Harvard Graduate, Chika Okoro recently gave a Ted Talk titled Confessions of a D Girl: Colorism and Global Standards of Beauty, to discuss the challenges darker skinned women encounter in our society that adheres to traditional standards of beauty and a preference for straight hair and lighter skin. Okoro’s compelling presentation touches on the paper bag test, the popularity of bleaching creams, and the “you’re cute…for a dark skinned girl” comment.
If you look like me, you’re used to colorism, says Okoro. She calls the phenomenon – discrimination against those with a darker skin tone — “both as sinister and as subtle as racism.” In a world where light skin, light eyes and long “real” hair are sought after features, Okoro tells us how she copes, and what we can do to unlearn this deep rooted, destructive mindset.
The roots of this issue stem from slavery. Women slaves were raped by their owners; when a woman became pregnant from these forced sexual encounters, they usually birthed lighter skin children. The lighter skin children were then seen as a purer form of beauty and put on higher pedestal then their darker counterparts. Slave owners employed the derogatory term “house negro” to refer to those who were of lighter complexion and got to stay in the house. Because of their skin color, they were seen as much smarter or prettier than the darker women and men, although in reality they were still slaves.
Now, colorism has persisted in the African American community and outside of it, showing that the colorist ideologies stemming from slavery were internalized through history. In 2011, American filmmakers Bill Duke and D. Channsin Berry produced a documentary called Dark Girls that exposed the world to what colorism is and how it affects our culture. The documentary examined every scope of colorism within the black community. In the documentary one woman described the pain she felt as a child when no one would play with her because her skin was dark and how that made her very angry as an older woman. An African American male in the film told the viewers that he only dates lighter skin women because dark skin women are not attractive. When the film begins, a young child open up and tells the camera how she does not feel beautiful because of her skin tone and that the only women who are lighter than her are beautiful. These documented experiences are some of the many that the filmmakers exposed during the film that started an important conversation about colorism.
Blogger, DÍDÁRA who is a mahogany-skinned individual and has often been on the receiving end of colorism considers herself a ‘D-girl.’ and admits that she relates quite well to many aspects of this Ted Talk.
Accordingly, she feels that: The perception of beauty is learned and can also be “un-learned.” This task is not only necessary for individuals, but also the marketing and advertising professionals that control the images that we consume. Although hashtags and t-shirts are awesome (hey blackgirlmagic, heyyy), we really need PEOPLE in power to shift the perception of beauty in the media in order to make real change.
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(Photo: L.A Cicero)