This month a new documentary called Dark Girls will make its debut at film festivals. Made by Bill Duke and D Channsin Berry, two black American males, the film is about shadeism in the black community and how it affects black women in particular.
By now you should know how we here at I Rise feel about shadeism we’ve ranted about it enough. But Dark Girls takes a different angle. Rather than belittling the offenders of bias, the documentary shows women being allowed to tell their own stories in a manner that sends a definite message about how ridiculous, painful and historically oppressive our stubborn views of skin colour and beauty can be.
The film features a number of black women explaining how negative attitudes towards dark skin within the black community itself have damaged their self-esteem. The interviews are emotional. Even as they talk, the memories are so painful that some of the women are in tears.
They recollect how even loving mothers would remark on their dark skin. Women explained how as children they felt less lovable, less acceptable because they were dark. One woman describes how she begged her mother to put bleach in her bathwater in order to whiten her skin. Another said how as a child she used to hope that she would wake up lighter. Others said that they hoped that their own children would not be dark like them.
The film also features a clip from a 2010 pilot study in which schoolchildren were asked to select from pictures of dolls ranging from light to dark. The researcher asks a five-year-old black girl to show her the smart child. The girl points to the image of the lightest child. She does the same when the researcher asks her to pick the good-looking child. Her reasons are “because she’s white” and “because she’s light-skinned”.
This documentary will spark recognition, if not a twinge of guilt, in most black people. Because “shadeism” is so common in the black community it is rarely discussed. Light-skinned children can be particularly doted on as “good”, or European-looking hair is prized. And whilst there will always be the individual light-skinned man who has a passion for darker women, generally speaking, “marrying up” for a black man involves marrying a lighter-skinned woman.