Last night I watched the documentary Dark Girls that was recently aired on OWN. The film explores the concept of colorism, that is the discrimination of people based on their skin color. The difference with racism, is that colorism happens also between people of the same race, the darker the skin tone, the more discrimination a person suffers.
This film focus mainly on African-American women with dark skin with only a brief chapter dedicated to colorism around the world. But the problem is widespread, it also happens in Ethiopia, of course.
One of the first things I heard when I went to Ethiopia to visit my oldest daughter for the first time came out of the mouth of one Ethiopian, who referred to her as “the black one”. In that moment, it sounded as if he was referring to an animal, not a person. In my head I was thinking that if this individual was ever to travel to the US, he would get a huge surprise… No matter how light is the skin of an African, it will always be black in the eyes of this and many other societies.
My daugter’s skin tone already defined her in black society, in a continent majorly black. What was waiting for her in a white society, then?
After this episode, every Ethiopian I encountered said that in America she will pass as an African American due to her dark skin. Obviously in Ethiopia there is a distorted view of the US, probably due to the Hollywood films they watch. Besides the fact that the African migration to the US is quite varied and there are many skin tones, for Ethiopians it seems that African Americans are people of very dark skin and “African” features. This is clearly a differentiation with the Ethiopian prototype of beauty: light skin, thin lips and thin nose. This shows the negative vision Ethiopia might have of its neighbors from the continent, more precisely those from the west, from where most Africans were brought to America as slaves.
When my daughter came to America, she also started to make differences between skin tones, saying that she was black, but her sister was white. No matter how much I explained that both of them are considered to belong to the black race, specially in America, she still thinks that my youngest daughter is white.
It is clear to me that she has experienced this negative differentiation in Ethiopia and resents it. She feels inferior and that her dark skin makes her ugly. It doesn’t help that she stands out at school and that some of her classmates make fun of her.
On the contrary my son, who has also dark skin, is not bothered at all by it. For him, the differences are more about being smart or not, or being good at sports. He does not see skin color as important.
Maybe girls are more aware of their looks and try to conform to a beauty standard? Can it be related to the stories about fair skin princesses? Is it the media that only portrays white women as the most beautiful, the rich ones, the famous ones?
It not only bothers me how my daughter feels about herself, but also the resentment she will develop to girls with lighter skin like her sister, feeling like they are the enemy.
Being a white woman, it’s hard to convince her that dark skin is beautiful, specially when she already came with negative ideas about it.
I can perfectly understand the feelings of the women portrayed in the film “Dark Girls” and I think it is a good start to discuss the subject. However, I think it’s incomplete.
I would have liked the film to show more dark girls feeling proud of their complexion and of their achievements beyond looks.
And also African American women with light skin telling how they feel too, because after all, skin tone is something you don’t choose and a matter of perspective, of who you compare against.
I would have loved the documentary leaving a positive message. There are so many black women with dark skin that have succeeded and feel comfortable in their own skin, and not only in the beauty department, but specially smart women, leaders in the US and abroad. Michelle Obama is an example, but not the only one, there are women in Africa, Asia and Latin America with dark complexion that fight every day for justice and equality. Why not mention them? If my daughter watches the documentary, what will she feel? That maybe there is no hope for her, that her dark skin defines her?
The idea is to break the cycle, show girls that they can be successful and not just victims, and that they can change the world for other women.
What “Dark Girls” Was Missing… Madame Noire
Color Me Beautiful: A Dark Girl Reflects on “Dark Girls” Clutch Magazine
The Intraracial Colorism Project, Inc.
Everyday racism in Ethiopia
Hot Blog: Are Ethiopians Racist? Tadias Magazine
Are Ethiopians really racists?
Racism in Ethiopia