Sunday night’s airing of “Dark Girls” on OWN drew a lot of differing responses, from women who could completely identify with the individuals highlighted in the documentary, to others who were grateful they couldn’t relate at all. Yesterday we pointed out what we thought was missing from the film, which was the experience of darker skinned women who never had issues with their complexion and actress Tika Sumpter has filled that gap with an essay she wrote in the Daily Beast in response to the film.
Tika begins her piece highlighting her brown-skinned experience in childhood, saying:
One of my favorite childhood memories is of listening to my mother describe the look on my father’s face the day I was born. Whenever my mother shares this story, she somehow manages to re-create it with images so vivid, I can simply close my eyes and feel as if I were still there cuddled in her arms.
It’s important to understand that I was born into a family with seven children, each of us equipped with varying personalities, dispositions, and, yes, skin tones as well. My mom has the most beautiful café au lait complexion, which she shares with my two older sisters and older brother. My three younger siblings have skin tones that range from caramel to a golden bronze.
And then there’s me.
My mother says that when my father, a striking man with kind eyes, broad shoulders, and deep ebony-brown skin, first saw me in the hospital that day, his eyes lit up brightly as he promptly proclaimed, “She has my color. She looks like me!”
The actress then goes on to relate that upbringing to the women featured in “Dark Girls” and what her experience as a dark skinned woman in Hollywood has been.
I was recently reminded of my childhood as I watched the amazing documentary Dark Girls. My heart broke just listening to the stories of so many young girls with brown skin traumatized by the cruel and hurtful views of those around them. I experienced that same emotion when I began my role as Raina Thorpe on the popular CW show Gossip Girl a few years back. I was truly unprepared for the tremendous impact I’d have while on that show. Each week I’d get the tons of letters from mothers, grandmothers, and young girls literally thanking me for simply existing. They wrote me saying they’d never seen a woman that looked like me on television before. Which really meant they’d never seen anyone that looked like them before. And it got much deeper than that. Some fans even remarked that they’d never witnessed any woman with my skin color speak the way I spoke, have a successful career the way I had on that show, or carry themselves in such a ladylike manner. Translation: in the very make-believe land of television and movies, women with darker skin aren’t smart enough to speak proper English or capable enough to be employed with a six-figure salary. And we most certainly can’t be ladylike. What complete nonsense!
Of course I did experienced my share of hurtful reactions to my skin color, but thankfully only after I was an adult. Who hasn’t heard the obligatory, “You’re pretty for a dark-skin girl”? Or my personal favorite, “I usually don’t date dark-skin women, but you’re so beautiful.” That one really warms the heart. But in reality, the most disturbing aspect of all of this is that those comments were most often made by men with exactly the same skin tone as my own.
Still, I always knew there were far too many other people who saw my beauty and embraced every part of me with open arms to think twice about what was said. It hurts me to know that so many young girls today are growing up without that same realization and reassurance. I also regret that so many are forced to seek their self-worth between the pages of mainstream magazines or in the background of a rap music video. I’d like to think that seeing someone like me on their televisions every week gives them some hope that things are changing slowly but surely. Finally, every day I’m thankful that I didn’t have to endure the pain that I know so many women do on a regular basis as a result of the color of their skin. My heart goes out to them all. And every day I’m even more thankful for a mother who was always there for me and a father (now deceased) whose first reaction to me on the day I was born paved my path to real self-love.
Check out more of her of Tika’s essay on TheDailyBeast.com. What do you think?