Ode to Dark (Skinned) Girls

DARK SKIN

My melanin proficiency has often led to color complex(ion) issues brought on by my country (rural) upbringing in a community (and country) fascinated (via the hegemonic influences of beauty) with my yellow-skinned sister with looooooooooooooooooooong hair and generally ambivalent with me (and my dark skin and short/er hair).  They (the adults and other children in my life) always knew my sister was beautiful but for me it took time, years, deep long looks and depth of consideration to finally determine that I was cute, ish, beautiful even for a dark-skinned girl.  I have often pondered the implications of those terms of my beauty, put on me by society, community, and sometimes my self  (I told you I had color complex, read complexion, issues that resulted from what I was taught to find attractive and desirable).

It is hard to love your black (beauty) when you know Black men who exclusively date nonblack women or who refuse to date dark-skinned Black women because they are not “beautiful.”  The Psychology Today article that accused black women of being ugly hit close to home and pushed me back to so many moments of insecurity that I thought I would explode in rage.  I had thought (read hoped) that we had made strides past the paper bag test and expanded, culturally, what constitutes beauty despite the unspoken preference for red bones.

But this is not a critique of societal hate of black girls (though it could and perhaps should be) but rather a prelude to a preview.  The documentary Dark Girls is directed by Bill Duke and will premiere in October at the International Black Film Festival (check out the trailer below).

When I saw the preview (I wish the title was different, by the way, Dark-Skinned Girls perhaps, but Dark Girls implies something sinister that makes me sad) I sat with my tears and remembered my own sadness and memories of growing up a dark (skinned) girl in a space that prefers something/anything else.  The stories were so resonant with my own memories that I was reminded about how important it is to tell and hear your story in a chorus of others.  I felt validated by the confessions and emotions brought forth by the women included in the showing, many of them unable to recall their feelings of inadequacy and shame without tears.  As I watched and listened I realized that my struggle(s) are not over and that despite my best intentions and awareness, there is still the little dark skinned black girl in me who wishes to be different.  Acceptable. Lovable. Beautiful (as quoted in the introduction to the film).  For so much of my life no one seemed to notice that/if I was beautiful at all.

I have the kind of beauty that moves slowly and sneaks up on you—in those few seconds when you are still trying to decide what you think of my face you realize that the thing that made you unsure was not my features, but my skin.  I know it, I see it, I recognize it in the eyes of women and men 30 seconds before they speak (or don’t speak, depending on the situation).  But I have grown into my beautiful.  After years of looking past my own pretty, I finally found it was there all along.  It is a subtle, disarming, vulnerable, newly-confident beautiful that I inherited from my mama’s cinnamon skin (which she got from my grandmother’s Native American/light as White legacies) and my father’s sepia-shade sprung forth from his light skinned, heavy-tongued mother and pecan skinned and dark eyed father (all of their children were the color of Hennessy).  I used to find solace in knowing that I coulda been light-skinned, and that perhaps I really was on the inside, under the curious layers of dark brown skin that showed on the outside.  As a dark (skinned) girl I spent hours in the mirror imagining how different I would look with light skin (I wonder if light skinned sisters have that same wondering).

This documentary is important because it seems to speak to the silenced (and hurtful) experiences of a group of women who fail to consistently hear their worth (Psychology Today anyone?)  It is time that someone starts telling dark (skinned) girls they are beautiful, because of, not in spite of their skin color.  It has taken me years to combat the colorism in my own life but I think it is time for a shift in the narrative so that little dark (skinned) girls don’t have to wait ‘til they are grown to get self esteem– and so that as they are growing up and dealing with the prejudices of being dark-skinned they do not suffer in silence or isolation.  I wish someone would have been there to tell me it would be all right.  To remind me/show me/tell me I was beautiful.

I am not sure how the documentary ends but I look forward to seeing it.  I imagine (read hope) that it finds a way to affirm and re-imagine beauty for dark (skinned) Black women so they (we) can see themselves (ourselves) as beautiful.

But just in case the documentary fails to affirm dark-skinned girls (it is not clear if it is merely a collection of narratives or a larger commentary on how to re-frame our gaze), I wrote a short poem to celebrate dark skin.  I call it,

Ode to Dark (Skinned) Girls

she waited

patiently

and in silence

never admitting

out loud

that she secretly wanted to be

light

skinned

brown but in a lighter shade

she would say it out loud

but in whispered tones

“make me white-like

d*** near transparent

so that these people can see through me

instead of just past me…

make me

beautiful!”

like the color of the earth  I already was

but

this skin,

this house to my soul

is only almost pretty

they say

and if I weren’t so dark

I might be worth

lovingwantingstayingbeing

but instead I am just

tolerated

in the dark or in secret

or worn on your shoulder

like

an unnecessary accessory

creating your celebrity

because

i

am

dark

er

than

you

teach me how to love

myself

brilliantlyBrownBlackMahoganyEbonyqueen-like

BronzedCocoaButterDreamChild

the color of fire

in the middle of its escape

skin and eyes round

and regal at once

You are beautiful

I am beautiful

the color of coffee with no cream

dark like the bittersweet chocolate of my dreams

caramel-coated coquette

honey dipped and full of vigor

full lipped and full bodied

full

dark-skinned and exquisite

majestic even

with your brown-black self!

Black is beautiful

You are beautiful

I am beautiful

We are beautiful

* This post was originally written by Robin M. Boylorn, Ph.D. in the  Crunk Femenist Collective, and her poem is featured in my book, The Audacity of Beauty

 

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