The first time I became aware of the issue of colorism was during the controversial casting of Aurora Perrineau for the live-action film adaptation of Jem and The Holograms. Having never personally experienced colorism, I didn’t know this was the root of the indignation behind the casting until Zendaya Coleman was cast as Aaliyah for the Lifetime biopic.
When I heard about both of these events, I thought “Neither of these women look like the person are supposed to portray.” I shook my head, but I wasn’t mad like everyone else. I wasn’t mad because I didn’t fully understand the impact of colorism yet. Then, I read an article about the idea that bi-racial and mixed raced women are erasing black women in Hollywood. This time, I was mad.
The main reason I was mad was because I am a bi-racial Black and Asian young woman being informed that I’m not black enough. The other reason I was mad was that I felt lost about the issue of colorism. By now, I had figured out that this issue stems from slavery, but I still didn’t understand why mixed raced people were being blamed for it.
This past fall, I started to understand the impact of colorism a little more through a college course I was taking called Global Contexts. A particular section of the course focused on India and the impact of globalization on the country. As it turns out, colorism was one of the more negative impacts. In India, skin lightening creams are recommended by celebrities and everyday people to enforce the value of light skin.
At this point, the only thing missing from my understanding of colorism was the personal impact on dark skinned and light skinned women, particularly black women. After I saw the backlash for the recent casting of Storm for the upcoming film X-Men: Apocalypse, I came across an article that led me to the documentary Dark Girls.
Meanwhile, Light Girls, the sequel to Dark Girls, was recently released to the public. As a result, I decided to watch both documentaries in one sitting on YouTube. I found Dark Girls a painful, intelligent, and startling account of colorism’s impact on dark-skinned black women. While Light Girls was also painful, I also took some of it less seriously due to some flaws.
With Dark Girls, I was shocked to discover that as a woman with golden-brown skin, I had privilege that darker skinned women didn’t. Since I am closer to the European standard of beauty, I am more likely to be approved by the public. However, that didn’t mean that I didn’t want dark-skinned women to feel beautiful and loved and be treated fairly.
Neither light-skinned nor dark-skinned women were portrayed fairly in Light Girls. Even though light girls told their personal stories of colorism, few of them acknowledged their privilege. In addition, some of the men of the film expressed statements that enforced colorism as well as sexism. A final flaw of the film that I disliked was how darker skinned women were considered jealous and confrontational.
In my opinion, Dark Girls opened the door for discussion about colorism and Light Girls slammed it shut. Based on the YouTube comments and commentary I’ve read online, some people think that life is greener on the other side for bi-racial and mixed raced women. I won’t deny that is true when it comes to privilege, but I will deny it when it comes to happiness and self-confidence.
In spite of my privilege, I hated myself in high school because I was bullied by other black kids for being a female nerd of color. I got called “ugly” and “retard” for three years because I didn’t act black enough. Since I couldn’t see any female nerds of color in the media, I felt out of place and that it was wrong to be myself. This self-hatred would not be resolved until I discovered Black Girl Nerds last year.
To dismiss anyone’s personal experience or identity is to deny them their freedom and humanity. Even if society considers certain types of people worthless, it doesn’t mean that the public has to do the same. Instead of waiting for Hollywood to have true diversity, the public can create roles and spaces for women of all shades.
An example of this DIY method comes from Maya Glick, a brown skinned woman who admires Storm. During the past year, she has been creating her own fan film about Storm called RAIN. A more recent example is the “Queens of Africa Dolls” from Nigeria that is currently outselling Barbie dolls. Even if you don’t have the money to create or support something, you can still spread the word about it.
Whether you are light-skinned or dark skinned, everyone deserves to feel like they matter. In order to resolve this colorism schism in the United States and elsewhere, we must acknowledge everyone’s skin and identity, create more roles and spaces for those left out, and give all the support we can.