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The documentary “Dark Girls” premiered last night on OWN, Oprah’s network. “Dark Girls” focuses on colorism, the idea that darker people of color are often discriminated against within and outside their own community. The age of social media which essentially encourages live tweeting allowed people all across the color spectrum to voice their opinions. While I noticed many darker girls expressing their very valid frustrations, I also noticed something that was very troubling among light skinned women, as well as men of all colors. I came across tweets that were attacking dark skinned girls for having low self esteem, for blowing the situation out of proportion, that we’re all black anyway so it doesn’t matter, and when it comes to romantic relationships, choosing to date someone lighter is out of preference, not prejudice.
If you are not a dark skinned women, you do not get to dismiss the experiences of dark skinned women. Period. As someone who understands that there is a certain privilege that comes from being light skinned, my job is not to derail the conversation and make it about myself. My job is to listen to the frustration that my dark skinned people of color face and work hard to make sure I am not being complicit in the oppression of others. Examining privilege is an uncomfortable, but necessary process. As someone with a lighter complexion, I understand that the beauty standards within my community are skewed to value people who look like me. Lighter people of color are often associated, subconsciously or consciously, with whiteness, thus being given more access and credibility in certain institutions. I know that I will be given more favor in jobs and social situation as opposed to my darker skinned counterparts. The legacies of imperialism run deep.
It is not the job of light skinned people to run rampant with these privileges, bask in them, and cut down dark skinned people of color. It is the job of lighter people of color to challenge their own oppressive ideas and opinions. It is your job not to erase the experiences and problems that dark skinned people face. Whether you are cooing over a lighter skin child in your family or refusing to date people of a certain complexion, it is important to understand how your privilege allows you to uphold harmful beauty standards and perpetuate colonialist thinking. Even within romantic relationships, a preference for light skinned women is internalized racism. It is prejudice and it is harmful and hurtful. Whether inside or outside communities of color, the exoctification of people of color allows racism to go unchecked based on preference and it needs to be stopped. Imperialist legacies create Eurocentric caricatures of beauty instead of critiquing our internalized racism and rejection of images that celebrate the diversity of blackness and browness.
As Junot Diaz said, “We are never gonna get anywhere as long as our economies of attraction continue to resemble white supremacy.” While we need to always question the complex power structures that continue to uphold light skin because of its proximity to whiteness, we also need to have accountability in our own communities of color about why and how we are complicit in the oppression of our darker brothers and sisters.