Dark Girls: The Color Line in the African-American Community
I just watched the trailer below and thought I’d post my thoughts about it. There’s a real hesitancy on my part to post this, but this is real and can’t be denied. Part of this hesitancy comes from dealing with my own pain behind this. You see, I’m a dark skinned brother and as I hear these young women talk about their pain, it brings back some of my own pain growing up as a young child wanting to fit in. I grew up in a totally black environment and the only whites I came into physical contact with were the occasional repairmen who would come to the house and the principal at the grade school I went to. I didn’t come into contact with vast numbers of whites until I got to college, although my high school had a small number of whites who attended there. Sadly, my first experiences with discrimination weren’t with white people, but with my own people revolving around this skin color thing. I distinctly remember how some teachers at my grade school were blatantly partial to those of the lighter hue. On top of the color dynamic was another one based on class. My neighborhood was a middle class one with a wide range of people from factory workers, like my dad, to physicians all living right there together. So, in addition to the color thing, there was also the preference for the doctor’s, lawyer’s or teacher’s child over that of the factory worker’s. So basically, I had two strikes against me; I was dark skinned and my parents weren’t educated professionals. Due to all of this, it took me quite some time to accept me and in some ways, I overcompensated in other aspects of my life. Since, I was one of the “smart kids”, I used this to overcome this and to develop a positive self image. When I was in junior high, I remember the teachers making certain assumptions about me and my abilities owing to their own prejudices until we took a standardized achievement test that I totally knocked out of the park while besting their “favorites”. So, here I was, the dark skinned one doing something that no one expected. That was of great satisfaction to me, but as I said, it took me some time to fully develop a positive self image because of this color thing. As far as I’m concerned, doing positive things is the best way to overcome a negative self image as accomplishment challenges it. I was fortunate to have figured that out. There are many people who have never overcome this sort of thing and carry this burden for life.
There’s a flip side of this color line as well as I came to understand later in life. The fair skinned folks have also caught their fair share of hell and there’s plenty of stories that can be heard on that end as well. I’ve also come to understand that this color line thing exists around the world in other cultures and that confirms the dominance of the culture that has set the beauty standards. The only way that can be overcome is by African-Americans becoming our own self reference points in a collective sense. Essentially, being one’s own self reference point is really about self affirmation. In other words, develop your own approval stamp and don’t look to the outside for the approval of others. In a way, it’s really about power in the sense that once you’re able to self affirm, you deny others the power to withhold their approval, so your self perception is no longer a function of whether or not someone else approves you. There’s a lot I could say about that as related to black folks collectively, but it’s a broad topic that touches a number of political, economic and social aspects of being black in America and perhaps I’ll address that in a separate post.
The other part of my hesitancy to post about this revolves around the negativity this topic invokes. For if one is not careful, it’s very easy to take something like this, paint in broad bushes and say that the vast majority of black folks subscribe to this. I’d argue that the majority of black folks I know don’t. So, while this whole color line thing continues to exist, I do think it’s lessened over time. Although the producers of the film intend this documentary to be an expose on the topic (this is being produced by African-American directors D. Channsin Berry and Bill Duke; both of whom have done a lot of good work), there’s the risk that one assumes this remains a widespread issue. I’m certainly not suggesting that it’s not an issue, but I sometimes wonder if we might be better served with a focus on a more positive topic; something that could educate and inspire versus dredging up painful memories and resentments.