Whilst doing research for my previous blog post I came across trailer clips for a documentary that the OWN network (which is Oprah’s television network) would be premiering. The documentary is entitled Light Girls and the content that would be dealt with are the issues and problems light skinned women/girls face within the black community in America as well as the societies they live in.
This subject matter immediately intrigued me and I commenced to scour the interweb for a copy of this elusive documentary, which btw (by the way), had taken days to find. I was never more grateful and humbled when I found this mysterious documentary, and with all the excitement I could humanly contain in my body I sat down anxiously to watch the ‘holy grail’ of documentaries (Insert angelic voices here).
There was a sense of engulfing disappointment when the film concluded, I was totally baffled by some of the comments that were made as well more confused about colourism in America than ever before.True to the title of the documentary, historically it explained the racial privilege within the black community light skinned individuals had during the period of slavery.Painful accounts of children who got taken away from their mothers were told due to them being of a lighter skin tone or, alternatively of how mothers sent their children away as they could pass as white and would have a better life being unattached to people of a darker hue. These stories gave the viewer, real world accounts of how many lighter skinned people were systematically forced to be stripped of their black identity in order to be afforded a better quality of life. What made the film problematic was when the issues surrounding lighter skinned women was taken out of a historical context and carried over into the contemporary and modern world of today. This particular section where this was observed, featured women in different professions speaking candidly about their experiences growing up in the black community as light skinned individuals. While people speaking about their personal experiences is not criticised as experiences mold an individual, issues arose when the many of the women featured spoke about their experiences in such a way that it demonised darker skinned women and simultaneously positioned themselves as victims in every situation.
This is highly problematic as the documentary was intended to unite the already racially stratified black community by showing the pain and suffering light skinned women endured. However instead of uniting all shades of black women under a common oppressor, be it westernised beauty ideals or the narrow definition of beauty used by mass media, the documentary positioned dark skinned black women as the oppressor, against light skinned victim. Another section in the documentary which I found unnecessary and irrelevant, was the segment entitled “What Men Think”. In this part of the film black men gave their opinions on light skinned women, the comments which arose from this part was highly offensive towards all women, where most comments likened being in a relationship with a light skinned women as an achievement. As light skinned women is viewed as a trophy thus something to be kept and cared for, as if individual agency is not possible for light skinned women. One comment in particular made me cringe, one of the black men mentioned that he preferred darker skinned women because they are more likely to go and get popcorn during a movie than a light skinned women. This comment and all of the others that were made by these black men doesn’t in any manner uplift black women, it rather separates women according to gradations of skin tones and places lighter women on a pedestal valuing them over darker skinned women.
Although this documentary had positive intentions, by trying to voice the oppression’s that lighter skinned women face, instead what the documentary did was demonised darker skinned black women and making relevant the irrelevant opinions of ignorant black men.
Light Girls [online]. 2015. Produced by S. Frederic & Directed by B.Duke. United States of America: OWN Network.
Picture: OWN network. available [http://www.owntv.ca/]