I recently read an Upworthy post by one of my favorite people on the internet, Franchesca Ramsey, better known as Cheschaleigh, that featured stills from the documentary Dark Girls. The trailer above contains one of the most heart breaking things: a young black girl, no more than five, who identified the picture of the darkest black girl as “dumb” and “ugly” while she identified the picture of the white girl as “smart” and “good looking.” When she was asked why the girl was “dumb and ugly,” she responded “Because she’s black.” For her white skin equals elite and dark skin equals inferior.
Ideally, she should have identified every girl on the picture as smart and beautiful, but she didn’t. She pointed out the darkest girl, the one that looks most like her, as ugly and dumb. It showed how she perceived herself at such a young age. Sadly this is something that is not uncommon when it comes to young black girls. It has always been taught that lighter somehow equals better. The darker your skin, the more unwanted you become. It’s an ugly cycle. These young girls who don’t love themselves at five grow into women who don’t love themselves at 25. Somehow, black girls were taught that they must alter themselves to be accepted.
We have to teach young black girls that they are beautiful, smart, and worthy of love. We have to instill in them everyday that they are perfect. We cannot keep teaching our young black girls that they’re only beautiful if they alter themselves. We have to teach them that with their brown skin and their curly hair, they can be the next president, or astronaut, or doctor, or engineer, or lawyer, or entrepreneur. We have to teach them to love themselves for who they are. We do this by leading as example. We show these young girls the type of self love we want them to have.
(I’ve watched Dark Girls several times and it is a really good documentary. It does a very fine job of allowing these women who have dark skin tell their story and acknowledge the problem. There are some aspects that were lacking in my opinion, but overall it is definitely a good watch. I would recommend the documentary if you’re interested in learning more in depth about problems that black women face.)
[ (for context) The idea of light skin versus dark skin originates from slavery and in many ways is still upheld today. ]
When a television critic for the New York Times, Alessandra Stanley, referred to Shonda Rhimes as an “angry black woman,” in a recent article (that I will not link) twitter went wild. It was filled with many black women including Ms. Rhimes appalled at the author for characterizing her in that way. The author went on to say that Ms. Rhimes’ characters such as Miranda Bailey from Grey’s Anatomy, Olivia Pope from Scandal, and now Annalise Keating from How to Get Away with Murder (who’s creator is not Shonda Rhimes, rather it’s Peter Nowalk) are successful women despite being the “angry black women.” The phrase “angry black woman,” is a tool used to silence black women and discredit their anger. As a black woman, I am angry that Ms. Stanley chose to perpetuate a stereotype that is not only false but demeaning, and disguise it as a compliment.
As if referring to Ms. Rhimes as an “angry black woman” wasn’t enough, the Stanley then goes on to say that they casted a “less classically beautiful” African American woman, Viola Davis, as Annalise Keating of How to Get Away with Murder. If you have never seen Viola Davis, she is gorgeous and exudes elegance. What does “less classically beautiful” even mean? When I searched classically beautiful it returned countless white faces, so the assumption would be that less classically beautiful is anybody other than white. Countless black women on twitter responded with a mockery of the phrase “less classically beautiful” with gorgeous pictures of themselves. You can see examples below.
It’s for reasons like this that black feminism exists. Ms. Stanley never claimed to be a feminist and I don’t believe her to be. However, I used her article as an example to bring forward some of the many issues black women face on a daily that white women aren’t aware of and do not understand. Black women are overlooked, characterized as angry, mocked, and imitated. Black feminism was birthed because our needs were not met with mainstream feminism. Our needs were not understood. Our needs were even ignored. We have the right to be angry, and that doesn’t make us the “angry black woman,” it makes us angry. One must understand a black woman’s story, to understand her fight
Asha (in all my less classically beautiful glory.)