“Light Girls” And Why Black Men Also Need To Be Honest About Their Own Issues With Self-Hatred

January 22, 2015  |  


While watching the documentary, Light Girls, I was not at all surprised to find that India Arie, best known for the self-affirming tune “I Am Not My Hair,” delivered what had to be the most insightful commentary in the entire film:

“I think the bottom line of everything, when we talk about healing this colorism issue around the world, is that it starts with healing yourself.”

Amen, sister. And honestly, I really wish that Bill Duke would have heeded this sage wisdom before producing both Dark Girls and Light Girls, as well as broaching the topic of colorism in general.

I’ve written a lot on the issue of colorism, and I wholeheartedly believe that it is a topic worthy of discussion. As a brown skin child who grew up with a grandmother who would make me pinch my nose so that it wouldn’t look so – for lack of a better word – Black, I realize how deeply ingrained our issues with our skin and features are in the community. And as a brown skin woman who once had a pre-teen neighbor try to convince me that her dark skin was actually a mirage brought on by the bright August sun, and that she was actually, in fact, light skinned on the inside, I also realize that the next generation of Black folks still internalize many of these same ideas of inferiority.

These conversations are never easy, however, if we are ever going to get past hating ourselves, these tough conversations have to happen. And for what it’s worth, Bill Dukes’ films have provided a platform for Black women to share compelling and often painful first-person accounts on the effects of colorism. For that, I applaud his effort. With that being said, colorism isn’t, nor has it ever been, a women-only issue.

This was made abundantly clear during Light Girls when several male “experts” tried to explain what’s wrong with us. Like the part when Dr. Gabriel Crenshaw decided to break out the quasi-science books to “explain” how Black women have been damaged in the brain on a cellular level by colorism, in some cases beyond repair. And then there was famed magnet school educator Dr. Steve Perry, who filled us in on how colorism, combined with the normal hysteria that all young girls go through, has supposedly turned middle school girls into vicious little monsters. And then there was producer Dallas Austin, who told us about the “dark skin attitude” and why it has pushed many of his friends into the arms of both light-skinned and white women. And then there were the young men at a card table, laughing and high-fiving each other as they compared light-skinned Black women to shiny red cars on car lots. And then there was Wayne Brady…

Let me say this again, and this time, in all caps: WAYNE BRADY.

Now, I’m not trying to be funny here, because I’m honestly a fan of Wayne Brady. And I believe that folks can love whoever the hell they want to love. But when was the last time anyone has seen Wayne Brady interact with a Black woman who wasn’t his mother, an on-screen partner or a contestant on “Let’s Make A Deal”? Matter of fact, when was the last time he wasn’t on television, overcompensating in his blackness because of that single Paul Mooney joke from “Chappelle’s show”? Yet in spite of his lack of familiarity, somehow was considered an expert on Black women and self-esteem issues. And folks don’t believe Black male privilege exists…

What I’m saying is that there was a lot of concern trolling happening in this documentary. And at times, it felt very paternalistic and objectifying. While women featured in the film shared their personal and often painful stories about colorism, it was the male expert’s job to remain calm and detached from the issue while they “mansplained” these women’s tears in clear, rational terms. There were scant moments here and there when the brothers acknowledged (sometimes callously) their roles in perpetuating the Light Skin/Dark Skin wars. But never in the documentary did they count themselves as part of the solution to the issue. Instead, the concerned male experts regurgitated tired clichés about the need for Black women to love themselves and treat each other, regardless of hue, like sisters.

On the surface it’s not a bad idea: Black women do need to love ourselves regardless of our varying hues. But the exclusion of Black men from any real discussion about colorism once again places the burden of fixing it for the entire community, on the backs of Black women. Colorism is not just our issue. And if the brothers really care about the health and well-being of our community, they are going to have to take a hard and emotional look at themselves in the mirror and address their own internalized hatred. I’m talking about the kind of deep examination that makes them think really hard about why they equate white women with success; And even when they are not obsessed with white women, why many of their love interests and the little girls playing their children in music videos, songs, literature, films and television shows look damn near white; And why so many Black men have a problem with the likes of Drake and equate light-skinned men with “softness” in general; And in spite of the perception that colorism is only a dark/light girls issue, why Sammy Sosa and Vybz Kartel both bleached their skin.

And more curiously, why are so many Black men obsessed with deep waves? Yeah, that’s right: I’m calling out all the guys frontin’ like they have “good” hair, knowing damn well they pile all sorts of pomades, oil treatments, texturizers and other gunk in their hair to help “define” their curls. And let’s not forget the dudes who spend all day running a soft bristle brush over their heads until the unnatural waves appear. These are the same dudes who won’t go to sleep without a wave cap on their heads, yet they have the nerve to laugh at Black women in headscarves.

The point I’m making here is that men have issues with their skin, hair texture and other African features just like women do. And whether you call it protective styling or trying to look like Caesar, it’s all based in the same color-obsessed pathology.

In a previous interview with Duke, he spoke to me briefly about how he didn’t get to go to his senior prom in high school, and he was certain that it was because of his dark skin. A discussion on how that made him feel, as well as how it shaped who he is as an adult (even on a cellular level), is a documentary I would have loved to see. Instead, we were given another project where the brothers, once again, talk about what they feel is wrong with us. And while this tactic might work for shielding their personal egos, if the brothers are truly concerned about “healing” the community, it is time that they man up, start being honest about their sh*t and stop hiding emotionally behind what the girls supposedly do.

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