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Black Like Me


Dark Girls: Preview from Bradinn French on Vimeo.


I was watching the trailer for the upcoming documentary Dark Girls, produced by Bill Duke for Duke Media, and literally let out a loud sigh when it was over. Call me naive, but I really had convinced myself that this type of colorism belonged to the 1980’s, when “light-skinned” girls were in vogue and you “made it” if you caught the eye of the pretty boy, with curly hair and light eyes, who sat next to you in math class. The longer I stay single, the more I have to beat back those old insecurities that plagued me as a young girl, and my skin color is one of them. In a world where black women are still judged by how close we come to the European standard of beauty that America worships, I have to wonder, is it ever going to be okay to be black like me?
I am not considered to be "dark," but I am the darkest one of my maternal cousins and it was hard on me. They were "light-skinned" with "pretty", “good” hair and I was “smart.” My aunts, who were all darker than me, where thrilled to have their beautiful daughters, while my mom, who was lighter than them, just had to make do. She never seemed to mind that her daughter wasn’t “the fairest of them all,” but I always felt inadequate. There were the times when a friend’s mother said that, “light-skinned women are beautiful, even if they are ugly.” There was the time when my mom’s friend went nuts because after generations of careful color engineering her very fair daughter had the nerve to being home a very dark boy. There was the time when my cousins shook their very long hair in my face. Then, there were all the years I listened to my best friend, the “light-skinned, long-haired goddess” Vienna, talk about which guy she was going to give the time of day when nobody seemed to want to look at me.

I was surprised by the long buried feelings this trailer brought back up in me. I didn’t think that I still carried that baggage because I had grown into a beautiful, successful woman and all my “light-skinned” counterparts had grown into women I didn’t want to be. But all, “I got the last laugh” clich├ęs aside, I realize that being made to feel inferior based on your looks is not something that you can outgrow.  I think it’s made worse by the perception, true or not, that black men seem to want anybody but us black women. Many black women have been made to feel undesirable simply by being themselves and it cuts us deep. “The problem with you black women,”: they’ll say, “is x,y,z”, but the REAL problem with us black women is that we don’t look like the models, singers and movie stars that men have been taught to adore. I don’t know what the solution is to this, but I do know that I’m glad that we are still having this conversation. It is the only way to begin the healing and to put a real end to this nonsense.
Every little girl is told that she is beautiful and every woman is encouraged to look in the mirror and be proud of what she sees, but most of the time it feels like empty words that are said to “ugly ducklings” with a wink and a smile. Maybe, the real problem is that we have to stop letting others tell us that we don’t look the way they want us to look; that we have to do the hardest thing in the world --- validate ourselves; that we have to BELIEVE in our own beauty; that we have to stop using what our ancestors gave us --- our hair, our lips, our skin, as weapons instead of as gifts. Maybe then, “dark” will no longer be that dirty word that black girls are afraid to hear.

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