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Light Girls, When Documentaries Get It Wrong

by JAM

darkorlight

“If you love yourself, don’t watch Light Girls.”

This is what I told a dear friend of mine after watching the documentary. The film was a sequel to Dark Girls, a documentary about colorism in the African American community. Light Girls was supposed to show the other side of the coin and share the views of women that society labels as “light skinned.” Instead, it turned into a living rendition of  light skin vs. dark skin battles paralleling the epic scenes from, School Daze. Why the disdain? There isn’t enough time to cover everything but here are my top sources of contention with Light Girls.

1. The Denial of Light Skin Privilege

Light Girls perpetuated the stereotype that dark skinned girls are jealous, angry and violent. Rarely was there any nuanced or guided discourse behind light skin privilege. In fact, the topic was carefully avoided. If not for Soledad O’Brien’s brief acknowledgement that her color helped her career, one would think that light skin privilege is a figment of evil dark skinned imagination.

This is mostly because a discussion surrounding white privilege was painfully absent from most commentary. Light skin privilege exists as a subsidiary of white privilege. This is not a concept made up out of simple jealously. We cannot discuss one without the other. Light skin privilege is when people with skin color closer to what is associated with phenotypically “white features” are granted certain privileges relative to superiority over darker skinned people.

Consequently, light skinned women get lighter jail sentences, are more likely to get hired for a job, and are even disciplined differently as children. These are just a few examples backed up by data.

Understand that acknowledging light skin privilege is not about finger pointing. It’s about understanding racial hierarchies determined by structures of white superiority and the role that it plays in Black lives.

If we deny the existence of light skin privilege, we deny the existence of white privilege.

2. Black Men are not the gate keepers of Black women’s value

The documentary spent an agonizing amount of time featuring the scattered thoughts of random Black men, as if Black male scholars were unavailable. Dr. Steve Perry was very much alone in his contribution to the discussion. There were so many cringeworthy moments where men discussed their color “preferences” like a bunch of drooling 8th graders. I thought to myself, “Are we in middle school?” Along this line, the film completely ignored the possibility of Black women in same-sex relationships. The film placed the value of Black women on heterosexual, patriarchal male gaze. One commentator even exalted the faulty belief that dark skinned Black women are better than light skinned women because, they will do more for you. This type of unchallenged thinking reaffirms stereotypes of darker skinned Black women being built for work and lighter skinned women existing solely for the purpose of being a trophy.

3. The assertion that light skinned girls are molested or raped more than dark skinned girls is disturbing

Two commentators in the film recalled being molested and raped. One of them even boldly stated that light skinned girls are a prime choice for pedophiles. My mouth dropped open. “Is this really happening?” The film just continued onto the next topic.

To leave such an assertion unchallenged or glossed over is grossly irresponsible. Not to discredit her personal experiences, but that assertion deserved a very nuanced follow up discussion.  No way should this have been included without expert analysis. It was cruel and damaging to the film participants and audience.

Yes, pedophiles have varying preferences. They often take advantage of the more vulnerable segments of society. Yes, light skinned girls get raped, molested and sexually trafficked. However, because dark skinned girls are often less championed for, dark skin is often a determinate in sexual abuse and sex trafficking.

Society’s refusal to protect dark skinned girls is what lead to Toni Morrision’s decision to create the character Pecola Breedlove. Pecola who was both sexually abused and ignored, continually prayed for blue eyes believing it would be a type of salvation from the societal ills associated with her dark skinned Black identity. This is not a contest on who is sexually abused more.

This is more about understanding the power dynamics of sexual abuse and how it intersects within racial hierarchies. It deserved a fuller conversation.

4. Who are these people?

Raven

Apparently, every person with an agent made it into this film except the leading scholar on the one-drop rule, Yaba Blay. It was as if they carefully avoided her input. And it showed. She was featured on Soledad O’Brien’s Who Is Black In America. You can learn more about Yaba Blay’s work here.

Light Girls turned out to be a mess of a documentary because it was filled with commentary from a slew of third-tier comedians and entertainers. Additionally, the film included remarks from pseudo doctor Farrah Gray. Of course there were also a few notable scholars and commentators. Michaela Angela Davis, Goldie Taylor, Jamilah Lemieux, and Soledad O’Brien were among the slim pickings of truthful and knowledgeable commentary. Yet, by the end of the film, many of them were also tweeting disgust concerning what the film had become. I’m still baffled by Raven Symone’s appearance as well, considering her ideas on “colorless” as a identity.

5. It’s not about jealousy

I shutter at the thought of having to say this but dark skin girls are not all lurking in the bushes waiting to ponce on the nearest light skinned person. This notion is ridiculous but was highly purported throughout the documentary. We’re not all crying in a corner somewhere filled with rage and jealousy. It reasserted the false narrative that all dark skinned girls are unwanted, hateful, mean and violent. The film made it look like we were all derivatives of the boogeyman.

Rarely did the documentary truthfully discuss playground wars and issues of Black children in general calling each other “too Black,” “ugly Africans,” or “high yellow” and using these learned internalized sentiments in hopes of feeling more superior to each other in the face of constant societal dehumanization.

It’s all a part of white supremacy and learned internalized racial hierarchies,  not simplistic hatred or jealousy.

6. Sisterhood Does Exist

for-colored-girls

There are issues of colorism throughout our society. However, this belief that Black women in predetermined skin-tone categories are genetically predisposed to hate each other is down right preposterous. As I’ve written before, it’s important to remember that there is sisterhood among Black women that has historically been a source of safety and empowerment. It has thrived, even in the midst of racism and colorism. This sisterhood bond continues to be the salvation for many Black women in need of support and love.

7. Colorism cannot be changed through positive thinking 

Pharrell-Happy

At one point “Dr.” Farrah Gray asserted that light skinned and dark skinned girls simply need to learn to get along and stop “blaming the white man.” Here goes the condescending, “You girls stop fighting,” speech. Other commentators docilely asserted we simply needed to think positive, look in the mirror and say, “I’m beautiful.” Then all will be healed. It reduced the entire subject to Black women being just silly or petty, which is not the case.

No pep talk in the world is going to cure colorism. The film put the onus of colorism on the literal and preverbal backs of dark skinned girls. As if to say colorism is a personal problem, not a real systematic lived experience. This teeters along the line of saying racism is simply an imagined Black problem that will go away if we just think happy thoughts and be New Black like Pharrell.

8. In conclusion

To be fair, the film had a few positives. For instance, at one point they tried to present a global perspective of colorism. This is helpful in highlighting the fact that colorism is not just a Black issue. The affects of slavery and colonization have been felt worldwide. Also, a film about how colorism affects light skinned girls is necessary and efforts of the film are appreciated. Still, the film did what most things in mainstream society do. Light Girls continued the devaluation of Black life by oversimplifying key issues and not providing a thorough analysis for deconstructing the core problems…structural racism and patriarchy.

JamAllen2-nb-smallJessica Ann Mitchell is the founder of OurLegaci.com & BlackBloggersConnect.com.
To reach JAM, email her at OurLegaci@gmail.com.

Follow Jessica @TweetingJAM.
Follow OurLegaci at Facebook.com/OurLegaci.

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TWEET ME Field Negro – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

  • Snow-filed. So there is this tony little area just outside of Philly called Lower Marion. It's where Kobe Bryant played his high school ball, and it is the start of what is known around here as the Main Line. Which, around these parts, is the zip- code with the most dollars.

    Anyway, as is always the case with these types of communities, a Negro sighting can quickly send the local police into action.

    "Lower Merion's median income is $115,226, and the township of 58,000 is 85 percent white. Saldana, who grew up in the township, is Hispanic; her family hails from Peru. Her work as a translator takes her into constant contact with minority communities, and she thought she should make the incident public after her 10-year-old son's reaction to seeing the shovelers sitting in the snow.

    "My son asked me, 'Are they in trouble? Did they do something wrong?' And I didn't know how to answer him," said Saldana, 49. "That question from him really left me perplexed."

    The description she posted to the Lower Merion Community Network forum on Facebook prompted outrage, with more than 600 people commenting, many concerned about the incident's racial overtones.

    The other shovelers questioned by police were also black, Walsh said.

    Race had nothing to do with police conduct, Walsh said, and enforcing the ordinance, which requires any adult conducting door-to-door solicitation to obtain a permit, is commonplace. In the last year, police conducted 140 such stops, he said.

    "There's a really good reason for that, because, business or not," he said. "Residents can be assured Lower Merion police have checked them." [Source]

    I am not sure how many of you reading this live on the East Coast. But there is a long standing tradition here of folks going door to door and offering to shovel your snow after a big storm for a small price.

    For those of you who don't think that racism and "color arousal" issues still persists in America, ask yourselves this question: Do you think if those folks going around and offering to shovel snow were from the majority population, they would have been held and told to sit in the snow, while the Gestapo police stood over them and checked them out?

    If you do, I have a wonderful antique bell here in Philly with a slight crack on the side that I would love to sell you.

    But I want to be fair, so I will give you the response from my friends in Lower Marion, Township.

    "A woman who witnessed police interacting with two men her father hired to shovel snow Tuesday worried they were questioned because of their skin color."

    No mam. The police have an explanation for what you saw.

    "Anti-solicitation ordinances like Lower Merion's are common and cops say they are a useful tool.

    The 1964 ordinance, most recently amended in 2009, restricts "sale of goods, wares or merchandise," including magazines, home repair devices and services and contributions to some groups. When the ordinance was written, door-to-door vacuum-cleaner salesmen and magazine peddlers were common irritants.

    The ordinance does not apply to teenagers or to religious, political or nonprofit groups. Anyone trying to make money by knocking on doors must acquire a permit, valid through a calendar year.
    There are 18 approved permits in Lower Merion, said Mike McGrath, police superintendent.

    "As far as profiling that's a bogus argument," said John Norris, police chief in Cheltenham Township, which has a similar ordinance. "It's all about public safety."

    It helps protect people from criminals who pose as solicitors to case out burglary targets.
    Legal experts agree the law serves a purpose.

    "You also have to realize there is a history of fraud and other criminal activity associated with door to door salesmen," said Mary Catherine Roper, senior attorney with the Pennsylvania ACLU.
    Police noted anti-solicitation ordinances are popular with the public.

    Several lawyers, though, believed Lower Merion police may have stretched the ordinance beyond its intent. Jeff Garton, who served as town solicitor in several Bucks County municipalities, said such ordinances aren't typically designed to apply to services like snow shoveling.

    Mark Portella, a Haddon Heights, NJ, attorney who represents clients accused of violating municipal law, said it was unfair to conclude police were profiling, but asked why the men were approached even though cops had received no complaints.

    "It causes me some concern," he said. "They're just canvassing the neighborhood and they're going to ask them a question?"

    The witness, Deborah Saldana, said police questioned the shovelers as they shoveled. Police say officers witnessed them soliciting. A picture posted by Saldana showed the two shovelers sitting in the snow while talking to police, but a township spokesman said the interaction was cordial.

    Police do not need a justification to engage in a conversation with people. McGrath noted the shovelers were not detained and were free to refuse to talk with officers." [Source]

    Did I mention that the bell I would like to sell you has some great historical value?








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