“If you love yourself, don’t watch Light Girls.”
This is what I told a dear friend of mine after watching the documentary. The film was a sequel to Dark Girls, a documentary about colorism in the African American community. Light Girls was supposed to show the other side of the coin and share the views of women that society labels as “light-skinned.” Instead, it turned into a living rendition of light skin vs. dark skin battles paralleling the epic scenes from, School Daze. Why the disdain? There isn’t enough time to cover everything but here are my top sources of contention with Light Girls.
1. The Denial of Light Skin Privilege
Light Girls perpetuated the stereotype that dark-skinned girls are jealous, angry, and violent. Rarely was there any nuanced or guided discourse behind light skin privilege. In fact, the topic was carefully avoided. If not for Soledad O’Brien’s brief acknowledgment that her color helped her career, one would think that light skin privilege is a figment of evil dark-skinned imagination.
This is mostly because a discussion surrounding white privilege was painfully absent from most commentary. Light skin privilege exists as a subsidiary of white privilege. This is not a concept made up out of simple jealously. We cannot discuss one without the other. Light skin privilege is when people with skin color closer to what is associated with phenotypically “white features” are granted certain privileges relative to superiority over darker-skinned people.
Consequently, light-skinned women get lighter jail sentences, are more likely to get hired for a job, and are even disciplined differently as children. These are just a few examples backed up by data.
Understand that acknowledging light skin privilege is not about finger-pointing. It’s about understanding racial hierarchies determined by structures of white superiority and the role that it plays in Black lives.
If we deny the existence of light-skin privilege, we deny the existence of white privilege.
2. Black Men are not the gatekeepers of Black women’s value
The documentary spent an agonizing amount of time featuring the scattered thoughts of random Black men as if Black male scholars were unavailable. Dr. Steve Perry was very much alone in his contribution to the discussion. There were so many cringeworthy moments where men discussed their color “preferences” like a bunch of drooling 8th graders. I thought to myself, “Are we in middle school?” Along this line, the film completely ignored the possibility of Black women in same-sex relationships. The film placed the value of Black women on the heterosexual, patriarchal male gaze. One commentator even exalted the faulty belief that dark-skinned Black women are better than light-skinned women because they will do more for you. This type of unchallenged thinking reaffirms stereotypes of darker-skinned Black women being built for work and lighter-skinned women existing solely for the purpose of being a trophy.
3. The assertion that light-skinned girls are molested or raped more than dark-skinned girls is disturbing
Two commentators in the film recalled being molested and raped. One of them even boldly stated that light-skinned girls are a prime choice for pedophiles. My mouth dropped open. “Is this really happening?” The film just continued onto the next topic.
To leave such an assertion unchallenged or glossed over is grossly irresponsible. Not to discredit her personal experiences, but that assertion deserved a very nuanced follow-up discussion. No way should this have been included without expert analysis. It was cruel and damaging to the film participants and the audience.
Yes, pedophiles have varying preferences. They often take advantage of the more vulnerable segments of society. Yes, light-skinned girls get raped, molested, and sexually trafficked. However, because dark-skinned girls are often less championed for, dark skin is often a determinate in sexual abuse and sex trafficking.
Society’s refusal to protect dark-skinned girls is what lead to Toni Morrison’s decision to create the character, Pecola Breedlove. Pecola who was both sexually abused and ignored, continually prayed for blue eyes believing it would be a type of salvation from the societal ills associated with her dark-skinned Black identity. This is not a contest on who is sexually abused more.
This is more about understanding the power dynamics of sexual abuse and how it intersects within racial hierarchies. It deserved a fuller conversation.
4. Who are these people?
Apparently, every person with an agent made it into this film except the leading scholar on the one-drop rule, Yaba Blay. It was as if they carefully avoided her input. And it showed. She was featured on Soledad O’Brien’s Who Is Black In America. You can learn more about Yaba Blay’s work here.
Light Girls turned out to be a mess of a documentary because it was filled with commentary from a slew of third-tier comedians and entertainers. Additionally, the film included remarks from pseudo doctor Farrah Gray. Of course, there were also a few notable scholars and commentators. Michaela Angela Davis, Goldie Taylor, Jamilah Lemieux, and Soledad O’Brien were among the slim pickings of truthful and knowledgeable commentary. Yet, by the end of the film, many of them were also tweeting disgust concerning what the film had become. I’m still baffled by Raven Symone’s appearance as well, considering her ideas on “colorless” as an identity.
5. It’s not about jealousy
I shudder at the thought of having to say this but dark skin girls are not all lurking in the bushes waiting to ponce on the nearest light skinned person. This notion is ridiculous but was highly purported throughout the documentary. We’re not all crying in a corner somewhere filled with rage and jealousy. It reasserted the false narrative that all dark skinned girls are unwanted, hateful, mean and violent. The film made it look like we were all derivatives of the boogeyman.
Rarely did the documentary truthfully discuss playground wars and issues of Black children in general calling each other “too Black,” “ugly Africans,” or “high yellow” and using these learned internalized sentiments in hopes of feeling more superior to each other in the face of constant societal dehumanization.
It’s all a part of white supremacy and learned internalized racial hierarchies, not simplistic hatred or jealousy.
6. Sisterhood Does Exist
There are issues of colorism throughout our society. However, this belief that Black women in predetermined skin-tone categories are genetically predisposed to hate each other is down right preposterous. As I’ve written before, it’s important to remember that there is sisterhood among Black women that has historically been a source of safety and empowerment. It has thrived, even in the midst of racism and colorism. This sisterhood bond continues to be the salvation for many Black women in need of support and love.
7. Colorism cannot be changed through positive thinking
At one point “Dr.” Farrah Gray asserted that light skinned and dark skinned girls simply need to learn to get along and stop “blaming the white man.” Here goes the condescending, “You girls stop fighting,” speech. Other commentators docilely asserted we simply needed to think positive, look in the mirror and say, “I’m beautiful.” Then all will be healed. It reduced the entire subject to Black women being just silly or petty, which is not the case.
No pep talk in the world is going to cure colorism. The film put the onus of colorism on the literal and proverbial backs of dark skinned girls. As if to say colorism is a personal problem, not a real systematic lived experience. This teeters along the line of saying racism is simply an imagined Black problem that will go away if we just think happy thoughts and be New Black like Pharrell.
8. In conclusion
To be fair, the film had a few positives. For instance, at one point they tried to present a global perspective of colorism. This is helpful in highlighting the fact that colorism is not just a Black issue. The affects of slavery and colonization have been felt worldwide. Also, a film about how colorism affects light skinned girls is necessary and efforts of the film are appreciated. Still, the film did what most things in mainstream society do. Light Girls continued the devaluation of Black life by oversimplifying key issues and not providing a thorough analysis for deconstructing the core problems…structural racism and patriarchy.
Jessica Ann Mitchell is the founder of OurLegaci.com & BlackBloggersConnect.com.
To reach JAM, email her at JAMAiwuyor@gmail.com.
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47 thoughts on “Light Girls, When Documentaries Get It Wrong”
Light girls was just all kinds of crazy. I couldn’t believe that actually let it air like that it. It was awful. Just awful.
Excellent analysis. I think the producer of the documentary, Stephanie Frederic, just wanted to get her name out there and it showed as being hastily executed.
Many of the subjects might be biracial and they don’t realize that some people may see them benefitting from their parents racial privilege.
Privilege can also be denied and we don’t have to give it to anyone who thinks they’re entitled to it.
This great article was ruined by superimposed Feminist talking points (otherwise) it’s still a well written article.
Thank you! Your great comment was ruined by superimposed condescending patriarchal chauvinistic infantile talking points (otherwise) it was a great comment.
Instead of the documentary focusing on light skin priviliges or whatever garbage you wanted it to. There should be focus on positive interactions instead that same mess that seperates us. I’m light skin my father is also but my mother wife and daughter are richly hued. I hate saying beautifully dark skin as if dark is ugly. Yes your article is full of feminist boo boo any person that truly understands our people problems can view into your psyche and see it written out on this page. Your still boohooing about how dark girls have it tougher which does not help.
The irony is, I didn’t even say the word feminist in this article and yet you still recognized the feminist thunder. Winning!
His comment was not ruined and was an excellent one. We’re all entitled to our own opinions and views. He may not be the only one who noticed the direction of the article but still appreciate that you were right on.
Great insight and on point observations.
“Light Girls turned out to be a mess of a documentary because it was filled with commentary from a slew of third-tier comedians and entertainers. Additionally, the film included remarks from pseudo doctor Farrah Gray. Of course there were also a few notable scholars and commentators. Michaela Angela Davis, Goldie Taylor, Jamilah Lemieux, and Soledad O’Brien were among the slim pickings of truthful and knowledgeable commentary. Yet, by the end of the film, many of them were also tweeting disgust concerning what the film had become. I’m still baffled by Raven Symone’s appearance as well, considering her ideas on “colorless” as a identity.”
Great review Jessica! It’s like you read my minds.
The author of this article is offering a powerful word,p filled with clarity, diversity of opinion, and a call to action for women of the African Diaspora. The author doesn’t sugar coat the issues and she doesn’t make excuses for the ills that face society either, instead a discerning eye can clearly see the wellspring of hope and positive expectations the authors has for the sisterhood of color-full women WORLDWIDE. As a multi-racial, medium-skinned, American man and the uncle of a dark-skinned beautiful princess, I am very grateful to the equally beautiful dark skinned author for her article, and the fight she champions with the article, trying to bring better relating and larger social benefits to ALL women of color, today and for many days to come.
Sigh. Okay. How to put this in laymen’s terms with a dash of scientific reality. Until the true story of the myth of race and its associated valuation of depigmentation is told, this ridiculousness will continue. White skin is not a race, it is a condition of melanin suppression or deficiency. The most severe forms were leprosy, albinism, vitlligo and other sub-types of abnormalities. The milder forms are fair to light skin coloration or discoloration. Valuation of this condition evolved out the TransAtlantic Slave Trade to justify the rise in power and conquests of people who classified themselves as “white” over the “darker” populations who dominated the planet. This system of valuation was perpetuated in various branches of skin color variations, arising out of degrees of melanin. The myth of “race” was created to justify the domination of one group over another, predicated on greatest degree of phenotype distinction (white skin, and white features, hair, etc.). So called “white supremacy” lies at the heart of the biased system of color valuation. It is all based on complete falsehood. White skin and the conditions that create it are not superior. In the months and years ahead, as the sun ratchets up its solar activity and solar flares and CME’s become more intensified, that fact will become abundantly clear as skin cancers of all types, along with varied diseases associated with DNA damage are exacerbated. All those with melanin deficiencies will think of their light skin and features as anything but a blessing. Peace. Dr. Khelama
Many people don’t realize that Whiteness itself is a construction built on power dynamics. And the constructed myth of white supremacy along with institutionalized racism has lead to white privilege and consequently light privilege. A huge problem comes in when trying to discuss this topic because people automatically assume that by talking about light privilege, we’re automatically finger pointing at people that identity as or are labeled as light skinned.
Thus the need to expose the cracks in the foundation, or the house of lies will never be demolished. Cause versus effect. Symptoms versus disease. This is the challenge to melanin dominant people who are classified as “black”. To realize that all of the modalities (economics, culture, religion, art, sciences, politics, humanities, sex, “race”etc.) evolving out of the perception that white skin or melanin deficiency is superior and therefore worthy of special consideration and treatment, defined today as “privilege”, are based on fraud — willful and deliberate. Color classification and its scale of valuation (white, light, medium, dark, mulatto, multi-racial, etc.) evolved out of a global pathological ethos centered in the white supremacy myth, and its most powerful vector — the slave trade. When black (melanin dominant) people were assigned value based on “percentage” of “white blood” and resulting “light” features. This valuation and resulting social strata , which could mean the difference between survival and destruction, and quality of life, shaped the perceptions of black people in the Diaspora and Africa. We today, experiencing the residual effects are still viewing these realities through the lens of assumed white supremacy based on the power dynamics mentioned. So long as we are seeing this issue from the hunter’s vantage point, the lion’s tale will never be told. Peace and blessings. Dr. Khelama
THERE IS absolutely NO SUCH THING AS A
(so-called) LIGHT-SKINNED BLACK person.
Wow! Best reply I’ve seen so far! Wonderful breakdown. Kudos!
Soledad O’Brien’s skin color + features + very white name have helped her career. I want to know what sort of light skin privilege is offered in the world–I have yet to experience any of it. I get followed through stores and racially profiled like every other black person I know.
Light skin privilege does not mean that people labeled as light skinned never experience adversity. It means that at times in this racial hierarchy Whiteness driven society, light skinned people are treated with less disdain than other Black people. That is both a historical and statistical fact specifically dealing with jobs and school. This is not about fingerprinting, but analysis. Yes, light privilege exists. No, that does not mean that all light skinned people live the good life on the east side with a deluxe apartment in the sky.
Very, very well written. I enjoy your clarity and thoughtful approach to the hard topics.
This is what everyone was discussing on twitter. I finally watched it and kept thinking to myself was where are the intelligent men in this film. The ones who understand where this preference comes from? The only thing I learned before I turned it off was that if I have a daughter regardless of the hue in her skintone, I will have to teach her the past and that if a man or woman loves you because only because you are a stereotype than you need to walk away. Its not love it being fetishized.
I have to disagree with a few of the above comments:
As a light skin black women, it’s an incorrect misnomer, to blanketly state that lighter black women receive privileges over a darker sister because of skin tone just on the basis of color alone. In my own personal experience, I’ve been passed over for jobs for darker Black women for a plethora of reasons and qualifications not being present in all circumstances. I wasn’t black enough depending on the job I was going for, or I was too ambitious and showed it, or sometimes if the hiring manager was black, white female, they perceived my skin color as a threat. Sometimes it is just about attractiveness in general. This blanket viewpoint that you have is part of the problem. People believe that I have not deserved or worked hard and therefore Only have received the award or position because of my color. This tactics has been used to pen black women against each other within corporate structure, to teach someone a lesson who may want to advance and without quid pro quo (because they believe that it will hurt the most), — plainly it is often used an attack tactic.
As a model, I’ve been told that I wasn’t Black enough for jobs. When encountering other darker black women on certain occasions, they carried with them this perception that I was somehow to be treated as an enemy because they perceived to have the same idea floating in their own minds that you have as listed above about my so called privilege. I’ve been ostracized by my community on numerous occasions and in America they only see me as black an object just like my darker sister. So please stop being so matter a fact. Your belief is incorrect, and dangerous, coming from someone who has lived the black American experience.
Other points about the show I can agree with — like the incest and rape claims – outrageous!
Your concerns are valid. However, it needs to be remembered that this issue isn’t about individual situations or circumstances. It isn’t about anybody’s assumptions or hurt feelings. This is about combating a sad fact about America. Race is an issue, specifically in reference to racial hierarchies. In the Western world “whiteness” has been used as a measuring stick for who deserves respect and adoration. Unfortunately, people of lighter hues have been treated with less “disdain” than other Black people. This is a historical fact, not an idea or assumption. It doesn’t mean that light skinned people never face racism or colorism. It should also be understood that part of “privilege” is having the ability to not “see” the problem, because it has become so normalized.
Right on, dear sister. The denial demonstrated in the responses is why the need to address the real issue. It is sidestepping the brain tumor to focus on the blurred vision, headaches, confusion, etc., arguing that an aspirin works better than a tylenol. It is how we dodge acknowledging the monster we know shouldn’t be standing right in front of us by talking about the weather instead. Epidemic or isolated cases, the disease is real and needs to be properly diagnosed, exposed and treated if this plague is ever to be eradicated. Dormant in some, active in others, the virus is always there, festering just beneath the surface. All it takes is the right stimulus for an epidemic to break out. As we are seeing in Ferguson, New York, Florida and elsewhere nationally. Because the real source of the problem has yet to be addressed. Peace.
I’d like to meet some of these light skinned women reaping privileges because of their tone. And also where these statistics you mention are found. Please send footnotes! Seriously, please. The fact that you as a dark skinned woman as intelligent as you are, have also been obviously hurt by experiences yourself, don’t get to classify lightness in a vacuum. There are many layers and aspects to blackness not even characterized by skin color. The thickness of the lips, the curl if the hair, the ethnicity of the name, the frame of the body all have an impact on jobs. In terms of schooling, I can’t imagine how skin tone would be a factor in getting in. Schools usually don’t see people before sending those acceptance letters and they certainly need to fulfill there black quotas so any shade would do. In fulfilling those quotas in corporate the darker hue is a plus, more of a validation in certain sectors of business. I’ve worked for over twenty years in various corporate structures and have seen this first hand. On Soledad Obrien, she could pass for white. Her features are questionable as other to a white culture structure, plus she has excellent credentials. She is deserving of her accolades. If she feels her look, notice I didn’t say skin color, has helped her then she is an exception. But know that if she did not have the credentials no amount of passing would help.
Nye, the article links to three scientific studies about this topic. Once again, this is not about assumption or making things up but solving problems.
THERE IS absolutely NO SUCH THING AS A
(so-called) LIGHT-SKINNED BLACK person.
It saddens me that being light skinned creates this assumption that I’m reaping bountiful privileges that dark skinned women don’t have. I get that dark skinned women deal with a different reality than me, but reject the idea that I’m privileged. I’m targeted, my blackness is questioned, I’m even ridiculed but I’ve never been given privileges for being light skinned. Being targeted for your skin color or lulled into passivity by compliments that are meant to demean your culture is not a privilege, it’s an unfair assumption about your character. That you would prefer to be more white than black. I respect the conversation that you want to have about this topic, but I feel that it too is flawed with some assumptions.
Renee, I understand your sentiments. However, the issue here is the word “privilege.” People assume that this word means you never face any strife or difficulty. No one is saying that here. It also isn’t an assumption about anyone’s character. It’s just a historical and statistical fact that people of lighter hues are treated more positively in the work place and beyond. This is a sad fact. But a fact none the less. I sincerely hope that people understand the concept of light skin privilege is not an indictment on light skinned people, but instead an indictment on how racial hierarchies operate in America. Challenging this issue, is necessary in order challenge the false concept of white supremacy.
Light skinned Black people are not classified in a separate racial category in America, therefore being placed in a separate racial hierarchy from a standpoint of superiority doesn’t apply. We are essentially fighting the same struggle against Blackness in all its form. Lighter skinned people are not the Other. By challenging White supremacy which is the root of the convoluted devaluation of Blackness in all its many forms and shades is only way to destroy the affects of colorism. What would focusing on lightskinned “privilege” accomplish? And to what end?
Note I am not discrediting the pain of Darker sisters, but we are all affected by this mess and sometimes the perceived benefits of being lighter are not exactly benefits at all.
Focusing on light skinned privilege is not about promoting infighting. It’s about peeling back the layers of how White supremacy works. And actually at one time light skin was it’s own racial category in America and it still is in many places around the world.
I appreciate your article. I’m curious as to what you believe a possible solution would be to rid America (of course this problem is bigger than America) of colorism once we all acknowledge that there is indeed light privilege and white privilege? You mentioned that positive thinking (self-help) won’t solve the problem, but what do you propose we do since we live in a white supremicist society? The only other option seems to be to construct our own society since this one was never meant to give the same rights to all people regardless of color.
Colorism would still exist in that society since the solution to the problem is not separation, but self-love, Pride, Awareness and self-help. The damage within the community is done, but without positive thinking and reversing the people’s mentality nothing will resolve this issue; because as you mentioned we live in a white supremacist society. All I hear and see is a lot of talk and complaining; but no plans on a solution.
Reblogged this on My Curls.
I didn’t realize how much colorism was a problem till #teamlightskin and #teamdarkskin started trending on social media. At first I though “this is just ridiculous” then I realized it was quite serious. About a week ago I was washing my hands after using the bathroom and the two guys beside me were vigorously commenting that dark skin guys didn’t wash their hands and light skin guys do. Except that by washing my hands, I had upset their assumption. So I agree that positive thinking won’t solve this problem of colorism. It has to be acknowledge, discussed and dealt with like other aspects or racial prejudice.
And the earlier commenters who were complaining about the feminist tones in the article seem to misunderstand what feminism is in the first place.
THERE IS absolutely NO SUCH THING AS A
(so-called) LIGHT-SKINNED BLACK person.
I watched Light Girls after Dark Girls. I was disappointed that both films didn’t really delve into the reason behind the Dark Skin vs. Light Skin issue. The reason is White Supremacy. How you can discuss this issue without fully addressing White Supremacy? This is where it is all coming from! The dark skin/light skin problem began during slavery. There was a false perception that light skinned slaves (‘House N—–s’) were better off than dark skinned slaves (‘Field N—–s’). Here’s the reality: They were all slaves. They were all in Hell. What difference does it make if one is in the House of Hell and one is in the Field of Hell? Both are in Hell! Slave owners quickly discovered how to exploit and keep this division. Slavery destroyed us psychologically. White Supremacy keeps the problem going by reinforcing and perpetuating the lie that light is better than dark. This cannot be blamed on us. We are a product of our environment.
As a light-skinned person, I did identify with some of women’s experiences. However, I think some of it was exaggerated. For example, all of my best friends have been dark skinned. Most dark skinned girls I’ve known weren’t mean to me or didn’t beat me up. There were a very few, in my life, who told me that I thought I was better than them because I was light-skinned and had ‘good hair.’ And they beat me up, LOL. However, even though, I was hurt by their behavior, I fully understood where they were coming from: a place of deep hurt. 24 hours a day, 7 seven days a week, dark skinned girls are told that they are not beautiful or desirable; they are inferior. I was blessed with parents who grounded me in Black history and taught me the enduring after-effects of slavery. How could I be angry with my sisters who were hurting?
The film made no mention of how some dark skinned girls place light skinned girls on a pedestal. I’m sure you’ve met these types. They are the counterparts of those Black men in the film who stated that they are only interested in light skinned girls. I’ve met a few of these types. They told me straight up that they were only interested because I had light skin and ‘good hair.’ In their minds, they thought they were paying me a compliment but in reality they were dehumanizing me. At the same time, they were demonstrating self-hatred and insecurity. I’m not interested in Black men who hate themselves and have a problem with my dark-skinned sisters.
I also didn’t like that the film barely touched on some of the horrible things light skinned girls have done to dark skinned girls. They barely touched on the brown paper bag lunacy but what about the Blue Vein Society or the fact that many of the HBCUs, at one time, only allowed light skinned Blacks on their campuses? Some light skinned girls really do believe that they are better than dark skinned girls. I’ve met some of them. One of them once called my dark skinned friend a ‘black monkey’ to her face. I wanted to slap her head clean off her shoulders. Instead, I told her that she better not ever call my sister that name again. Ever. My fellow light skinned sisters do need to own up to the fact that we do have privileges that our dark skinned sisters do not have. I remember going into a department store with one of my dark skinned friends. When we went up to the counter to pay for our items, the white sales clerk only looked at and spoke to me, not my dark skinned friend who was standing right next to me. It was like she was invisible. As a light skinned woman and based on what I’ve seen, I can say that light skinned Blacks are more tolerated (not necessarily liked) by the dominant society than our dark skinned brothers and sisters.
At the end of the day, when it comes to racists, we are all n—–s, regardless of our skin tone. Maybe that should put things in perspective.
So eloquently put…no one could have said it better.
Reblogged this on halimacandy215.
THERE IS absolutely NO SUCH THING AS A
(so-called) LIGHT-SKINNED BLACK person.
*shudder, not shutter and
*proverbial, not preverbal
Excellent essay, otherwise.
Thank you! I wrote this five years ago and no one caught it but you.