Mighty Life List
Sep 2 2011

Dark Girls Documentary

Dark Girls: Preview from Bradinn French on Vimeo.

Whoa, watch this please. Did you know how much of a difference it can make for a woman to be a slightly darker shade of black, at least in the U.S.? I had no idea, and I’m a little shocked. I mean, I’ve heard girlfriends mention it jokingly in passing when we’re talking about dating or whatever, but I didn’t get it until I watched this trailer. So upsetting. (via bb-blog).

52 Responses to “Dark Girls Documentary”

  • Allison Says:

    That scene with the child pointing to the pictures of “the smart child” and “the dumb child” just made me lose it.

    This reminds me of an article I read years ago about a woman who adopted two little girls from India. One was dark-skinned and had developmental problems stemming from being largely ignored at the orphanage. The other was light-skinned and when the woman got her from the orphanage, the women working there told her, “Oh, you’re so lucky to be getting her. She’s so light and beautiful.” When she got them back in to the US, people would often remark on the beauty of one of the girls, and their mother even got offers for child modeling contracts for that girl. The one getting those offers was the dark-skinned one. It’s so strange what we’re programmed to believe.

    Man, the things we do to each other.

  • Krysta Says:

    Wow. Like you, I’ve heard about this in a passing sort of way but I had no idea. Very upsetting indeed. Especially the part where the little girl is identifying smart, beautiful, dumb, ugly children in the pictures. Very heartbreaking.

  • kat Says:

    We couldn’t believe how bad this was in India when we visited there. It seemed like every other commercial on tv was for a lightening cream. The commercials almost always were things like the girl who lightened her skin suddenly attracted the boy or got the job. So sad.

  • Alicey Says:

    I’m appalled. Just appalled. The part that makes me most sad is the effect this prejudice is having on real people’s self esteem. For the record I’m white British and I thought every woman in that video was more attractive than me! If I thought that men were only interested in me for sex, I’d give up on men until I found someone worthy. Rides? I’m genuinely shocked.

    I truly hope that this video is made up of only a small minority of the black community.

  • Meaghan Says:

    Ugh, that’s so upsetting.

  • beth Says:

    I found this very fascinating, and of course, extremely sad. I’d like to point out that this phenomenon is in no way exclusive to the black community. I am of middle eastern descent- of which coloring can run the gamut of blonde and blue-eyed all the way to more stereotypical features. You can guess which side of the spectrum is most favored. My husband is Hispanic and it is prevalent in his culture as well. I would venture to say that this occurs in just about every background, aside from white.

  • Elizabeth Says:

    I am half Indian, and I have grown up with this very same prejudice about dark skinned Indians–from other Indians! It is interesting that the woman considered to be the world’s most beautiful Indian woman is Aishwarya Rai, a nearly white-skinned woman with blue eyes. I certainly don’t mean to disparage Rai for being light-skinned, but I while I would find her just as beautiful with brown eyes and dark skin, I can’t help but wonder if the rest of the world would would feel the same.

  • Jenn T. Says:

    Does it make a difference to have the pale, freckled white girl tell these women and girls they’re beautiful? Because I would, over and over. Because they are.

  • Kelly Says:

    Absolutely heartbreaking. I found myself welling up with tears during the preview and when the little girl was being “tested” about her view of skin color, I totally lost it.

  • Maia Says:

    Thank you for posting this. No, this phenomenon is not exclusive to the black community. Many minority culture devalue dark skin. As a “light- skinned” black woman, it’s very upsetting to me. Some of my extended family definitely values having lighter skin, and it was oft remarked upon as I was growing up. Although both of my parents are darker than me, they never “celebrated” or praised me for being lighter, and I thank them for it. A scene from the movie School Daze by Spike Lee addresses this very divide between the light-skinned and dark-skinned girls at an HBCU, where they sing a song called “Good or Bad Hair.”

  • Cara Says:

    Thank you for sharing! I am married to a beautiful dark skinned man from Senegal. Before I had no idea about this issue until he explained to me that women in the US were not often interested in him because he was too dark. Did I mention he is FINE!!! There is a great movie called “Little Senegal” that talks about this. I must admit I think my children (light skinned bc I am white) are beautiful, but I would have thought the same if they had their father’s skin tone.

  • Desi Says:

    “Black is beautiful, but light is right.” As a dark-skinned biracial woman who identifies as Black (now isn’t THAT a mouthful!), and the mother of two lighter-skinned biracial children. It makes me feel sick and sad and scared that we’re still dealing with such endemic discrimination. It will change. It will get better. We will see a day when the tone of our skin is truly irrelevant. I believe that firmly. It just might not happen in my lifetime.

    If you haven’t already, you might enjoy reading Lawrence Hill’s “Black Berry Sweet Juice”. He wrote “The Book of Negroes” (sold in the United States as “Someone Knows My Name”). It’s nonfiction, though just as lyrically written, and eloquently addresses discrimination by skin-tone both within and outside the Black community.

  • Amy Says:

    This is awful. You know what’s crazy? That a lot of white girls spend a ton of time and money trying to make their skin darker. I’m white – when I was growing up, no one wanted to be “pale”. Even now, despite the fact that tanning by sun or by bed is out-of-fashion because of the health risks, white girls and women still spend money on lotions and potions to darken their skin. Understand: I am in no way trying to say that it’s the same thing as the experience of dark-skinned women. Obviously it isn’t, because of all the other baggage that goes along with skin color particularly for dark skinned women. But it just struck me… why are we ALL programmed to want to be different from how we are?

  • Deidre Says:

    As a white girl (a very very very white girl), I think black women are more gorgeous on average than white girls. And it is heartbreaking that this is what is happening.

  • findingmagnolia Says:

    I’m so glad you posted this; I hadn’t heard of this film yet. As a White mom of a Black daughter, I am glad that this is being discussed, and not just in circles where it affects someone personally. This issue is important to us as human beings. Thanks for spreading the word about this film.

  • Karen Says:

    I volunteer at a SF, sixth grade class, and one of the girls in our class had to be moved to different schedule because of bullying; she confided to me that being dark-skinned was one thing they picked on her about.

    I know this attitude exists, and all I wanted to do was hug her and tell her how LOVELY her skin is!! She has had the last laugh, though, as she was put into an honors class, simply because of the bullying, and she began to thrive. I never thought she’d survive the classwork, but off she went to Success.

    Let us all accept one another.

  • Jean Ann Says:

    Wow. Very powerful, thank you for sharing this.

  • Laura Says:

    Thanks for sharing this, Maggie. It was enlightening to a white girl with no close black friends. I’m shocked because I have always thought Alec Wek’s dark skin is gorgeous and love when black girls wear their hair natural and curly because it is so beautiful. At the same time, of course, I keep thinking I need to do something about getting a tan on my ugly pale skin. I wish we could all praise and appreciate our differences, pale, tan, dark, light, thin, curvy, straight, curly, etc. etc.

  • Melissa Says:

    My experience with this was in 7th grade when a girl joined our class from the Phillipines. Though we were a mix of Italian, Irish, Mexican, and Vietnamese girls, we were all pretty light. Summer came around and we donned our swim suits and baby oil and Doris would barely come out into the sun.

    In my experience, Italians are also horrible about judging the southerners and their dark skin. I personally have heard at least 3 native Italians not only prefer a lighter skinned person, but automatically assume that people are dangerous criminals if they are a dark southerner. I grew up in a pretty xenophobic household, but this shit BAFFLES my mind.

    PS, I NEVER tan anymore. I’m so happy I love my pale, veiny skin.

  • Reading (and chickens) Says:

    Yup, as other commenters have said, Indians can be really brutal here. The lightening creams are ridiculous! And as the mom of two half-Indian kids, one who is darker and looks like me, and one who is lighter and looks like his father, GUESS which one people call handsome most often(even though in most other ways they look like twins)? It’s really sad.

  • Martha Says:

    How awful to feel that way every day. I’ve heard this before but didn’t realize just how deep it ran. I’m glad someone else pointed out how white girls are always trying to be tanner. I just got back from a beach vacation with girlfriends, and in the weeks leading up, everyone was buying self-tanners and scheduling spray tans. We should all learn to be happy in our own skin, whatever its color.

  • Meagan Says:

    Thanks for posting this, Maggie. Very moving….

  • The Woman Formerly Known as Beautiful Says:

    Information is power. Thank you so much for sharing. I’m a white woman who envies dark girls’ rich, beautiful skin. I wish they could see themselves the way I see them.

  • isahrai Says:

    Thank you very much for sharing this, Maggie. I’m 7 months pregnant with a biracial child (I’m white, the father is a very dark-skinned Latino) and I’ve had so many people, especially other Latinos, comment on how lucky the baby will be to be lighter skinned because of my paleness. It is incredibly disconcerting and makes me worry for how she’ll be treated if she is darker skinned. Sigh.

  • Kathy U Says:

    Like everyone else, all I could think of was that the women interviewed are BEAUTIFUL! And I think of being a freckly white girl in California desperately trying to tan. And I think of my best friend who is half white and half Filipino and how her Filipino family praises her for being “fair”, while she told me she grew up wishing she was white and blonde.

    And I think of being made fun of for being fat while I later learned there were thin girls who wished they had curves.

    Ultimately, I wish we can learn to be kind to ourselves, so we can be kind to each other. Deep, dark skin is so beautiful. Carmely bi racial skin is beautiful. My pink, freckly skin is beautiful.

    As I raise (my brilliant, beautiful) daughter, I hope I can instill enough self confidence and self love in her so that she can openly celebrate and love all colors because there are SO many out there, and thank god for it!

  • Teri Says:

    I hope that women realize every culture does this. I was bullied relentlessly for being very blonde & white. I still am! Growing up, I tried so hard to get a tan. I endure criticism every time I dare to wear shorts- from people who love me, to complete strangers. people say, “God! You are almost an albino, aren’t you? Except for those blue eyes.” Incidentally, it’s not like I wear the lightest shade of face makeup, either. I’m always a shade or two darker.
    Yet, I actually had the experience of waking up after surgery to a nurse, also white & female, telling me, “You really need a tan”, not “You’ll be OK”, or “Let me get your husband”. No. Apparently telling me my skin was offensively light was more important.
    I wanted to die.
    Too light is just as bad as too dark.
    Either way, you are constantly told how ugly you are.

  • Calypso Says:

    Yes.. this is prevalent in the indian community as well. I am indian. My mother was light/fair skinned and my father was dark skinned. I inherited my father’s darker tones. My mother would scold me constantly for being in the sun and hated when I looked dark. She had stupid creams on me when I was little that would blister and burn my skin. .. That’s all I really have to say.. My mother passed away a couple years ago and I’d rather not speak ill of the dead…

  • Kate Says:

    I watched this in total stunned silence. Like other white girls, I had heard about this in passing but I didn’t even really understand how light skin preferences affected perceptions within the black community.

    I was deeply disturbed by the ladies’ reports on how men seemed to approach them on a sexual level, like in a “forbidden fruit” sort of way rather than attempting to date them. So it’s ok to secretly desire dark skinned women and use them but they’re not acceptable as whole people?

    That along with the child being asked to identify the smart and good children was deeply upsetting. The whole thing was disturbing and left me feeling a bit helpless…like what can white girls do? I’m thinking about doing more research about what beauty products I use and how their marketing strategies portray women of color( good bye Loreal!) That feels totally inadequate but maybe if enough of us stop responding to this crap and demand a real array of skin colors, more real beauty can shine through.

    BTW- I also think other celebrities like Jennifer Lopez or Padma Lakshmi are totally “lightened” in their photos. Terrible.

  • beatrice Says:

    Oh, hello, this is a novel. But I’m so glad that I get to write about this, even if it’s just a comment, that I have to say A LOT.

    I’m a dark-skinned girl–my parents are from Uganda–and I grew up in a small town with, basically, all white people. My school was definitely all white except for my brothers, sister and I.

    When you’re young and you’re different, all you want is to be the same, because to be different isn’t normal, what’s normal is what everyone else is, you know? I also didn’t know a lot about my culture and where I came from, because although I’m a first generation American, my parents never really talk about “home” to me or my siblings.

    When I came to college, I was able to learn more about the history of Africa and learn about where my family comes from. I didn’t meet black guys who were interested in me which I thought came from me not being involved in a black sorority or in the Black Student Union. When I started to interact with other black students through work and volunteering, I still felt very separated from the “traditionally black” groups. Save for black girls with real (meaning really close) roots in Africa or the Caribbean (a girl whose parents are from Senegal and another whose roots are Native American and Haitian have been two friends I’ve made in the past four years) I’m dismissed by other black girls, too.

    I feel guilty saying that it’s because of my dark skin color, because that discounts the fact that maybe I’m an awful person (and maybe I am!) or maybe our personalities don’t sync up. But, I’ve seen girls and boys who have ignored me in African American & African Studies classes excitedly interact with groups of friends I have who run the gambit in personalities but who represent the whitest end of the color spectrum. So, in four years, I’ve learned to draw conclusions.

    It’s complicated and it’s a big deal, as evidenced by the little girl in the video who sees race as an indicator of intelligence and beauty, so it’s really hard for me to draw conclusions outside of the ones that I’ve made for myself.

    It sounds so trite and Dove campaign-y but I love my skin. In my skin I see my grandmother,a woman I’ve only known in pictures; I see the skin of my ancestors, whom I’ve never seen but who I know looked like me. I see history and I am so lucky to be able to carry that around with me.

  • Tommus Says:

    Wow! All my life, I have felt guilt for the prejudices of white skinned people. Is there no hope for humanity?

  • Katrina Says:

    Thanks for posting this; deeply fascinating. I’m from the Philippines and we get a lot of ads for whitening products too, it’s ridiculous. There are even supplements sold here called glutathione which make people lighter skinned but can cause liver damage – but people take them all the same just to be white. Here the view is that when you’re dark, you’re poor; you had to work the fields out in the sun all day; but when you’re light, you’re rich and your family could afford to shelter you from the elements.

    Watching this preview and seeing the same sort of prejudice against darkness in America, within the black community even, (and reading the comments about how this is also prevalent in hispanic and indian cultures) is saddening. Does it really mean that self loathing is universal? I hope not.

  • Dar Says:

    Wow…unfortunately, this brings back sad memories for me. As a dark skinned African American woman I too heard these comments throughout my life. My saving grace was my beloved grandfather who told me every day that I was beautiful and special and a gift from God. Because of his counter attack on all the negative comments, I grew to love my brown skin. Just goes to show that love can wipe away a multitude of sins.

  • JoAnna Says:

    So, so sad, and so, so important that you shared. Thank you.

  • Sassafras Mama Says:

    Powerful and well-worth sharing, which is exactly what I plan to do. First up: my students.

    Thanks for the video, Maggie.

  • Lamisa Says:

    Maggie, I would appreciate it so much if you would read a blog post I wrote about this topic, only because I think the issue is so important yet unheard. http://letusbeitall.tumblr.com/post/9890863876/dark-girls-a-documentary-directed-by-bill-duke

  • Traci Says:

    Ya know, at first I thought this was terrible, but after I went about my day I realized that black or white, all women have these challenges. I had to flat-iron my hair to get it presentable for work (I’m a frecky-faced pale skinned, never tans female), I’ve had keratin solutions applied to keep down the frizz, my closet is filled with ever potion imaginable. And I went on a date w/ a dude who took one look at me and told me, “I’m just not into freckles.”

    So what makes this so special, I ask? And I also found it interesting that one of the ladies (or several, I don’t remember) were shocked and hurt because the comments came from black males. What difference does that even make?

    If this is documentary-worthy, I need to make one about me and all my average-looking female friends who don’t tan to a gorgeous mocha color in the summer, fight frizzy hair/any bad hair day, and have been rejected by males of our own race because of our physical appearance.


    Traci, I feel like this comment is pretty flippant if you watched the whole video.

    I’ve had the same issues as you, with freckles and paleness. I grew up near a river, and I knew that every time I went out rafting I’d face a day of drunk people yelling about how I should “cover up” and that no one wanted to see my skin. So I get it, most of us have been bullied at one point or another over how we look.

    What “makes this so special” is that I never felt stupider, or less successful, or lonely because of my skin color. As a child, I don’t think I would have pointed to a photo of someone with unfreckled skin and said she was smarter than me. I never thought a pale, freckled guy would automatically turn away from me because my similar coloring would make me a low-status mate. What darker women are experiencing is much more difficult. -M

  • Liza Says:

    I know this problem runs deeply through many different cultures, but it’s a little bit offensive to hear pale white girls rating the issue of their whiteness on the same scale as the girls in this preview. I’m sorry people make bad jokes about how you might glow in the dark, but it’s hardly the same as growing up thinking you are ugly, stupid, undesirable or even criminal because of your dark skin. Maybe these comments are hurtful and irritating, but comparing the pain of being ghostly to the struggles women of color face on a day to day basis just betrays a wealth of ignorance. I’m sorry, I don’t want/mean to be divisive and am delighted that Meg has posted this really enlightening video. If you’re interested in the politics of color, I highly recommend the blog http://colorlines.com/

  • Sue Robinson Says:

    I had no idea. Pains me to see anyone hurt but who they are.

  • Kiki Says:

    I grew up white and pale-skinned, but also fat. I was always made to feel less than other people because of my body type and shape. People assumed I was less intelligent, less interesting, had less to offer, and of course was less attractive. I could never understand why people are so focused on seeing difference as negative – especially when the “positive” spectrum of what color or shape or height or whatever is so damn narrow it excludes something like 85% of the human race. I have no idea what it must be like to grow up with a whole historical cultural bias against the color of your skin which exists pretty much world-wide. I wonder if there will ever be a time when our differences are celebrated as the interesting and beautiful things which make the world better.

  • Kristin Says:

    This was heartbreaking. So sad. I have two comments. First, my best friend from grad school is a dark skinned black woman. She said black men wouldn’t give her the time of day (and she is gorgeous–great body, wonderful personality). The only guys who would ever ask her out were white. She was very into Black culture and community and very much wanted to date a black man. Never happened. She would ask guys out and was turned down because she was too dark. Men actually told her that! It was unbelievable to me. She is now (happily) married to a white man. I just can not understand how she was treated.

    Second, I am a white woman (blonde and fair), married to a darker skinned Hispanic man. We have a son who is fair like me, and a daughter who is dark like him. The comments I have gotten about the difference in their skin tones and the negative comments I’ve heard about my daughter’s skin tone have been unbelievable.
    First of all, EVERYONE, no matter their race, comments on my daughter’s skin. She has blond hair and caramel colored skin, so it is a fairly unusual combination, and I think quite beautiful. White people tend to say positive things about it (although many people comment on how tan she is and she is 2! Like I would let a baby tan?!), and Hispanic and black people say negative things, like that I should keep her out of the sun before she gets any darker.
    The really disturbing thing to me is that people feel free to comment about her skin color at all! What is wrong with society when a stranger can come up to me and tell me my baby is too dark? Crazy.

  • megan Says:

    This reminds me of a book I read in an African literature studies class in college called “Good Hair.” It was wonderful and gave me some intense perspective into an area I (as a white girl from an almost exclusively white private school) had never even considered.

    You can buy it on Amazon, and I recommend it as further reading. I’m not sure if it has anything to do with the Chris Rock documentary by the same same, though.

  • Shana Says:

    Well. The nicest thing I can say about Traci and her incredible, unbelievable, utterly unexamined privilege is…bless her heart.

    –White Girl, Less Clueless

  • Traci Says:

    Perhaps my too-late-at-night comment came across as flippant – it wasn’t intended that way. I heard woman complaining about things that all women have to deal with, in one shape or another. We’ve all heard harsh comments about our appearance, faced rejection. Instead of hating yourself over something you can’t change, speak up at the time to educate those who are making negative comments to you, and get busy enjoying the life you’ve been given. You can either live your life worried about what people think about you, or you can live your life.

  • Traci Says:

    lastly, @Shana, your ego just showed itself, in the way it tried to belittle me by making yourself seem superior. Ironic, how this entire doc is about how others work to belittle each other.

  • Belinda Gomez Says:

    Not to be rude, but how did you not know about this? Good Hair the book came first, then the film. Both on the same subject, but not related.
    Don’t you girls have any friends that aren’t just like you?

  • Charity Says:

    Traci, you’re not getting it, do some reading elsewhere please. It’s different because of historical context and internalized racism that has very broad-reaching economic, social, and political consequences. It’s different because “feeling bad because someone made fun of how I looked” is not the same as being ostracized from a community that one otherwise deeply needs, in part because of oppression at the hands of OTHER communities. It wasn’t the late night posting that made your comment ignorant, it was the apparent lack of understanding of context and power differentials in our culture.

  • Janelle Says:

    Charity hit the nail on the head. It is internalized racism. The “white is right” mentality. It’s also (I’m guessing) internalized racial oppression in the people of color. The underground dance we all do together to keep racism alive and well. Most people can’t see it, and don’t even realize that they’re doing it.

  • Ann Says:

    The part of about hair reminded me of Chris Rock’s documentary. I just wanted to hug all these beautiful women.

  • Amy Ferguson Says:

    I totally agree Ann! Good Hair is a documentary by Chris Rock and i found it fascinating. watch it if you have a chance. thankds for posting this video….very gripping.

  • rebekah Says:

    Laughably horrific editing in that the video freeze-frames each lady’s face and makes it fade to darker in a bleak and ominous way. Darker = sad in this video’s “artistry”.

  • Nikki Says:

    I am a white (very pale, redhead) 2nd grade teacher in DC. My entire class is African American. I am not surprised at this video at all. The last two years at this school really opened my eyes to this issue and many others.
    I’m alway happy when documentaries come out that open the eyes of people who can’t “walk a mile” in others shoes.

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