On Sunday, January 18, just before MLK Day, OWN aired the documentary Light Girls. The film is a follow-up to the documentary Dark Girls, which toured the indie film circuit a couple of years ago. I attended a special luncheon in 2012 where I had the opportunity to interview D. Channsin Berry, one of the directors/producers of Dark Girls, and during that interview he mentioned that he and producer Bill Duke had started interviewing women for what would become Light Girls. At the time, they were considering calling the documentary The Yellow Brick Road or something to that effect.
My thoughts and feelings about Light Girls are much more brief than my response to Dark Girls. I should start by mentioning that I did not realize I was light-skinned until I was 7 or 8 years old. Kids at school told me I was different. Before then, I honestly thought that brown is just brown. What I appreciated most about Light Girls, is that it allowed lighter skinned women to voice the hurt that we are often afraid to voice. I have been in plenty of conversations where darker-skinned black people have made snide comments about light-skinned people, and have felt guilted into just staying silent, because I was afraid to be labeled a stereotypical light-skinned girl. I didn’t want to be called stuck up, told that I thought I was better than everyone else, and accused of acting like a white girl. I would be a millionaire if I had a dollar for every time I have been called all of those things by unenlightened, self-hating people who don’t know that their words have weight because of their own oppression.
This is not to discount that there are privileges that come with having light skin, such as being more readily accepted by white people (but not as accepted as white girls, Asians, or Latinas) or having men find me attractive (but not as attractive as white girls, Asians, or Latinas).
However, in the African American community it is presumed that it can’t be difficult to be a light-skinned woman, because the rappers prefer us and the cosmetics companies put us in their ads. But, there is a price that comes with being fetishized, which is very different from being desired. There was a young woman in a documentary who spoke about having a bottle thrown at her by men cat-calling her. That has happened to me! And then a more painful revelation from a woman who spoke about being sexually abused by grown men because of her light skin.
The documentary also examined the act of passing for white. Let me just say that passing was not a privilege. What kind of privilege forces you to deny your family? It’s kind of like the house ni**** versus field ni**** argument. It’s still slavery.
I am uninterested in comparing suffering. I find it useless. Our struggles may be different, but not greater than or less than. This is not a proper measure. I don’t think that any system that gives one group privilege for oppressing another can give anyone a leg up or an advantage. Especially when neither of those groups of people are a part of the alpha group. Anything that inflicts psychological, emotional, physical, long term pain on an entire race of people is terrible, and our resources would be better spent uniting to lift each other up than compare degrees of suffering. I empathize and sympathize with my darker skinned brothers and sisters for their struggle, but I am not interested in comparing who suffered more because we have all suffered.