Home Beauty Body Image, Self-Worth & Sexuality: Dark Skin, A New Documentary

Body Image, Self-Worth & Sexuality: Dark Skin, A New Documentary

by Erika Nicole Kendall

On the topic of body image, self-esteem and how we view ourselves – hmmm, how often is skin color included in body image? maybe “body image” needs to be defined differently for women of color? – I’d like to present this preview from Dark Girls, a documentary by Bradinn French.

The description reads, “Clips from the upcoming documentary exploring the deep-seated biases and attitudes about skin color—particularly dark skinned women, outside of and within the Black American culture.”

Welp. Hope you’ve got a tissue. You just might need it.

Before we do this, I’d like to make a few things clear.

Proclaiming “It’s 2011! Skin color doesn’t matter any more!” doesn’t work around here. The reality is that anyone who spends any amount of time on a social network – the places where people are most able to share what’s on their mind without the threat of immediate repercussion in their daily lives – will be able to tell you that at LEAST once a day collectives of people are discussing “a skin-color issue.”

I do acknowledge that skin color issues go both ways. It just so happens that today, the topic is a movie that focuses on, well, Dark Girls. I’d love to see and hear stories of how skin color issues have affected us all, but one person’s story doesn’t invalidate another’s.

Lastly, I’d love to use this as a case study to help us understand how we identify ourselves, and what we pass on to our daughters.

Like, for instance. The girl whose mother said “…and could you just think of if she had any lightness to her skin? She’d be beautiful!” I actually became teary eyed at that moment. As a mother who is now very aware of what messages I pass on to my daughter, and as the sole arbiter of who she becomes as a person right now… I cannot imagine her being “too dark” as a “negative point” against her when I think of all the things that make her who she is.

One of the pleasures of attending an historically Black university is that you get the opportunity to take very culture-specific courses. One of those, for me, was a psychology course that centered around issues that faced Black America and how we can combat them. It was in this course that I learned about Drs. Kenneth and Mamie Clark, who are both well-known for their “Doll Studies” which are what’s mimicked in the first few moments of this video.

You have to wonder where our little girls get these messages from? That they’re worth less – not necessarily worthless – than their peers because their skin is darker. I’ve written about this before – the more we highlight and focus on perceived flaws in our little girls, the more likely they are to do things that we don’t attribute to girls who have high self-esteem… and that could be weight or skin color. The little girl who answered those questions in that video couldn’t have been older than a second grader (I might have a kid, but I’m terrible at guessing their ages.) and had already decided that a child who looks the most like her is the dumber, uglier child. What happened to thinking you are the hottest potato in the pan?

(“Hottest potato in the pan?” Yes. I’m country. I know already.)

What scares me the most about this, as a Mom, is that I don’t know what it is that passes on these images to children – is it something as inconspicuous as seeing only white children in TV shows, or is it actually hearing someone say “nobody wants your dark ass anyway?” – so I don’t know how to fight it. I don’t know how to combat it. And can we ever? Even if your home is safe for the development of a young Black girl’s psyche, who’s to say that your sister is as enlightened as you? Your Mother? Your cousins? The babysitter? The other kids on the yard? If it’s coming from all angles, how many swords do you need?

I mean, how much pain do you have to endure in your childhood before you start to say things like “I don’t want my child to look like me?” How does that change how you approach and view relationships? How many women do we know who specifically seek out men who “look a certain way” so that the possibility of diluting the skin color of the child is greater? How does that mentality feed into the idea that “lighter skin” is a hotter commodity and more wanted than, well, Dark Skin? I mean, I think of a fella I dated once – fair skin, green eyes – who swore up and down that I was only interested in having his baby, since “that’s how all the others were.” Poking holes in condoms, lying about birth control… needless to say, that was too much for me.

And really, for those of us who were teased (or watched someone be teased) as children for being overweight, what do we do? We go into hyperdrive trying to prevent our little girls from being overweight. What messages do we pass on to them about themselves when we do that? When we overcompensate in our parenting, and our little girls turn into that which we didn’t “want,” how do we treat them then? Do we become resentful and start trying to have another child, preferably without the perceived “defect,” or do we just beat it into our little girls’ heads that they “have a flaw they need to work hard to overcome?” Isn’t that just passing down the same body image issues we have?

Who perpetuates this? I mean, if you listen closely enough, it comes from three different angles: one woman says “I’m used to hearing [“I’m so glad she didn’t come out dark!”] from other races,” a man says “Dark skinned women look funny beside me, so I’d rather not date a dark skinned woman,” and – obviously – our media, which is run by an often nameless, faceless collective that is, ostensibly, not-black. (At this point, considering how ingrained this is in our society, I don’t know whether or not it’d matter whether or not media was all-Black.)

The point about sexuality is also troubling to me, because when we try to decouple issues that compel women to make questionable decisions when it comes to relationships. You can deny it, but the point will always be there. It is a fact that transcends relationships, but is especially visible there: individuals who believe that they have less to offer than their peers will accept a lesser role and be happy with that, simply because they don’t think they’re worthy of any role at all.

Calling a woman “beautiful, exotic” behind closed doors, basically telling her everything she wants to hear, getting what you want from her, and then leaving? It’s using a woman. It’s exploiting her weaknesses. And if everyone around her values her as little as she does, there’s no one around her capable of building up her self-worth, because they don’t think she’s worth much, either. There’s no one around able to support her in her most vulnerable point – the point where she feels like she has nothing to offer and is worthy of merely meaningless sex (unless, of course, she can tell herself that this is exactly what she wants and is honest with herself about it.)

“It doesn’t look clean, I feel like… like, nasty, almost… When you roll out of bed, and your hair is like, nappy, it’s the most disgusting, unclean thing…”

Oh, word?

My bad.

I don’t care to do the natural-vs-relaxed thing on my blog. However… this makes me sad, especially from a girl so… young. And while I’m almost certain that there’s some grown woman out there like “Well, I agree with her. It just looks unclean,” I’m going to go out on a limb and say “That… makes me sad, too.” And we can both be okay with that.

I’m in the interest of shining a light on the things that prevent us from being who we are, who we want to be… and most of us want to be lovers, dreamers and little green frogs–er, I mean, worthy of… the same things as everyone else. We want the space to be vulnerable. To be emotional without being deemed angry. To be loved without subtext. To be adored and admired. To be exoticized without malicious intent – as in, it’s okay to love my dark skin and my deep eyes, but do you also seek to love the other things that make me who I am? These stigmas keep us from getting to that space. How do we fight them?

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MP May 27, 2011 - 11:09 AM

I’m very interested in reading the responses because for all of my experience as a hypersensitive child and all of the knowledge I’ve gained about how those closest to a child can plant poisonous seeds, I still don’t know how to respond to it. The women in my family had a conversation in front of my 9-year old relative that I found problematic for various reasons. Later, I wanted to say something to them about it, but I never did because I couldn’t find the words. I was also afraid my words might fall on deaf ears because in the past they’ve made it clear that they perceive me as overly sensitive.

On what I can control, I believe that I have become more conscious of what I put out there and who is listening. I actively work on putting positive reinforcement and solutions out there instead of just criticism. I actively work on pausing before I let any criticism come out of my mouth so that it can be received as constructive and not as a hurtful insult. I do all of that in addition to first having completely unlearned a lot of fallacies I was taught. I can no longer perpetuate many myths because I cannot see these neutral things as problems anymore. I challenge those perpetuating myths. When I’m around people questioning what they don’t understand, I share any knowledge that I have.

I don’t know that we can avoid the hurt in the world caused by psychopaths and sociopaths, but we can definitely lessen the hurt dished out by hurt people. Not only do we set people up to be preyed upon when we send them out into the world thinking they’re less than, we also set them up to lash out and hurt other people that we have labeled as somehow more than. It’s a nasty feedback loop of hurt out here.

Sandra July 22, 2011 - 11:49 AM

As for skin color I remember when my dad would come to visit he would call my nephew boston blackey. I don’t know how that made him feel. I never called him that but if we got into an argument or something, (there is a three year age difference) I would call him names, black this or black that. That has rubbed of on me in something I realized I have said to my great niece and nephew upon their visit one day. I told them that they have really gotten dark since the summer started. I’m not sure how that made them feel either, I’m sure there is some impact.
As for hair, I have gone natural and am currently growing locs. My sister is natural as well. My mother thinks I should go back to the relaxer because my hair was longer and prettier. One of my great niece said that she liked my hair when it was relaxed because it was “nicer.” I do agree with the young lady in the film when she said all of this stems from slavery. We have continued to spread self hate throughout the generations.

Tiffany November 6, 2012 - 11:38 AM

I think all African-American’s , Black etc.. have gone through the skin color insults whether dark or light. As always it was darker complected children like myself who was never chosen for the dates or looked at as pretty because all the light skinned girls got all the attention. As I grew to become a woman I realized that I’m not even that dark and everytime I step out of my door all men of all races love my skin color. I to have recently gone natural because I wanted to see how beautiful I was naturally and not what products did for me. Many times a person can think too much of how others think they should look, but in all goodness people really love those who are comfortable with who they are and what’s on the inside reflects on the outside. I’m so glad that God made be brown-skinned, im all one color all over and to hell what others don’t like I like it and did I say all the men love the skin im in.

Crystal February 25, 2012 - 2:28 PM

You Said: <>

I would like to add that I think it’s also important for mothers to praise their children to give them confidence, and love them without prejudice.

Arnita May 27, 2011 - 11:24 AM


I so appreciate you posting this. I haven’t watched the video yet but you gave so much information here, that I can definitely respond. I wish people would get over skin color but alas, such is not the case and I don’t know if it ever will be. I’m a dark-skinned girl and I LOVE my chocolate skin…but I didn’t always. When I was growing up, I was always told I was too dark by the other kids. My mom is a medium brown and folks could not believe or understand that she was my mom, because I was so much darker. I still remember a classmate telling me in eighth grade that I was cute but I would be much cuter if I was light-skinned. I remember thinking WTF back then. And then my grandmother used to call me a pretty black girl. Of course, she is way old school and didn’t think about how that could affect me but why couldn’t I just be a pretty girl is what I used to think.

At one point, I wondered what I could do to be lighter and while that was way back in the day when I was a kid, I would never want a child of mine or any child for that matter to feel like that. It’s just sad. People don’t think about what they say and how they say it and how it may affect someone.

Fortunately, I grew up learning to love me for who I am…period. Height, skin color, hair length and texture, weight (that’s a whole other topic) and all. But I really grew to love my skin and it’s tone and appreciate that it’s the way God made me and He made me this color for a reason. And therefore, I love the skin I’m in! I just hope and pray that one day, others will see that they too, need to love the skin they are in and that others are in as well.

Tatiana May 27, 2011 - 11:43 AM

Growing up, I didn’t really know about the dark vs light skin girls dilemma until I got to college. My mother told me about how she was glad I was light skin while my brother is dark skin, though I never personally experienced any advantages being a light skin girl with “good hair”.

My mother is dark skin, and I experienced a lot of the attitudes expressed in the documentary trailer through her observations and what she’d tell me. I remember when my mother sent me then about 5 or 6 year old cousin to tell me what color I am. He said, “Yellow”. I thought it was weird.

So a lot of my relationship with my own skin color and other girls came from my mother, who raised me. I didn’t have any friends growing up, and I didn’t watch a lot of TV (aside from sitcoms like The Nanny and Full House) so I wasn’t exposed to dark vs light in any other way. So I’m not sure how it works for other people.

Michalet Corbett-Clark May 27, 2011 - 11:58 AM

I must be wired wrong. I knew there were issues in our race pertaining to color but I didn’t know the extent. I grow up in a family of paper bag test ladders. Not that we were given tve test, but we were aware of it. We were also aware of the blue vein test and many others that had no conscience bearing on our self esteem.
Maybe it’s a history thing. My great grand mother really was a Cheroke and my great grand father was German. She left written missives to marry dark because of her 9 children, 4 passed to the other side (white). I think knowing that darker skin was acceptable for whatever reason gave me a different insight and probably a lack of awareness.
I’ve always thought darker skin looked soft and beautiful. I’ve complimented strangers by telling them I thought their skin was beautiful. Until I saw this clip, I didn’t know why they sometimes looked at me like I was going to add a ‘but’ or take it back.
I’m going to continue to talk to/compliment strangers because that’s who I am. Now I have more understanding.
I love Bill Duke. He is a perfect director for this documentary.

Mey August 23, 2012 - 3:18 PM

What’s the blue vein test? I’m first generation Nigerian and i never really grew up with any kind of negative allusion about skin color either. I learned about the paper bag test through curiosity and research about black history in America. Truthfully my childhood was very racial discrimination free and sometimes I have to remind myself that not everyone’s history is like mine. My parents focused most of their negativity on my weight and academics instead…

Trina May 27, 2011 - 12:43 PM

Wow, this is really deep for me. For the last few months as I have really began getting serious about weight loss, which for me has been more about me becoming a priority in my life than about the actual weight, I have been seeing so much more in the context of skin tone than ever. I think it’s because I have finally had to begin wrestling with the words, lies, myths, and stereotypes about dark skin. I will never forget how nasty my cousins, my own family treated me because they were light skin and I was the only dark skin cousin. Or the Caucasian would be boyfriend that told me that he didn’t date dark black girls only to find him dating a black girl a few years later. My worth was wrapped up in this chubby, dark skin and everyone else saw it and exploited it. The situations I got in because someone told me that I was exotic and beautiful only to be left and forgotten about. I had a healthy sense of self in the worthless way. Forget my mind or my personality, no one cared. I wished when I was younger, prayed to be lighter skinned, white even because it just seemed so much easier. I type that sentence look at it and want to cry, hell I am crying…

Over the past few months as I have finally realized that I can’t let my past experiences define me in a way that is going to hinder me from healing and moving forward. I can’t change my skin tone, which I have grown to love and care about, but I can change my health and mindset for the better. I have realized that the world’s perceptions of black women, black vs light skin, and whitewash of media does matter in terms of other people and it only makes me want to make sure that my future children, boy or girl, but girl especially knows that they are truly loved in a world that won’t care. I think a layer of protection is so needed for black women of all shades. Man, I’m going to stop now or I’ll go on forever..Erica thank you for helping highlight this issue because it’s apart of this journey too.

Eva May 27, 2011 - 1:58 PM

I’m really glad you posted this. I saw it on Live Journal a few days ago. Very, very, very sad, and these women are younger than me.

Eva May 27, 2011 - 2:03 PM

I find that this is more prevalent today than it was when I was growing up, in the 1970’s because today the media is in your face 24/7. I mean when I was a kid, TV went off at 2am, and there was no Internet, no MTV, no BET. Don’t get me wrong, skin color was an issue then, but for some reason, I see it more today.

Eva May 27, 2011 - 2:07 PM

One more thing and then I’ll stop. My mom is very light skinned, (kind of like Maya Rudolph/Rashida Jones) her cousins are dark skinned. She told me when she was a child, their grandmother used to tell her dark skinned cousins (all girls) how beautiful they were (they all lived together). Mom wondered why she never told HER that, but when she grew up, she realized that the world was telling her that she was beautiful whereas the world wasn’t telling that to her cousins.

CoCo May 27, 2011 - 9:10 PM

I also thought about my mother when I read this. My mother is light skinned and she received a lot of conflicting messages from people about it. My grandmother would make comments about not dating people who were any darker than “paper sack tan”, but my mother’s peers would tease her because she was so light. So, growing up, my mother always made comments to me about how much more beautiful darker black women are, but she didn’t date darker black men at all.
I won’t watch the movie because I don’t want to cry, but it’s good that people are talking about this.

Danielle May 29, 2011 - 11:35 AM

My experience has been totally different. Being light-skinned has never translated into anything positive for me. People make assumptions about me and how I’m going to be before they even get to know me, and I’ve never felt that I’ve been treated any better. I’ve had discussions with dark-skinned friends and they always seemed surprised when I talk about feeling alone because no one else looked like me. I understand that people can be harsh towards dark-skinned people, but they can be the same way to light-skinned people. Being rejected and ostracized by your own people goes both ways.

(Not directed at you personally, but I had to get that off my chest!)

Erika Nicole Kendall May 29, 2011 - 11:43 AM

No worries, mama – I specifically wanted to hear everyone’s experiences with this, and yours are just as valid as the next. 🙂

T.W. June 27, 2012 - 5:58 PM

I’ve had a similar experience, though not really until college because I was usually in predominantly White schools. Only from my extended family (mostly the ones my age) did I get comments like, “You think you’re white,” or from the younger ones, “Why is she the only one in our family who’s not Black?” or “Wooh, you need some sun! You’re almost as pale as your Daddy, and when we first met I thought he was Albino.” It was kind of lonely, so I never liked my complexion because I felt defected. When I got to college, other AA female friends of mine would make slight digs – stuff like boys liking me more, which wasn’t true even remotely because the vast majority of the White men at this predominantly White school weren’t (when sober) “into” Black girls, no matter what shade – at my being light skinned, which of course brought me back to being glued to my mom’s hip during family reunions because she would protect me from mean comments. But it wasn’t until one of my girl friends explained the whole concept of colorism that I understood what was going on. Of course, I don’t let them know that I’ve never felt like I fit in because growing up feeling like an outsider and growing up hearing blatant verbal attacks/insults aren’t even comparable. I hate that we have something so awful in the Black community that can divide us. We’re already so divided from the rest of the American community that we need at least unity with each other.

iamme July 14, 2012 - 6:28 PM

See I feel you this on this cuzz I am light skinned too and its seemed like all the dark skinned girls use to pick with me cuzz my hair and my skin tone and i had a lot of hair they use to tell me that i was stuck up and think i am better than everybody cuzz i am light ad have hair i use to hate middle school and then in high school i just started fighting cuzz i was tired of it like i picked out my skin tone and hair man i was born this way

Lydia May 27, 2011 - 6:54 PM

I saw this video clip earlier today and Im still moved by it. The part where the little girl voiced those opinions is the part that me rear up. It’s so wrong that someone that young would feel that way!
I’m Hispanic and I see this in my community/family too. Now that I have daughters and they happen to be of mixed race our last family reunion made me cringe. I can’t tell you how often I heard ” they are so pretty!” followed by “their skin is so light!” hated that. My daughters are pretty but they’d be so even if they were the same color as their mama.

How About Some Link Love? « parisianfeline May 27, 2011 - 10:35 PM

[…] loss, exercise, healthy eating, being black, body image – everything! Her latest post is Body Image, Self-Worth & Sexuality: Dark Skin, a new Documentary. Her twitter: […]

CurlieGirlie May 28, 2011 - 1:37 AM

First of all, can I say that “Rainbow Connection” is one of my all time favorite songs? Kermit the frog was a very philosophical frog, lol.

Second, this post made me tear up a little, especially when you asked how to defend your daughter against attacks that can come from anywhere. I’m not sure that there is a direct answer to this, but I like to think that it is my responsiblity to empower those around me. I may not be able to prevent another unknown person from attacking my sister/mother/brother/friend, but I can make sure that whenever a loved one is with me, they know that I believe they are beautiful/smart/powerful/hilarious and that I love them for who they are. I think if people know that they are genuinely loved and appreciated by those that they love the most, it makes everything the haters say less relevant in their lives. I was blessed not to have to face a lot of bullying due to the darkness of my skin (not sure why…maybe because my elementary school was very diverse, so different skin tones were just the norm), but whenever someone DID have something negative to say about my looks, I could rest assured in the knowledge that my mom and my grandmother TRULY BELIEVED that I was one of the most beautiful girls on the planet. Honestly, lol. As far as they were concerned, no one else could compare to me in the looks department. In their eyes, I was also exceptionally smart, funny, sweet, etc., so I knew they didn’t just love my looks.

I wish we could all see how beautiful we truly are…I wish there was some way to universally stop disliking who we are…I wish we could stop wanting to be something that we were never meant to me.

Johnnie May 28, 2011 - 10:02 AM

I have my own personal experiences with this growing up the darkest in my family. My grandmother put bleach in my bathwater once and suggested I use alcohol with a washcloth to get the excess blackness off me my neck. My baby niece would cry when I tried to play with her and my sister would relentlessly tease me about saying it was because she didn’t like dark people. (That same niece told me years later she wished she was darker) I was seven. On top of that I had scars but I won’t get into all that. I dated a “man” who told me I was the darkest woman he’d ever been with. I’ve been told to not wear certain colors. I hated the skin I was in. I’m better now, but that mess I went through really hurt and sometimes still does. I can’t watch it.

Johnnie May 28, 2011 - 10:08 AM

Oops thought I’d gotten the typos; I meant “off my neck.”

Dawnavette May 29, 2011 - 12:29 PM

This post was great, as it introduced what (obviously) will be a brilliant documentary touching on the color complex, and also your personal aside pertaining to raising your daughter. I agree that the topic is past relevant because of the abundance of media images, and will also write a post. Thank you for speaking out and promoting this documentary. 🙂

RBBBBB May 29, 2011 - 9:11 PM

I have actually had the thought “I can’t be fat AND dark.”

Stefanie September 19, 2011 - 3:21 PM

I have too. You’re not alone.

Tomi January 24, 2012 - 1:46 PM

So have I, in fact unfortunately I still feel that way.

Keisha May 31, 2011 - 5:52 PM

Thank you for posting this. As a dark skinned woman nearing 30 this hit very close to home. I’ve experienced some of the things in this video, including having someone caucasian telling me I had beautiful skin, while someone I considered a good friend jokingly say “oh we better keep the lights on or we won’t be able to see Keisha.” Needless to say this touched me. I don’t have the words to say all that I’m thinking and feeling right now. Just a simple, thank you Erika.

Carmel June 8, 2011 - 9:57 AM

I love this post. It doesn’t attempt to explain or decide what is wrong or right with the situation. Instead you raise questions as a mother, and a dark skinned black woman. Good stuff. On the subject of “Dark girls”, it is the sand paper that either makes you smooth or leaves you grated and jagged. It is not really a choice more than a response. I don’t remember who said “feel the pain, use the pain, lose the pain”, but I think this is what we – who’ve been in that painful place- need to do. Not let it define you. Easier said than done, but I wish my parents helped me get over the teasing more than anything else. Because no one is spared from being picked on, even the super models of today were the tallest most awkward looking little girls in your class. The buffer from real damage will come from within, not without. Mommy or Daddy can’t/won’t make it go away. You have to muster up the strength on your own to decide what image of yourself you’re going to have.
Saying that makes me think “well how does the little kindergarten girl cope then?” I suppose here is were positive reinforcement of her own skin tone from her parents will help. But what do i know?! I don’t have authority to speak on that. I just hope to find the tools to help my children when they arrive.

Kjen June 19, 2011 - 9:25 PM

I am dark skinned, but I’ve never had my beauty questioned by it by others outside of my family. Within my family, I was praised and complimented for my looks. There are different shades within my extended and immediate family and there was never any differentiation made between us. I think that helps a great deal, if parents are mindful of treating their children any differently, making any comments about someone else….Don’t. That is a great buffer for a child.
However, even with this great buffer I did take notice of the women who were praised in the outside world. But it took me until college and a certain concsciousness to really name it – colorism.
Strangely/(interestingly) enough, it wasn’t until I had a name for it that I began to worry about it, to see my skin through the eyes of those who hated dark skin….that was a rough year. I had to consciously fight back. Whenever I felt those unloving eyes upon me, I would squeeze my eyes shut and just whisper “i love you,” somehow saying you worked better than “you’re beautiful”. But when I opened my eyes again the dark skin covering my limbs was once again beautiful.
I say all that to say that no, I would not be watching the documentary. I’ve educated my self with the anecdotes of others, as well as academic research. I am aware that this issue exists. I don’t see any benefit – unless the documentary offers some coping methods, self-esteem building strategies – to stew in the realities of colorism. Again.

Perfectsize June 22, 2011 - 5:30 AM

The clip above made me cry because it touches on two issues: 1. Through my brown child, I now deeply empathize with these painful awarenesses of the dark skinned woman and 2. It makes me really yearn for unity among us. Because I assure you, although they may not be the SAME issues, we as women all have our issues. And we should be friends and supportive of each other through thick and thin.

I have 2 perspectives.

I am light skinned, pretty and very overweight. I grew up singled out for being light, or pretty (everything is perspective). Kids fought me, ganged up on me. Then later in life I encountered people who blatantly insulted me because of my racial make-up. Dark skinned women, not liking me, in-laws, co-workers blocking me for being what they called half cast. It hurt because I felt they were not seeing me for who I am. Just like the boys that used to tell me they loved me because I was light skinned and had good hair. They didn’t love me.

Everybody is searching for an identity.

After growing up being erroneously labeled an “african” american I finally thought I would find the truth by way of a DNA test. What tribe was I from? Was it North or Wast Africa? Low and behold, the test showed that my father’s X chromosome is ranked high as Colombian (my family doesn’t speak spanish although we look it) and the top Y chromosome is Polish and Arab as in gulf arab not north african, so omani, yemenite, etc. Out of the top 100 rankings, 100 being the highest, the only african rank was at the bottom (96). In other words, my father is probably no more black than the average non-black american.

What does this mean? Well it means I gotta do my Mom’s side because I am sure I got some black in me somewhere! But it also brings me back to the humanity of it all. We should all do DNA tests, I think history has a very different story for us than we thought.

And even though I grew up in a town that is very black and thought I knew what it was like to be black………. I never knew what being black was like until my brown child entered her teens (like this year). I am tall, overweight, curvy and light with long wavy hair. My daughter is 13, supermodel tall, slim and brown with african hair. People are constantly commenting that she doesn’t look ANYTHING like her Mom, which hurts her and it doesn’t help that she is just going through a general ugly duckling phase that all teens go through. This year. the same year she hit puberty, I decided that neither one of us were going to get perms (I never knew what my true hair pattern was like, and I LOVE saving money and walking out the door with wet hair).

My daughter, on the other hand, is not having the same experience. When she once could do the same she cannot because perms broke her hair off and it is so uneven and unhealthy (it’s my fault and I am sad). We are now at a point where we are using natural herbs (from Moroco) and oils to treat it and it is getting better but she went through a tough winter. Suddenly, with her body’s growth spurt, her hair needing repair, her pimples and teenage self-esteem issues, she started getting looks from people I had never experienced myself.

You have no idea how it hurts me to my heart when people (non-black) meet me, love me, open up to me and their faces change when they see my brown child. I have been workng on constructing a high self-esteem for this little girl, all the while facing my own “pretty little big girl” issues myself. Trying to reflect my internal self value in every aspect of life to set examples for her.

I want my child to know that she is gorgeous with HER long legs, and slim body and brown skin and african hair and full lips, as I go out of my way to keep reminding myself daily that I am beautiful with my curvy, heavy thighs, and pretty smile and wide hips and curly hair.

You don’t have to dress like a prostitute for a man to love you. That you don’t have to work so hard to please a man. In fact, the opposite is true. He will love you more if you hold your ground, etc….

And when they said in the documentary that men called them exotic beauty but didn’t love them for who they are, I can assure you that many light skinned girls have the same issue, just in different form. Especially big girls.

And so we erase all that, ok? By giving each other love and support.

Ginger March 24, 2012 - 4:29 PM

I am not black/brown or even creamy. I am white. like see thru, looks like I don’t have good circulation, kinda white. It is no fun. I also have freckles, alot of them. I am constantly being told I need a tan. So I guess skin cancer is more attractive than pale skin? I am on the otherend of the spectrum but I can still empathize. When I say I am white I am referring to my skin color not my race. I am mixed races. Most of my family members have a nice dark olive or brown skin tone, dark hair and eyes. I am Cherokee, Apache,French Canadian(Indian and French), Dutch and Irish. When I was a child we had a dog that was white with brown spots.My family named her “Freckles”. My family then nicknamed me “Freckles” while my closest in age, dark haired, dark eyed, dark skinned sister was nicknamed “Beautiful.” I grew up believing I was very ugly. I gave myself third degree burns tanning on my roof because the tar would cause me to burn faster. I was taught to mix iodine with baby oil, lather my body in it and lay in the sun for hours. That cannot be healthy. I ended up temporarily burned and with more freckles and long term skin damage. The fake tan things all cause allergic reactions. It is sad that people cannot see beauty in all colors. God obviously thought all his colors were beautiful. My children all have dark skin, only one has freckles with her black hair, dark skin and almost black eyes. She is beautiful!! Completely beautiful. I have taught all of my children to use sunscreen to protect their skin but of course they choose to fry! I would choose darker skin over lighter anyday simply because it seems to be more pleasing to the eye. It also camoflauges some imperfections. I will never pass on my self image injuries to my children. I have four children. Three look almost exactly alike and one looks completely different like not even the same race even though they are of the exact same parentage. My darker daughter feels like she is less than my lighter eyed daughter, lighter skinned daughter. My children are Korean,Cherokee, and Scottish on their fathers side along with my previously listed racial mix. My point is this is not just an African American or darker skinned race problem. I travels the spectrum of races and it is sad.

BrooklynShoeBabe July 22, 2011 - 12:08 AM

I watched this video with tears in my eyes. My throat is so tight it hurts. My twin brother, who is darker than me, was teased for being dark skin in middle school and high school. It was devastating to his self esteem. My family used to tease my boyfriend when I was in high school because he was dark skinned. When I started dating a lighter boy, I remember brother saying that we would have some cute babies.

I have two daughters now, 4 and 6 years old. I tell them as often as I can how beautiful their skin tone is, how wonderful their hair is, and that they don’t have to be light or have “pink” skin to be pretty. They love Barbie dolls and Disney Princess dolls. They have at least 2 dozen and most of them are brown, but they seem to gravitate to the traditional looking Barbie doll. I will see my oldest daughter almost go into a trance brushing the blonde Barbie’s hair. I remember one day getting so angry for her obvious preference for blonde Barbie that I snatched it out of her hands and shouted “WHAT’S WRONG WITH THE BROWN BARBIES? YOU HAVE TWENTY BROWN BARBIES AND ALL YOU WANT TO DO IS PLAY WITH THE WHITE ONE? WHY?! WHITE BARBIE IS NOT PRETTIER!” She apologized and then went back to brushing the doll’s hair.

One day, I was the classroom mom at my daughter’s kindergarten class and I literally saw my daughter in that same trance like state while she ran her fingers through her classmate’s hair over and over. (The other little girl was Middle Eastern.) I wanted to cry. Despite my husband’s and my efforts, I could tell she had already developed a dislike of her hair.


I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to rant. The video made me upset. I can’t t even tell you about the black teen boys I work with you have stated a preference for only white women because black women, especially the dark ones, are mean and ugly. And what hurts the most, these boys are the same complexions of the girls they ignore.

What can we do? What can I do?

Ti July 22, 2011 - 1:29 AM

I’ve only had one experience with blatant colorism, and as i am light skinned it was not my own but my daughter’s.. My twins are Yin and Yang.. My daughter is dark chocolate and her brother is Khaki Dockers :-). Anyway, in kindergarten all the kids were getting tattoo stamps and and after my son got two, my daughter wanted one and was told “it won’t work on black.” She came home so torn up about it, I took her to a friend to get henna’d the same afternoon. Then I sat down with my 5 yr old and explained that the same person who made the comment had tanned her skin until she cracked, hoping to come halfway close to the “black” she was deriding.

Since that day, I’ve not been concerned about what X Y or Z have to say outside and you shouldn’t either. In my home I praise my girls for their attributes by showing and telling them all the things about them that I admire and covet. It helps that they see me as beautiful, because it boosts them to think that i wished i look more like them.
I never miss a chance to point out where X is overtanning, Y is wearing a weave, Z is using botox or silicone. You teach your daughter that people hate things about themselves historically, as well hate on the things on others that they covet, and that has nothing to do with how high she holds her head when she leaves the house. In the family, she is YOUR child and you should have no issues telling whoever, “don’t talk that crap to my child.”

Thermidor August 3, 2011 - 6:08 PM

That video always makes me tear up. But it seems like an issue I cannot understand too well, though I am black. I’m of the so-called “caramel” variety (anybody but me hate likening skin tone to food sometimes?) and never got any “too dark”, “too light” isms thrown my way. I have mistakenly been roped in the light skinned crowd a few times…I guess it’s a matter of perspective? Between my other two cousins who were always slim while I was not reprisent the color trio of black girls: dark, medium (me) and light. No one ever told Dayla (our darkest) she was ugly. In fact, she was always revered as he fashion forward, classy, feminine one in our family. Chaly (lightest) was kind of the troublemaker, maneater, having kids “too” early one. She got the head shakes. I wont get into me, I’m the weird one. XD But I also remember being vaguely mean in highschool to a very pretty dark girl who was my friend named Claudine. Well, not mean– but I did not understand her natural hair and how she looked so good with her skin tone. Granted, she was an awful person but, the first thing out of my mouth when she crossed me was to call her burnt. Awful or not, I look back on that in shame as my brother is darkish, and he’s a handsome fellow. Now, shadism bothers me. Being hit on for light eyes or medium skin is irritating.

Stefanie September 19, 2011 - 3:21 PM

This is good. Real good.
I’m of a darker skinned tone; and being younger, I don’t recall getting picked on for my color, but I thought I was an ugly child at one point beacuse of it. My darkness did not suit me (as I saw it). But I knew there was nothing I could do about it; I just didn’t like it. I don’t recall anyone in my family making a big deal about it or making me feel bad; but that perception is still in my mind as I look at my son. Or if I look at my friend’s daugther who is very dark skinned. I know this sounds bad. My son is beautiful, he has a beautiful skin tone. But I think when I look at him, my own insecurities as a child come back….ooh! And when my son was in the 2nd grade, he went through an ‘identity crisis’. He didn’t like his dark skin or his curly hair. He wanted to be light skinned like most of his classmates and have spikey hair like them. I didn’t know what to do with that. But I’m so glad that he somehow knew God made him beautiful and just the way he is supposed to be (I would tell him that, even while dealing with my own issues). He is embracing that. It took me loving myself and embracing my own God given beauty to truly tell my son how beautiful his super smooth chocolate skin is; how his hair is the way it’s supposed to be, and SHOW him that through appreciation of my own self.
How, how do I deal with OTHER people who make him feel bad (example: family members who are ignorant of the power of words)??? I’m like the first lady who posted, I don’t always know the right words to say. I know some may think ‘that is your child, say what you want.’ But that’s not always easy; especially when these folks have been around my son since he was born (some of them have helped to raise him). But I think of it like this: I pick my battles. If I feel it is important to address on a personal level, I will do my best. But I know the BEST thing I can do for my son is to (1) love him, show him his own beauty (2) pray that he will know how to appreciate himself NOW, (3) make sure my actions line up with my teachings to him. I think doing these things will give him a sound foundation that if anyone in this world (whether close in relationship or not) says something to shake his confidence, he can stand firm knowing WHO he is because of what he has been given by GOD. I’ve learned that I can’t control what anyone says, but I can control what I do and how I react.
As for girls in general, we as women have to let them know they are beautiful. I can’t say my insecurities don’t come when I see another dark skinned girl. I wonder if she has insecurities. But I put them under my feet and let her know she is beautiful.

Afoma October 22, 2011 - 1:33 PM

I’m a dark-skinned Nigerian living in Nigeria. I go to college in Ghana as well, and although some parts of the documentary left my mouth hanging open, I am not going to deny that skin color is an issue even here, in Africa, the irony. Black people surrounded by enough black faces. Yet, some women, many women cringe at their dark skin, and try to bleach, damaging their skin with horrible horrible creams and lotions. Some of the yellow ones amongst us (not mixed race, just fair, we call them yellow) are so obsessed with maintaining their yellow. Because the sun is too hot and its going to make them brown.

My boyfriend’s previous girls have been ‘yellow’, and when we first started going out, he’d be like “so I’m dating a dark girl”. 😮
He doesnt say that anymore, but it’s stuck with me, and it made and still makes me wonder. He is African, Ghanaian even (and compared to Nigerians, Ghanaians are much darker!) and it was surprising to him that he could be attracted to a dark girl!

One time, my very yellow friend and I were a few days late in submitting our passports for our residence permits to be renewed and we were hoping to plead with the administrator to not make us pay the flat rate penalty. A lower level official told us that if she had skin like my friend’s, she wouldn’t worry about that! When we got to immigration, my friend was supposed to be the one to do the talking. Unfortunately, we met a female administrator instead and the plan failed 🙁

One of the girls in the documentary suggested that its probably because black people have nothing to unite them apart from their skin color. How does this suggestion explain shadeism in Africa? We have languages, very rich cultures, enough things to bind us together but still! Its way beyond this. It is.

APGift November 15, 2011 - 3:02 AM
Gizzle November 15, 2011 - 6:09 PM

I don’t have kids yet. But I have two young nieces and I worry about how they and my future children will deal with these issues.

The best idea I’ve had or seen is to lead by example. I wear my hair natural and encourage my nieces’ parents to not use heat on theirs (fear of indoctrination that straight=better), I compliment them on their hair and skin and intellect for even minor things.

As the rebel of my family, I am the daughter who took the harsh statements about my natural hair etc earlier on. When I learned that elders in my family made harsh comments to my darker older sister–who to me has always been the epitome of beauty/style–that was another example that lead me to believe that you just can’t worry about what other people say, even your family.

In fact, family are the ones you may have to ignore or build a defense against the most, because many of them have been indoctrinated with this light vs. dark, straight vs. curly/kinky argument. My mother won’t wash her own hair cause she doesn’t know what to do with it, yet chided me for wearing my hair natural or reserved her compliments for only when my hair was straight. I noticed this and I fear my young nieces do, as well. A friend’s 5 year old began crying because she “Didn’t have straight pretty hair like mommy (who had a perm)” and so my friend went natural soon afterward because, “I don’t raise no low self esteem babies in my house!”

No one likes to be talked about negatively. And you learn early on what a ‘back-handed’ compliment is if you receive enough of them.

So yes, I think you have to have your sword and shield and invisible forcefield around your children to protect them from all angles . . . you can’t keep them away from the world that is filled with tons of ignorant and/or less enlightened people, but you can have the conversation with them ahead of time and let them know that those people exist. And you can compliment them on all the greatness they possess. Cause families may be the worst culprits out there when it comes to these things. Help them learn good, witty or well thought out responses so they are prepared when they confront these situations.

natalie December 24, 2011 - 12:44 AM

i’m consider myself to be a dark-skinned girl (i’m about gabrielle unions color). but the funny thing is, the older i get, the darker i wish i was! i wish i was Viola Davis’ complexion. i think she’s so pretty and the darker that you are the longer you stay beautiful and young looking, less wrinkles, and sagging skin. the more melanin you have, the less that you show signs of aging. it’s almost magical! i think melanin is a gift that needs to be appreciated. there are so many that wish they had skin, dark skin, like us dark black girls!

David December 27, 2011 - 6:45 PM

I feel awkward reading this topic because I’m a black male. I agree with this post so much. I’ve always been the darkest bunch out of my family but I wasn’t dark until around 7th grade. All the summers without sunscreen finally caught up with me. Ever since then I’ve dealt with being called black man, blackie, sharpie, etc. It’s god awful. See, the things about this is that people only see this as directed towards dark skinned woman and not just dark skinned african/ african americans. Many girls I know won’t date me because I’m not light skinned or as light as I used to be. I hate taking pictures because I don’t show up. People comment on how I look like a shadow and they can’t see my face because I’m so dark. I’m currently dating my girlfriend, she’s white, and the first girlfriend I’ve ever had. Keep in mind I’m in 10th grade too. I wonder why she’s with me because I’m so dark and I feel like she can do better. I’m not a brotha either. I’m commonly referred to as an oreo or that I was born in the wrong skin because I grew up in that kind of enviroment. My light skinned sister always bagged on me for several things, one which was my skin. Just thought I should put that out there, I felt that I needed to get that off of my chest. Maybe so that someone would hear my story, and possibly care.

Erika Nicole Kendall December 27, 2011 - 6:56 PM

I have to ask you, though, how mentioning your white significant other helps us understand your plight. Mind you, I’m not someone who has qualms with interracial dating – I dated interracially before and advocate for it on the blog – but I just find it peculiar that you’d need to mention her race, especially since everything you said about her would apply even if she were non-white.

Unless you’re trying to imply that you’ve developed color complexes from your past with the namecalling, I’d love it if you could type out a few more words to help us understand.

David December 27, 2011 - 7:44 PM

You make a point. I mentioned it for the ironic feel considering that I’ve met no one of my race wanting to date me and whatnot, yet after venturing onto the other side of the color spectrum I was able to find someone who likes me for me and can look past my skin tone. I’m sure there are people like that in all races, I’m sure of that, but it’s just ironic that that’s how things turned out. She says I’m the perfect shade of black(which I don’t, won’t, and probably never will believe). I’ve always wanted to revert back to my old skin tone, which has resulted in most of my browser history filled with how to lighten african american skin and whatnot.

Erika Nicole Kendall December 27, 2011 - 8:08 PM

Oh, wow, I get it. 🙁

Though I don’t think there is a “perfect shade of Black,” I DO understand what she was trying to tell you and think it’s sweet that she’s trying to empathize. She seems good to you in regards to this.

This thing affects everyone. And while I blog mostly about women’s issues [from the perspective of a woman because that is my life experience], I’m always happy to welcome dialogue that talks about everyone, so long as it’s not at the expense of the original goal.

Noella January 24, 2012 - 12:58 AM

Thank you for acknowledging that skin color issues go both ways and that one’s difficulties do not invalidate another’s. Most people dismiss that factor.

Nik February 4, 2012 - 4:14 AM

Great post,as a dark-skinned girl have lived with many of the comments especially the dreaded “you’re pretty for a dark skin girl”… Not going to lie that one hurts pretty bad. However I wanted to address part of the issue that hasn’t really been discussed…the media. Growing up no one ever told me that light was “more beautiful” but i noticed that you rarely ever saw dark skinned women in the media, much less being portrayed as “the pretty girl” or “the sexy woman”. That role was reserved for the light girl (Denise from the Cosby show, Sandra from 227, Hilary from the fresh prince, Whitley from different world, Vanessa Williams winning Miss America etc.) also in media the nuclear black family is a brown/dark skinned fathers, a (slightly) lighter wife, and children (with the daughter always being very light or at least lighter than her parents). I thought I was weird when i was little because I was darker than my mom and my brother. Personally I think this is something that is getting worse. I’ve watched tv and movies from the 60’s and 70’s and you just see more dark skinned women in those shows and they are often portraying the ” beautiful woman”. Today you rarely see dark skinned women at all in mainstream media and when you do beautiful is so rarely attached to their name. I’ve grown up and long since settled some of these insecurities but I think the media does a lot of damage.

HansiCabo February 28, 2012 - 9:08 AM

As we all know, this is a very sensitive topic in the black community, but it seems that in recent years it has truly been resurrected as a divisive tool among us.

I’m from the Caribbean and grew up in the 80s and 90s and I don’t recall dark vs. light EVER being an issue. However, I was also more privileged than some and went to a very diverse school so maybe I wasn’t exposed to some of the ignorance found elsewhere.

However, I do recall “light skin” being mentioned as a positive thing in my interactions with my mother’s side of the family. All of her cousins and family members were a conglomerate of “high yellow” stemming from that side of the family being of portuguese descent. My mother and her sisters were the darkest ones in our family since their mother was the only one who had gotten involved with a “black” man.

I remember my mother mentioning their grandmother who was white portuguese (from portugal) would call the darker siblings the “N- word” in frustration when combing their hair. I never met her, but my mother took it in stride as it was just what it was. My mother was the lightest of the sisters and so was favored by the grandmother and resented by her siblings.

However, my mother married a dark skinned black man and had us. I’m the lightest of my siblings, but I would not consider myself “light skinned”. I fall in that weird area of “brown skinned” I guess. However, the point is, I’ve never had to deal with comments about my skin color. I guess I just fit in enough that my color is unremarkable either way.

This is how I’ve always been. It might have been mentioned among the family that I was “red”, but other than them, I’ve never had an issue. Then, I moved/lived among an educated “mainstream” culture since college and had little interaction with ignorant people who would mention “color” or people of color in general. I guess I’ve been fairly sheltered from the color divide….until recent years.

I recently reconnected with some of my black american family and was introduced, for the first time, to the terms “red bone” and “yellow…” (can’t remember that one). I had never heard those terms before and had to have my niece explain them to me. Did I mention that I wasn’t hip on black american slang or culture in general? I don’t listen to rap, R & B, or watched BET or read “black” magazines. I know, I had issues…still do.

However, since reconnecting with my family, I’ve been schooled in AA culture and now realize the great divide that exists among us surrounding the color of our skin. How sad! I have two nephews that are “dark skinned” and a niece and nephew who are “light skinned”. I haven’t discussed the issues with them. However, I have noticed that my niece throws around the term “red bone” in reference to herself quite often.

Now that I know the social divide it has caused in the AA culture I find her glorification of herself as a “red bone” disturbing. It appears that in AA culture, the dark vs. light is used to uplift one over another. We need to stop the insanity!

I’ve recently reimmersed myself back into “mainstream” culture. I now live in Oregon and have less interaction with my family or AA culture and am afraid I will regress into my old ways and habits. In other words, back to having very little black perspective on a regular basis to keep me in check. Without black reinforcement I tend to act like a “white girl” (if you get my meaning).

However, the difference I find though, is that I now know better. Having had 3 years of living with culturally aware AAs and Caribbean people I sort of reconnected with my “black” side (if that makes any sense). Prior to that only interacting and living among “white” people had diluted my sense of self so you could say I was a “white girl” in a black girls skin (sad I know).

The point is, though I don’t have any direct personal negative experience with the light vs. dark debate, I am now aware that it exists, whereas before, I had been living in “La La land”. I don’t have kids, but hope to have one someday and I will teach her/him that that light vs. dark nonsense is unacceptable and WHY it is. It divides us instead of bringing us together and is detrimental to us coming together as a community to uplift one another.

Unfortunately, I’ve been scarred not by the light vs. dark debate, but by the “white is right” society we live in and of which I’ve been a thriving member (sic). My child will likely be a product of a white father b/c that is my preference. I don’t have time to debate or espouse on all the messed up psyche behind this and my own messed up views, but it is what it is. I know better and am supposedly educated and evolved and yet I want what I want. What messed up message will that send to my child? God only knows, but those issues will be my demons to bear.

I just know that this issue is so deeply entrenched in the black community that I doubt we’ll ever find closure with it. I can only preach from my pulpit and instill in my child a sense of self-worth and pride that will, hopefully, not be at the expense of her/his darker brethren. I know, easier said than done, especially when she questions my choice in spouse, friends, etc. How about, “Do as I say, not as I do?” Ugh!

Long post, but just wanted to get my thoughts/POV out there, for good or ill. Thanks.

Mey August 25, 2012 - 6:50 AM

I was with you for a little while until you talked about how you weren’t culturally “black enough”. You shouldn’t be ashamed of you’re dating preference and you certainly shouldn’t think you have issues because you don’t participate in “black slang” and entertainment. Your socially constructed race is black but your culture is Caribbean and most of all you are human. You don’t have to fit into any standard AA role to consider yourself a well adjusted black woman. Let your true self shine through! Whether that means you’re into country music, salsa, rock, or hip hop; if you have all black friends and boyfriends or a diverse group of friends and boyfriends. You are NOT an oreo nor do you act “white” and you should never have to feel bad for the way you are and your interests. It really is disheartening how deeply seeded the US’s skin tone issues are that they even affect one’s supposed likes and dislikes.

Chantel_Careme June 30, 2012 - 6:56 PM

I just finished watching this for the third time and it becomes more and more powerful each time I watch it. I I then scroll down to the comments and to know how many other of my sisters have been affected by this self-loathing gives me comfort. It also makes me realize that when I am blessed with children I will do everything to celebrate our beauty as a people with them, so they are proud of themselves.

Keema August 11, 2012 - 5:53 AM

Wow – thank you so much for writing this post and posting this preview of the documentary. I’ve just forwarded the link to a bunch of my friends, among them a Russian couple raising an African child, and an international gay couple raising two mixed-race children. I’m someone who has gotten used to being seen by some as a “Debbie Downer,” because I’m so conscious (and vocal) about the color brainwashing that goes on in our society. However, as a mom, I’ve learned that how my kids learn to see themselves means more to me than the occasional discomfort of others.

I’m a brown-skinned girl who grew up around US and Caribbean blacks in New York in the ’70s and ’80s, when (as other posters mention here) the “Black Power” and color-as-revolution themes of the 60s and 70s gave way to conspicuous advertising-, TV- and video-reinforced fawning over the always- light-skinned, always-long-haired and, therefore, always “better” black women as the ONLY women worthy of inclusion in any spotlight. Luckily for me, my parents made sure I was conscious of this, and called it out as color bias long before I was even ten, when hip-hop came into its own and reinforced for once and all (from within the black community, no less) that light makes right, is always the prize, and that this is the measure of a black man’s success. (Check out any old 80s videos, if you don’t believe me. Junior, Grandmaster Flash, Cameo, etc., etc.)

I resented the heck out of getting Lisa Bonet and Irene Cara as “beauty role models” featured in every black beauty or hair care magazine when I was growing up. What if your hair DOESN’T hang down your back? What if peach blush CANNOT work on your skin tone? I have damn near an alphabet of degrees after my name, and yet, I too carry the deep-seated fear of ever putting on weight because of how viciously our society treats on women who are dark AND generously sized. Heck, it comes down hard on women who are dark with Aphrodite’s proportions. (Why do we really think Naomi C. has destroyed her hairline with weaves and seems to go ballistic when she gets even a hint of disrespect… you know, the casual disrespect that the tattooed knucklehead in the video clearly demonstrates?)

I can’t solve the problem, but I can do my best to raise sane, good-in-their-skin kids. My husband and I have gone commando when it comes to raising our son and daughter with different messaging. This comes after our daughter broke down in tears at three, because she’d been told that pulling her hair back made her look “lighter” while keeping it curly made her look “dark” and “bad.” (She’s a mixed-race kid of roughly Alicia Keys’ coloring). We checked the TV programs, where all the kids are white and there’s one Asian (with long straight hair); we scanned my daughter’s preschool (where all the kids were white, Latino or Asian, and there was one half-Russian black girl whose mom could not manage her hair); we even paid attention to our supposedly-diverse Toronto neighborhood, where you’d see every color imaginable on the street but the resident playgrounds and upscale cafes and restaurants looked like Sweden…

We did an intervention. We canceled our cable TV subscription because we thought, “we can’t compete with professional advertising.” We got on Amazon and ordered every season of “The Electric Company” – the real one, from the 1970s, with Morgan Freeman and Bill Cosby and Rita Moreno and a bunch of multi-culti kids (instead of the “new” 90’s produced version currently on Netflix where…. surprise, surprise, all the kids are white + one Asian, and the adults are all-white, too). We invested in early ’70s flicks like “A Piece of The Action,” “Uptown Saturday Night” and “Let’s Do It Again” and made sure our kids got to see black men and women of darker AND lighter complexions playing everything from kindly teachers to crazy criminals. We also had a serious talk when our kids came home crying about how horrible slavery and pre-civil-rights America was (for black people). Made sure we showed them just how ridiculous “color labels” in America really are, when Mariah Carey, Naomi Campbell, Rashida Jones, Wentworth Miller, Lauryn Hill, and Queen Latifah would all, at one time, have been forbidden from using the same toilet, hotel, or water-fountain as Peggy Lipton (who is, of course, actually Rashida Jones’ mom).

Do we think we’ve solved the problem? Absolutely not. But I do know that my kids are THRILLED when we hang out with some of my close friends who have dark complexions. They have a darker-skinned sometime babysitter who is black, male, and a college student from Martinique (he has two little twin sisters) and they adore this guy. It’s partly because he is awesome…and it’s partly because he’s “brown like them!” (Their words). It’s also interesting to me to see that my kids – much like every single mixed-race girlfriend I’ve ever had – see themselves as MUCH darker than they actually are. Think about that for a minute. You’re light-brown, but perceive yourself as “regular brown” (or, at any rate, pretty much like all the other brown folks you meet)…and then you’re faced with the hostility, resentment and frustration of generations of people who’ve been repeatedly told that they’re less than you? Disaster.

I’m thrilled that this movie got made because, if nothing else, it will make people think about how many, many people of color get written off the page, screen, stage, and conversation, often in hurtful, demeaning ways. I cringed to see the ignoramus in the clip yammering on about the “wrongness” of dark-skinned black women. But I’m on a mission for my kids to be aware of these attitudes (so they don’t end up as the surrogate-white-woman or surrogate-white-man for some similar ignoramus). It’s a legitimate fear, although it’s crappy to have to look forward to “warning” one’s kids away from folks like him, who you presume will be breeding for lightness.

Finally, the other thing my husband and I started when my kids were small was that we stopped using “black” and “white” labels in our speech. Completely. We use characteristics like personality, height, hair texture, and actual skin COLOR to describe everybody. So the knucklehead in the clip would be the tall, brown guy with tight curly hair and a neck tattoo…the second woman in the video would be the bubbly brown girl with the woolly, chin-length hair, and the blonde woman would be the blonde woman with the curly hair and greenish eyes. You’d be surprised how few judgements and back-handed compliments come about when you talk about PEOPLE like people, and refuse to adopt US media shorthand.

Shakti August 25, 2012 - 9:02 AM

I actually cried while watching this. I felt so bad for the girls who were called out for their skin colour and the young girls who was brainwashed to believe that light is beautiful and dark is disgusting.

My skin colour actually ranges from the second of Beyonce to the first picture of Beyonce (depending on what time of year it is, summer or winter, though lately, I don’t get that tan :/ ).

I’m not Afro-American, I’m Afro-Carribean (from Curacao) and the vast majority of Afro-Carribeans are very mixed, so skin colours vary from person to person (I noticed this with my mother and her siblings. One of my aunts has brown hair and is really light skinned, almost cacausian looking and my uncle is quite a bit darker). We, as a people, are so tightly knit together (maybe because we do have our own language) that you rarely hear anyone making fun of another person’s skin colour.

However, people, usually cacausians, always call me out on my skin colour and hair and I don’t think they know how offensive and hurtful it can be. “Oh I thought you’d be darker because you’re from so-and-so.” “You’re pretty light for a black girl.” “You’re almost as white as me.” “Oh, I didn’t know you were black. You’re so light!” I’ve even been called a ‘white nigger’ and called ‘whitey’. I’ve sat in my room crying and wishing I had darker skin. Isn’t that ridiculous?

But this summer I went to Hong Kong on vacation and they praised me for my skin colour and called me beautiful. I’d never been called beautiful before for having ‘light skin’ (yes I know that in Asia they prefer lighter skin, but I didn’t think they’d say that to me). It was a weird experience. Here I was trying to get a tan, and here they were praising me for not having a tan while walking around with umbrellas; shading themselves from the sun.

I usually straighten my hair with flat irons because I have a lot of hair and in the summer it gets really warm when I have my hair curly and I don’t like that. But that doesn’t mean I don’t ever leave my hair curly (I think it looks good either way. Curly just requires more attention and I’m lazy). So then I get the hair questions: “Is that your natural hair?” “Does your hair turn into an afro?” “Where did you get your weave/ extensions done?” “Do you have a weave?”

No, my hair doesn’t turn into an afro. I really used to envy people whose hair could. Yes this is my hair. It grows out of my head. And just because I’m a person of colour doesn’t automatically mean I have a weave or extensions. I’ve never worn a weave or extensions and I never will.

I love my hair. I love my skin colour and the fact that other people always need to point out that I’m lighter than what they imagined or that I’m ‘not black enough’ is really annoying.

Why can’t we just accept that not everybody has the same damn skin colour or hair structure or body even. Why is that so hard for people to accept?

Young One September 19, 2012 - 2:08 PM

This video made me sad. It made me sad that within our black community this is such an issue. Sad that within our American community this is such an issue.

Being the child of what some would consider a rather dark African-American father and Filipino mother, I fall somewhere in between skin tone wise…but from a rather young age, I understood and was told that society would always see me as black…I got that..so no surprise there…I went to predominately white schools most of my life.

Growing up I had a mother who tanned often when I was young, so I thought nothing of getting darker while in the sun, to this day I still love basking in the sun and feel pale in the winter.

Then time for college came…The first university I went to was a historically black university. It really surprised me that shades of skin tone was a real issue in our black communities…instead of uniting, it was a factor some used for separating others…it made me sad then, and it still makes me sad today to see things like this.

All I can do is hope that we as people can learn to be more accepting of ourselves and others.

Bri October 17, 2012 - 2:43 AM

I’m 18 years old and I am a dark skinned chubby girl. I’ve been called names and teased to the point to where I expect it. People have theories and ideas as to why we can’t just ignore it. But how can we? The media projects all light skinned as being beautiful. What about the dark skin girls where the light skin comes from? It sickens me when dark skin black boys tease girls who are their color, to hear people say I’m not black I’m a Red bone, or yellow or just brown. Everything except black. One disease later, I was recently diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, 30lbs lighter I’m starting to get confidence. No guys don’t flirt with me, I’m still shy. But everyday I think about what black people have accomplished in history. Not red bones, yellow, brown. But the black race, I’m proud of my dark skin,
proud to say I’m black. Even though our media won’t encourage us, just look at our history. It’s all there.

LadyAries November 26, 2012 - 2:17 PM

I am a dark skin woman & I see most of my older family members get stuck on color ( women & men). Back it the days when they was growing up lighter skin people was praised because they were close to white people. The only reason why people from our race feel like this is because of the history behind it. We have a very unique race with a variety of shades & hair texture; no race on earth shares our hair texture. We’re different & back in the days that was considered wrong. Instead of them mingling they chose those that was closer to them ( to be in the spotlight & etc). Black people as a race knows this so they praised what the white people like as well. Its poison for black people to believe that lighter is better because another race wants you to believe that. In all reality we all know that we come in a variety of shades & thats normal. When you have kids you don’t know what shade of color they are going to come in ( its out of your control…my son does not look like my son even though his dad & myself are the same in shade). We need to stop accepting with the other race s telling us. This is 2012 we have choices on how we want to live life & what we believe in. The thorn they put in our different shades of our race is a trick to break us apart. We need to stick together to get ahead. Hands down you automatically get stereotyped no matter the shade ( negative or positive). We cannot continue to raise our kids to believe such ignorance. Whats is so wrong with color? Nothing. Its who you are & be proud of it… I llloooovvvee my chocolate skin & natural hair ( I feel exotic, when you flip the channels & look in the magazines you see the same race of people every where …boring) there so many advantages. Everybody around me are aging & I still look the same like I did in highschool ( I’m 28). I can’t recall any racism for being black except for the ignorant race that started this mess ( which I never paid them any mind because they’ve always acted stupid to me). Anyways, I see beauty when I see the black race & color in general ( no matter the nationality..I’ve NEVER been prejudiced). Its up to us to praise our own beauty naturally & to love each other. Our kids are our future. No more jim crow poison in our communities. When it comes to our spotlight we need to show our variety of beautiful shades. Lets keep it real…its black people supporting other black people when it comes to the entertainment industry. Black children,women & men are beautiful & don’t let nobody else rain down on your parade. BE PROUD OF YOU ARE! God Bless everybody & much love. I apologizing for this being so long…. 🙂

littlegirl December 24, 2012 - 12:20 AM

im dark skin. my aunt call me blackie and also she call me beautiful. i got three cousin who i live with one is light skin, one med. and one is between med. and dark she not dark but almost there. my aunt will say im so beautiful. i got long hair my hair is laying on my shoulder. my three cousin hair is not long like me their hair is short and med. their three are beautiful. at school this boy said you are beautiful but you dark he compared me to a light skin girl who he said she was ugly. he said he would date her not me because im dark skin.

Monique February 19, 2013 - 7:14 AM

I’m am not a black girl but I am a dark skinned girl (Hispanic) and this hit very close to home for me. When I was little my uncle would jokingly call me monkey. I also remember being called blackie or darky. When my sister was born she was very pale and I remember my mom’s friend saying how beautiful she was because of her lightness. This resulted in very low self esteem growing up. I hated my skin. It was usually my own race that would say things like “your pretty for a dark girl” I have been indirectly insulted by white people as well. Years later I became comfortable in my own skin and realize I should not base my beauty on pop culture society’s views. I am a different and its those differences that make me beautiful.

Jessica March 29, 2013 - 1:40 AM

For me this is not a moment of enlightenment, but more like listening to a bad mix tape on repeat. I’m a dark skin woman and have dealt with all the issues that most darker complected women go through in this country. Going to a cosmetics store to find over half the products can’t make a shade as dark as you, but you can buy some lipstick. Trying to find hair products when your not in the inner city. Most black women are used to these different situations that make us feel excluded, because American society is geared towards white America. That’s somewhat understandable because people have a natural inclination to lean towards what they identify with.
It’s difficult for me to understand how a collective group of people who are ALL identified as being black, no matter what complexion they are in America can stand to make its own feel so ostracized and neglected.

This color issue is something that mainly exist inside the black community. White America isn’t responsible for pushing this stereotype of everything being lighter. It’s the black community, and they are just giving black people what they ask for, so they can keep making money. I’ve had a few people who weren’t of color ask me “Why do black people hate each other so much because of skin complexion, IF YOU ASK ME YOUR ALL BLACK.” That was when I understood the real problem we face. Failing to see that no matter our complexion we are a uniform whole, has created a society of people disengaged and lost. Instead of trying to become more culturally aware, we prefer to indulge in media geared towards us that perpetuates those stereotypes. The reason the media is feeding this to us is because from what the rest of America can see it seems that we are a race of people who love to over indulge in creating an environment for self hatred and degradation. This is something we keep allowing to go on and be prevalent by indulging in most hip hop, where the complexion of a woman is about as important as her having a gigantic booty. If she isn’t close to passing for biracial or have something sitting on her back that could act as a temporary end table she’s undesirable. These are the messages that urban black culture put out there and its hard to notice these things when your a victim of it.
My family never made me or let me be a victim of that garbage. Since I was a child and even now at 25, my mother allows no one to call me dark skin or even comment about my skin complexion. Being one of a few dark skin people in my family, it was noticeable that I was darker, but never acknowledged. We weren’t allowed to talk about color nor tell racist jokes, or indulge in anything that was perpetuating hatred of your fellow black Americans. My home growing up was a sanctuary, that allowed me to be able to build a strong self worth. By the time I begin to hear the dark comments, I had already been warned to stay away from these people. I remember my grandmother telling me that black people who said things to make you feel bad about your complexion were the equivalent of a clans man trying to burn your house. This metaphor is a perfect description of the people who keep making this issue prevalent. Even though no one was ever able to burn my self esteem down, a fire started a time or two. A strong foundation kept me from falling into that trap, but mainly taught me how to endure people with intentions on diminishing my value to myself and the world without falling apart and losing myself.

Erika Nicole Kendall March 30, 2013 - 7:55 PM

“White America isn’t responsible for pushing this stereotype of everything being lighter.”

I’m pretty sure that it’s often executives at major firms – NOT artists or models who are peons in comparison – who are shutting out imagery of darker women in major media.

Y’all gotta stop with this self-hatred. This assumption that Black America is leading the charge of praising fairness of darkness – instead of being the same kind of pawn as YOU in a much larger game – only buys into this myth that we are inherently flawed BECAUSE of our experiences with Blackness.

I’m sure there’s a reason why L’oreal and Pepsi lightened the shit out of Beyonce’s skin for their respective marketing campaigns, and I’m also equally certain that it had VERY little to do with what 12% of the population – read: Black America – thinks.

Black folks – just like white folks, brown folks and every other ethnicity/nationality/whatever – bought into the same myths about racial hierarchy because it is considered a requirement for assimilation. There’s nothing specific to Blackness about it, no matter how much it may feel like otherwise.

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