“I don’t like being called Black,” a little chocolate-kissed girl said as she opened the much-anticipated documentary, "Dark Girls," which premiered on OWN last night.
"Why?" The narrator asked the child who couldn't have been more than five or six. Curled up under her mommy, who was about two shades lighter than her, the girl looked up with her doe-like eyes, dimples and curly ponytail on top of her head and said, “Because, I’m not Black." This sad statement pretty much set the tone for the documentary where women, little girls and men bravely and openly shared what it's like to walk in their skin.
I’d been simultaneously dreading and waiting for this documentary to air. I kept wondering if this was really going to tell honest and emotionally-striking accounts of brown women who’ve have been suffering and imprisoned in their minds (and bodies) because of their complexion. My biggest worry was that this would be more of a venting session for Black men and women to share their skin color preferences and not an in-depth examination of the deep-rooted issues that accompany our colorism. While the latter was present, it didn't entirely overshadow the real issues underneath this war we are still fighting. I think filmmaker Bill Duke, D. Channsin Berry and Oprah Winfrey should be praised for their courageous attempt to start a multi-faceted conversation about skin tone in the Black community.
That’s not to say that essential pieces of this complicated Black skin puzzle weren’t missing.
I think all Brown girls wanted their stories to be told in this documentary. We all wanted to feel like there was someone speaking our truth. At moments, I did feel that there was a piece from each woman’s story that I could relate to, but I also felt like there were too many pieces of my experience (and possibly other dark girls’ experiences, too) that were left out. While I understand that there is no way a 2-hour documentary can tell the story of every dark-skinned woman, "Dark Girls" has left me wanting more. Way more.
While the viewer-to-subject format helped us absorb each child, woman and man’s emotional account on a personal level, I would have rather watched them addressing each other in the most informal and raw setting possible. Bring the dude from the street that said that dark-skinned women “don't look good beside him” into a space and give him the opportunity to say it directly to a dark-skinned woman, and let her respond to him face to face. Let the light-skinned man who prefers dark-skinned women say that to a light-skinned woman, face-to-face.
Let us feel the intensity when the dark-skinned man tells the dark-skinned woman that he thinks light-skinned women are prettier, and wait for her response to be: “But you and I are the same damn complexion.” Let us feel the embarrassment he'll feel when he realizes that it's not the dark-skinned woman he doesn't like, but himself. These are only a few examples of what could happen if we take this conversation out of the safety zone. Wishful thinking, I know. But, we can't keep talking about this in a segregated format and expect anything to really change.
"Dark Girls" was for us, yes. I know it, I’m proud, I’m emotional and I’m happy that we had a voice — for two whole damn hours — on national television and all throughout social media. We have deserved this for many, many years since we've been, and still are, overlooked in media and society. I love the shades of mocha that were represented in this documentary. But the lighter-skinned women: where were they? Because our story as Brown women is heavily affected by their story and their reality as lighter women (and men), and vice versa, how can we really have this conversation without the "other" side of the story being told parallel to ours?
Some may think this idea is too inclusive since dark, brown girls have never gotten this type of platform to express what it means to be us. But we have to be careful not to act like we as a Black community, don’t immediately affect one another, whether light, dark or somewhere in between. That's why, though "Beautifully Brown" is all about uplifting dark girls and women, it will never exclude lighter women. When we're bringing each other up, we have to make sure we’re not simultaneously tearing anyone else down.
We have to push the envelope. Dark girls must continue to have a voice in media, but the conversation can't just end there and we can't have the conversation alone. Given the fact that it took place on a platform like OWN, though, I can only hope that this topic that has been taboo for far too long will become an even broader, more inclusive discussion.
I will always stand up for brown girls, but we also have to remember how much more important it will be for Black men and women of all shades to stand up for each other. That's the only way we will really overcome the colorism that we are still fighting against.
Melanie Yvette Martin is the Editorial Assistant and Beauty and Style contact for EBONY.com and a lover of all things beauty for brown women. Follow her on Instagram @melanieyvette and on Twitter @theffgal.