches and hos and one song in particular where he talked about shooting a homosexual. Russell Simmons insisted that he mentored many artists during his reign at DefJam and while he would not censor what a poet wanted to say since it was a reflection of their own experiences, he was constantly guiding artists to learn more and be more and perhaps present themselves in a different way. The Spelman girls got very frustrated, particularly with the second show’s panel. One woman stated that rap music informs the way the world feels about black women and that there was a lack of accountability from the panelists. The women demanded that the problem be acknowledged and that steps be taken towards a solution. They even offered to work with the panelists towards that solution. Continue reading

The 10 biggest race and pop culture trends of 2006: Part 3 of 3

by Carmen Van Kerckhove

This is the last in my series breaking down the top trends in race and pop culture of 2006. If you missed it, check out Monday’s trends 10 through 8 and yesterday’s trends 7 through 4 . Here’s the final list:

10. Race-swapping undercover experiments
9. Hipster racism
8. The continuing obsession with interracial relationships
7. The new minstrel show
6. Racism on college campuses
5. Fear of a Latino takeover
4. The return of the white man’s burden
3. Colorface everywhere!
2. Celebrity racial slurs
1. Race baiting

3. Colorface everywhere!

It seemed like blackface, brownface and yellowface was everywhere in 2006, even in the most unexpected places. Some of these blackface incidents we’ve already covered. For example, Kate Moss in blackface for The Independent’s Africa issue, the many “ghetto parties” and blackface incidents included in racism on college campuses and the Tyra Banks Show episode where she had Angela Nissel go on dates with three men both as a black woman and as a white woman .

Liberal blogs Firedoglake and Billmon (who has since stopped blogging) both decided to use blackface images to mock people they didn’t like/respect. Firedoglake blacked up a photo of Joseph Lieberman in a post accusing him of race-baiting. Billmon blacked up a photo of CNN’s Wolf Blitzer after he complained about Lynne Cheney being uncooperative during an interview. Both issued the standard “I’m sorry you’re offended but I’m just so brave and un-PC” apologies, leading ebogjonson to create a flowchart for those bloggers asking themselves if they should use blackface on their blog. In case you were wondering, if you answer yes to being white, the answer is “STOP! You CANNOT use blackface EVER under any circumstances.” Also, be sure to check out Kai Chang’s series on racism in the liberal blogosphere .

A movie based on the 1970s TV series “Kung Fu” is in the works. As you probably know, biracial Asian/white protagonist Kwai Chang Caine was played by David Carradine in the series. And he’s been milking the virtual yellowface gig ever since, from his role in Kill Bill to his stupid Yellowbook.com commercials. The question is, which white guy are they going to get to play Kwai Chang Caine in the movie version? Who has enough “Asian flavor?” I’m putting my money on Steven Seagal. 😉 Continue reading