If you have a moment, watch this. If you are a woman of color you will hear a side of your story told here, be you light dark or even in between. The issue of beauty in the Black (I say black because it encompasses all people of color from varying parts of the world) community is inextricably linked to 2 things, the color of your skin and the texture of your hair. It is hardly a secret that having a lighter complexion is preferable, not just in America but all over the world, from Brazil, to India, China, Japan, and of course the Dark Continent Africa. The European standard of beauty is ubiquitous and far reaching, it has Asian women changing the shape of their eyes and African women bleaching out their skin, and almost all brown races have been caught up in the blonde is beautiful aesthetic. Brown people have long been chasing that light bright and almost white dream- while conversely and quite ironically white people have resorted to making themselves orange with fake tanners and bronzers to simulate the appearance of color which they associate with the look of “health”- though catching too much sun can be hazardous to one’s health.
Women of color, African American Women of all shades have suffered, with and under this obsession since the first Africans were brought over to be slaves. Lighter men and women were chosen for an “easier” life as a house slave while the darker were sent to the fields to do back breaking work. However female house slaves were put in closer proximity to white masters and subject to sexual abuse and rape, bearing “Half breed” children who were dirty secrets, and scorned on one hand and yet had the inheritance of what would become a version of light skinned privilege which as a slave or even as a freeman was an oxymoron. The historical back story is convoluted and complex but the issue still persists, though Slavery has long been abolished, civil rights fought for and won, for as far as we as a people have come we are still mired in this conflict of color, we perpetuate it in our language, in our choices, in our treatment of one another, it is no longer an external entity that inflicts this color bias (though it is supported visually and economically in business, sports, entertainment and media) but the community itself.
I have to thank director Bill Duke for shedding light on this topic, and hopefully creating some healing… Thank you for telling our story…. a story about our bodies and our images….Watching these women speak I heard myself, I heard my mother, my sister, nieces, I heard my girlfriends, my aunts (not the one who talked about me lol) but i heard us– I just hope that we can hear ourselves and stop the cycle, we are all beautiful because we are!
My Color Story
I am the youngest of nine, I have 5 sisters and I am the darkest of them all. My mother was extremely fair, my father on the darker side of Brown skinned-let me explain the color chart:
there is Light bright and almost white, yellow (yella) Brown with is like a Caffe au Lait, and then “Dark ” is anything darker than a brown paper bag, and I mean just a slight degree tips the scale. Dark skinned goes from a wet paper bag to blue black- purple, eggplant, aubergine -in Italian Melenzana which is the root of the term “mulignans”.
My Mother’s family was all on the lighter side of the paper bag test and both my Grandmother and my Aunt would talk about how Black I was, how I should stay out of the sun so that I wouldn’t get darker. They would openly and in front of me talk about how I was ugly because I was so dark. There were always comparisons made so and so is darker that her, there was a connection of being fair with being prettier, and you learned where you fit in on the color scale of beauty early. There were characteristics of beauty that were attributed with whiteness that made you more beautiful, or if you were dark they could save you from the rich hue of your skin, things like “soft” wavy or straight hair and light eyes. A dark skinned woman or man with hazel eyes is a wonder- they could actually have the face of a bit bull but people will say “they are so pretty, they have such beautiful eyes” Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye is a perfect account of how this phenomenon manifests within our community. Personally when I was a little girl I wanted to be lighter, but when I was in my early twenties I wanted to be darker. It was in the 90’s when dark skin was en vogue, it was around then that I started to claim my West Indian Bahamian roots. You see in truth I have always been painfully in the middle of the color chart. I am a forgettable, unremarkable flat dull brown.
There is nothing particularly special about the texture of my skin either, it is not super creamy or soft, it’s just skin. I think I look worlds better with a tan- yes black people can tan. That having been stated, ironically once I spent 5 weeks in Jamaica and I just baked. I knew that I was dark and I was happy, until I got home under my normal lighted I literally screamed, I was BLACK! and the actual thought that went through my head was “What if I stay this way?!” I live in the contradiction – I think I look better dark but I also know that in society there are prices to pay. I faded, but as a postscript- I have never gotten that tan again, I think that psychologically I can’t do it.