‘Cute’ to be So Dark

Image: officialdarkgirlsmovie.com

“Dark Girls”

Seeing the title felt like a bee’s sting.  It was the posting of a preview of Bill Duke’s upcoming documentary discussing the issue of  ‘intra-racism’ within the black community.

Immediately, I was 5 years old, then 10, then 15, and so on, as the visions played in my mind.  My childhood and young adulthood is littered with memories of being taunted and teased, dissed and dismissed because of my dark brown skin.  “She’s pretty, for a dark skinned girl”.  “I think you’re beautiful, but I can’t bring a dark skinned girl home to my mother”.  “Why can’t you be a nice cinnamon color like me?”  “Don’t stay out in the sun too long, you can’t afford to get any blacker”.  “You’re cute to be dark”.  “You’re too dark, but at least you got good hair”.  I have heard them all.

Inside myself, as well as in my outward demeanor, I carried the shame of feeling almost good enough, but just less than, for longer than I’d like to admit.  I understand now that almost everyone has some physical trait that they were particularly self conscious about during their youth.  Mine happened to be reinforced through movies, TV shows, and magazines that rarely showed and almost never glamorized, dark skinned women.

I found respite in my college years.  Howard University for me was like an oasis celebrating black beauty. Among the group of friends I found myself attached to, my melanin was a gift.  To chemically straighten our naturally coarse hair, was equivalent to spitting in Mother Nature’s eyes.  Africa and the physical features inherited from her were a divine inheritance.  I began to accept, then appreciate, then love my skin color.  My graduation and release from my comfortable college sanctuary, saw me thrust into the dating scene of a young, brown, twenty-something in the city, and I was quickly reminded that there were plenty of black men who considered me un-dateable or, rather, un-sport-able in public or to their color-stricken friends and families.

Then, as I came closer to adulthood and my social circles expanded even more, my alliances came to be formed not just by blood or geography, but also by shared fields of interest or just plain old vibes.  I discovered that my dark skin was almost envied by many of my “melanin challenged” friends.  In their eyes, it was a form of beauty they could only dream of having.  Most were completely baffled by the thought that it was once a source of so much pain and ridicule.

Most (but not all) of the racism I’ve encountered from white people and other groups has been that covert, undercover kind of ugliness.  However, some of most blatantly hurtful, racist things that have ever been said to my face came from people who look a lot like me. Intra-racial bias is one of the hardest forms of racism to comprehend, as well as one of the most difficult forms to explain.  I will probably be vilified by some for what a lot of black people consider “airing our dirty laundry”, but as I learn to stand in my own truth I feel strongly that if sharing my experience can help someone else feel like they are not alone, then it’s my duty to discuss it.

For black Americans, this whole issue stems from the separatism that was fostered, encouraged, and rewarded during slavery.  Slaves who worked inside the home, who were often the biracial children of the masters’ themselves, received slightly better treatment and living conditions than those who toiled outdoors in the field.  Most often being the product of forced breeding between masters and black slave women, many had lighter skin and straighter hair than the other slaves.  The “us against them” mentality was born and it was beneficial, if not crucial to maintaining the slavery status quo. The supposed inferiority of black people was a necessary component in rationalizing the paradigm.  The closer one was to being white, the better off they were believed to be.

Fast forward about 150 years and here we are.

So, thank you, Mr. Bill Duke for making this documentary.  Let’s put it out there, start the dialogue, and let the healing begin.



  1. Vanessa of De Su Mam says

    You are so right- the healing must begin. Beautiful post, Laila. And you are beautiful too! 

  2. says

    I talked to my husband about this post and he remembered some stories from when he was a kid. His mom is very light-complected and his dad was not. He remembers an older auntie meeting their family for the first time. She "tsked" out loud and said, "Ooohh…T got her a dark one!" He said that no one was ever really overt about it, but he grew up knowing that in his family lighter skin was more valued. I'm glad that you are writing about the issue and that the new documentary is helping to start conversations and healing.

    Fast forward to last week when I was at the beach with my daughters, who are biracial. One of my daughters is a red-head who sunburns easily. Sitting next to us were some very dark-skinned tween girls who made fun of my daughter for putting sunscreen on. If I put a positive spin on it, that incident is one that can be counted as evidence that the idea that darker skin is "bad" is fading (or I can not be so positive and think about them laughing for other reasons. I'm going to try to stick with the positive, though!)

    • Lailalacy says

      Thank you for your comment, Jen. I’m so sorry that your daughter had to experience that. Sadly, that sword does cut both ways, and everyone gets hurt. I know many fair skinned black people who have had similar experiences to what your daughter recently faced. My hope is that the discourse will end this type of discrimination across the board.

    • Lailalacy says

      I’m so sorry that your daughter had that experience. Thank goodness she has you to explain to her that this is those girls’ issue and not hers, and that she is perfect just the way she is. Sadly, this ugly sword does cut both way. Many lighter-skinned black people can share stories that are equally painful.

  3. says

    Ahhh Laila!  You touched on a subject that so few white people know about….thank you!  I had a friend who hated, yes hated her dark skin.  She was gorgeous from head to toe, she was a fitness model who from the outside seem to have such confidence, yet when I got to know her I found that not to be true.  She would say things like I wish I was lighter and I wish I was white.  I thought this was crazy!!!  Later, I finally found the history behind the reason she felt this way.  She was taunted so much when she was younger about being so dark even by her own family that is was drilled into her brain.  It makes me sick!  Each and every one of us have such beauty whether it's on the inside or the outside and I wish the world wouldn't be so mean.  I am sorry you had to go through this same type of hatred and discrimination but I am so proud that you triumphed and were able to see how beautiful you are.

  4. says

    La! You know I can identify with this, Even though I am a male, we WERE victims of this within our race. For me, as people now know, when Big Daddy Kane came out and made being dark-skinned sexy that’s when I felt the shift. Hip Hop always brought change in some aspect and for me one of the changes were the way girls viewed the dark brothers. Now, sadly in the business world, that mentality hasn’t changed. If a white guy with zest, zeal, drive, and a no nonsense type of drive is at work, he will be looked at as passionate and will move up. But a dark skinned brother such as myself with the same features will be looked at as angry or intimidating. So in the process of staying competitive, I have to maneuver in such a skillful way to show those traits without being intimidating. That in itself becomes a part time job. It all stems from a Theory of a book me and some of my book crew read called Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome by Dr Joy DeGruy Leary. There is a lot of healing that needs to be done within the race and outside. Its the “Jigaboo and Wannabee” syndrome from Spike Lee’s “School Daze” and it needs to stop! Black people need to start loving themselves and the qualities that make them black, instead of playing into the stereotypical things that makes them “black”. Check out http://www.ourblackface.com and read the commentary and picture descriptions. Good blog.

  5. says

    Thank you for writing this! As I was reading this article, I felt as though I was reading about my life. I too had a similar feeling when I went to Spelman College, and for that reason, I would like for my daughter to attend an HBCU (among other reasons too). 

  6. Anonymous says

    Thank you, Paul, and thanks for sharing those titles. Excellent resources! I look forward to the day when there's no longer a need to talk about is stuff.

  7. Denise says

    Thank you for bringing this to the light. My father was dark skinned, as is his family. My mom was lighter. In college my room mate would say ignorant stuff like, “he cute to be so dark” I would get so offended. Because, although I am not dark skinned, my family and people I love dearly were. And I dont believe in a segregated color line among my own people.  Her and her sister used to sit there and say the dumbest stuff. And I would think what the he$$…

    Anyway fast forward we graduated. I was getting married and preparing for my special day. I invited her and her sister over. I had forgotten about those stupid remarks they used to make. So I told them they were both uninvited. I told them, I didnt see how they could not think that would be offensive to me when they have meet and seen my family members. I told them they are ignorant, self righteous fakes..and they need to get off their high horse because they are not all that pretty. I kicked them out my house. 

    I know this stems from slavery but like you said fast forward here we are…I would think that stuff like that would fade out. But like my beautiful dark skinned grandma would tell me, “Honey, people like to hang on to ignorance. It gives them false relevance.” So people hang on to this ignorant way of thinking to make themselves feel special. Most of the time they are not all that special.     

  8. Glenn Robinson says

    Laila, excellent post. The clips I've seen from this movie are powerful. I wonder when the movie will be released? You're right about problems with intra-racism. I've ran into issues of intra-family-xenophobia/racism where family is so "comfortable" with me that they tell me all their xenophobic / racist feelings and end up destroying the relationship. I don't tolerate that mess.   

  9. Kaitlyn says

    I didn't realize this phenomenon existed until fairly recently, and I was astonished. Whenever I saw black Americans talking about skin tone in their community, it was all about "black is beautiful" and how beautiful their natural hair is- and that made me happy, because I know that they've had to deal with people trying to shame them about their appearance. Then I moved cities, and started hearing black kids on the city bus talking about people being too dark, or needing to stay out of the sun to avoid getting darker. My mind was blown. Didn't they get how many pale people blow so much money trying to get darker, and they're born that way?

    Me, most of my family is mostly from all over the British Isles. I burn, can't tan to save my life, and I'd always thought that dark complexions were beautiful- and I was a little jealous, because my childhood was marked by some pretty miserable cases of sun poisoning while one of my friends in elementary school had "maybe had a sunburn, once." >.>

    I'm rambling… basically, I just wanted to say thank you for being brave enough to share this. Know that you are beautiful. ^_^

  10. Kiki_Liki says

    Fantastic! I was fortunate enough to see the Olmert with the creators and have a q&a session with them. It truly was an eye opening and heartbreaking view into how dark skinned girls are viewed. Even on twitter you can see the disgusting divide. Let alone being Latina I feel that i have to prove that am, in fact, Hispanic. Thanks for your words and great insight. I wasn't lucky enough to go to a college that celebrated my ethnicity but I was able to find friends who helped me realize the beauty of my chocolate skin. GREAT ARTICLE !!

    • aquamommy says

       @Kiki_Liki Thank you so much for reading and sharing.  I hope to see the film myself in it's entirety soon. 

    • aquamommy says

       @Kiki_Liki Thank you so much for reading and for sharing!  I have yet to see the film in it's entirety, but I'm excited to know that it is being shown, and even more pleased about the dialogue that's being sparked. 

  11. aquamommy says

    Thank you, Kaitlyn.  And thank you for adding your experience to the discussion.  This issue is usually akin to a 'dirty little secret' that those outside of the Black community are rarely aware of today.  Thanks for reading!

  12. aquamommy says

    Thanks Glenn!  I think there have been a few screenings in Atlanta and some other eastern cities earlier this year.  I hope they get wider release soon because I feel this is a film that needs to be seen.  Thank you for reading and for not taking any mess!

  13. aquamommy says

    Thank you, Eliss.  I'm hoping that my kids choose to attend HBCU's, too.  They may have to be 'volun-told', lol.  Thanks for reading!

  14. aquamommy says

    Thank you for reading, and thank you for your kind words.  I'm sure that having a good friend like you is most helpful to your friend's journey of self acceptance and love.

  15. aquamommy says

    Thank you for reading, Jen.  Sadly, men and boys are also victimized by this issue.  And your daughters are lucky to have such an attentive and conscientious Mom.  Thank you for sharing.