Dark Girls: A Movie We Should All See

I grew up in a family where colorism ruled. My hair was permed at 3 because it was too nappy according to whichever aunt was caring for me that day. The kitchen beautician that did it used a super perm and gave me 2nd & 3rd degree chemical burns. At 3. I wore a weave until my hair grew back, and had it pressed until I was a teen when I promptly started getting relaxers again. My brief moment of rebellion? Going natural for a few months after a bad relaxer experience that left me bleeding.

My grandmother used to tell me to pinch my nose so I could give myself the “right” nose shape since my nose was spread all over my face. My aunt scrubbed the black off my cousin J with Comet one day. Yeah, I said the black. Shockingly my cousin didn’t stay that funny shape of pinkish brown after her skin grew back. I was the light one for a while which just made things tenser between me & the other children. Light was right, especially with a narrow nose, and straight hair. We all knew the family standard of beauty and we adhered to it or suffered the scorn of our elders.

I remember my mother punishing me for some infraction by refusing to let me get my hair done. She was a cruel bitch on a good day, and no one intervened even if they saw her punch me, unless she went too far. Too far in our family = not getting my hair straightened. Then all hell broke loose until she started sending me to the shop every two weeks like everyone else in the family. I was in my 30’s before I was comfortable enough with my own hair to wear it natural, and there are still times when I contemplate a relaxer despite everything I know about them and about beauty aesthetics. But then I look at all the women in my family who are balding after years of getting monthly relaxers and I get over it. Nothing about this video shocks me, but then my bio family was full of colorstruck middle class black folks and this is what happens when they pass on the cultural ingrained racism that passes for truth in their reality.

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4 thoughts on “Dark Girls: A Movie We Should All See

  1. I first encountered this paradigm when I was fifteen or so in a confrontation between my friend Cornell and our housekeeper Marion.

    By all rights, Cornell and I were peers. We were art students who met at the old Art & Design HS in NYC. We both lived in big houses and came from upper middle class families.

    His was actually more accomplished than mine. My step father was a very successful fashion photographer, but his dad was a thoracic surgeon and his mother was the vice principle of the largest Catholic HS in Brooklyn.

    But they were Haitians, political refugees from good ol’ Papa Doc. And Cornell was black, baby; I don’t think he had a drop of European or Carib blood in him.

    Marion on the other hand was classic High Yellow, light as the proverbial paper bag. Even had freckles. She came from a family of professional domestics going back a’ways, maybe even before Emancipation.

    And she hated Cornell on sight. “Don’ you be hanin’ round with dem boys,” she admonished me. When I explained his ‘pedigree’, she sorta blinked and then dismissed it. I don’t think she believed me.

    He called her ‘that high yella bitch’.

    I knew about white on black racism – it was the Sixties – but this shocked me. Being white I kind of though all black folks stuck together. Y’all did seem like a ‘closed club’ and a cool one at that.

    In some ways I was disappointed. And yet I was also oddly relieved. It made black people more human to me and therefore easier to relate to as human. And as a product of my times, I needed all the help I could get.

  2. Michael

    I had a professor in college who spent some time in africa, and he told us of a discussion he had on a train. There was a discussion of race and my professor said to another passenger “You are black like me”
    The other passenger became very indignant, insulted even, and said “I am not black, I am blue.” And yes, after further discussion my professor learned the man really did believe he was blue colored and different from others.

    On another note I spent some time in Russia and they have a familiar way of adressing people by their first name followed by a form of their fathers name. My father was named David and the Russian version of my familiar name is Mikhail Davidovich. My instructor told me I should never introduce myself that way because people would think I was jewish.

    We are strange creatures, us human beings.

  3. Rocky

    I worry about my children and grandchildren all the time. Thank you for the insights. I will try to see the film.

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