'Light Girls' opens discussion on color bias among blacks

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“Light Girls,” a documentary about color bias within the black community, has to be the talk of the beauty salon.

The film, directed by Bill Duke and produced by Stephanie Frederic, brought together dozens of black women who told stories about how they were tormented because of their light skin.

Duke also did a documentary about “Dark Girls” in 2012.

“This documentary was the toughest thing I’ve ever done. . . . When you touch a nerve, you find out there’s shock, there’s hurt and there’s pain,” Frederic said in an Essence interview.

I can remember the time when “light” skin was perceived as being better than “dark.”

Back then old folks looked at an infant’s ears to predict whether that child was going to be light-skinned or dark-skinned — with light being openly expressed as the preferred choice.

But the civil rights movement delivered most of us from that kind of ignorance.

It seemed like overnight, we started singing, “I’m Black and I’m Proud.” Most of us embraced our roots and began to identify ourselves as African-Americans. After the majority of us started using a pick instead of a straightening comb, the notion that there is such a thing as “good hair” disappeared.

We saw ourselves through new eyes.

That kind of revelation only comes through the healing of mind and spirit.

After all, as young girls many of us bought into the media myth that “blondes have more fun,” as if it were really possible for us to achieve a Caucasian beauty standard.

So it was quite a feat for so many of us to embrace the “Black is beautiful” slogan and make it an African-American mantra.

Frankly, I am surprised that there is still so much racial pain attributed to colorism.

Some of the women appearing in “Light Girls” became visibly emotional when they talked about having rocks thrown at their heads, and about getting attacked by other girls because of their skin tone.

The hurt these women experienced is akin to black-on-black violence without gunfire.

“I think the impact that “colorism” has on young girls — “light girls” and “dark girls” — leave scars on the soul that live well into womanhood,” said Iyanla Vanzant, host of “Iyanla Fix My Life.”

Spike Lee touched on this taboo topic in his 1987 film, “School Daze.” In the movie about a historically black college, Lee depicts a dance-off between light-skinned and dark-skinned coeds. The opposing groups called each other “tar baby,” “Barbie doll,” and “wannabe.”

When I started working in the media in 1991, all the female black news anchors shared the same light-skinned look.

Gradually, that has changed. And you can’t ignore that the most successful black woman in the media, Oprah Winfrey, would probably be described as a “brown girl.”

Additionally, in 2014, the dark-skinned Lupita Nyong’o, a Mexican-Kenyan actress, introduced a beauty standard that Hollywood enthusiastically embraced.

So there’s been progress.

But 50 years after the victories of the civil rights movement, the impact of “colorism” is still being debated.

I never felt my skin tone opened doors for me. But I understand why some people would say that’s like a white person claiming racism doesn’t exist.

Light-skinned people earn more money, complete more years of schooling, live in better neighborhoods, and marry higher-status people, than darker-skinned people of the same race or ethnicity, according to several studies, including a report titled “The Persistent Problem of Colorism: Skin Tone, Status and Inequality,” by Margaret Hunter, of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Mills College.

The down side of “Light Girls” is it sets black women up to argue over who has suffered the most damage.

But what we need to do is to look for ways to unite and forgive.

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