Colorism Part 1: Bill Duke’s Dark Girls–An Exploration of Colorism and Relationships

Posted: May 28, 2013 in Bill Dukes controversial documentary Dark Girls
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Editor’s Note: Bill Duke commented in The Root DC that he created the film, Dark Girls “to create a discussion, because in discussion there’s healing, and in silence there is suffering.” To help facilitate discussion on the topic, Critical Issues Blog is running a series on colorism. This is part one. To contribute to the discussion, please email your article, bio and photo to
Bill Duke’s ‘Dark Girls’ Headed to theaters in June

By Mia Moody-Ramirez, Editor

Colorism Explained

Bill Duke’s controversial documentary, Dark Girls, explores the colorism faced by dark-skinned black women. The documentary, which debuts in June, is controversial because some people believe it airs the dirty laundry of African Americans. Others believe the documentary spotlights a minor problem in the Black community and blows it out of proportion.
In a 2012 article published in The Root DC, Duke commented that he created the film “to create a discussion, because in discussion there’s healing, and in silence there is suffering.”

Colorism is no doubt a sore spot among many African Americans. It describes the perception that society gives individuals with lighter skin advantages over those with darker skin and the idea that dark-skinned black women are not attractive. Kudos to Duke for exploring this taboo topic!

Among African-Americans, colorism is experienced in varying degrees. Most African-American families have family members of all shades, which fosters the appreciation for differences and decreases the prevalence of colorism. In my own family, my siblings are all beautiful shades of mahogany. I learned at an early age that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and beautiful people come in all hues.Colorism in Pop Culture

Colorism is illustrated in pop culture images of women. For instance, Shaviro (2005) found female beauty in rap videos is often portrayed as coming as close to whiteness as possible, without actually being white.

Zhang, Dixon and Conrad (2010)  found an overrepresentation of thin-bodied black and white women in the videos, especially in high-sex or materialistic videos. Shaviro, 2005 stated: 

Hip hop videos today tend to value the same near-anorexic slimness as mainstream white culture does—together with light skin and long, straight (fake as well as processed) hair. Most recently, there has also been a tendency to focus on women who are “multi-racial,” i.e. black and Asian (p. 69).

Worth noting is many rap artists do not practice what they preach. Whereas they practice colorism on the screen, when it comes to relationships, they often remain true to their black female counterparts.  Therefore, the argument may be made that rap artists and video producers are only trying to appeal to their audiences. In other words, they are giving people what they want. 
However, colorism is prevalent both on and off the screen. (Mis)perceptions/stereotypes that black women frequently encounter include:

1) Dark-skinned black women are unattractive

2) Dark-skinned black women  as a whole are angry

3) Dark-skinned black women are less desirable than women of other races


To help counteract these misperceptions, parents must teach their children to appreciate beauty of all skin tones and that beautiful people come in all shades. 

More importantly, parents should emphasize that characteristics such as dependability, compatibility, intelligence, are much more important predictors of a person’s character than his or her skin tone. Gone are the days when the brown paper bag test foolishly served as a measure of beauty and worth.

Dark Girls will serve as an impetus for healthy conversations about the evils of colorism as well as some other much needed conversations. Fostering healthy discussions is, after all, one of Duke’s purposes for the film. “Somehow if you can speak it and get it out, healing starts” (The Root DC, 2012). 

It is hoped that as America becomes more multicultural, colorism will become a thing of the past.
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  1. Glad to come across this piece, but I have several issues/questions. Let me get right to them. I will post a phrase from the text in parentheses and make a comment/point.

    1. (In everyday interactions with people at grocery stores, restaurants and in neighborhoods, colorism might exist, but people tend to keep their racist/colorist views to themselves. Laws/decorum hold them accountable.)

    Agree, somewhat. Laws/decorum often simply make prejudicial sentiments “go underground/remain silent” while not addressing the sentiment but only the action. I could care less if someone held back from calling me a derogatory name but then silently tried to bar me from something, be it a job, a neighborhood, etc.

    2. (Bottom line, a person’s success is tied to his or her work ethic, attitude, connections/networks, skills and perseverance — not their skin tone.)

    Agreed, but often times the color or overall phenotype is what leads to a person getting their foot in the door in the first place. A person with such privilege could land such a job, lose it and find another one before a person of the “less acceptable” phenotype even has a chance to prove their “work ethic, attitude, connections/networks, skills and perseverance”.

    3. (Black women are stronger than women of other races and don’t really need any support or help from a mate.)

    Common stereotype. See how this applies to the medical industry in Brazil:

    4. First you wrote (Positive images of relationships between a black man and a black woman are hard to find in mass media) then you wrote (Media portrayals of successful relationships featuring black women and white men are rare).

    Are you arguing in essence that positive relationships featuring a black female partner don’t exist in the media? The way you wrote these points, I thought you would contrast it with the other point when in reality it seems that neither exists.

    Which leads to:

    5. (Black leading ladies are often paired with white men: Scandal and Deception, Something New and Guess Who)

    In your view, are these relationships featuring BW/WM positive or negative? I ask because of the statement from number 4.

    6. (Black men are often paired with Hispanic, white or mixed-race women (e.g., Hitch, Flight, Snow Dogs, Save the Last Dance and Monster’s Ball)

    “Often paired”? OK, I see this as a growing trend, but the vast amount of films in the past decade (at least from what I’ve seen) most often pair black men with black women.

    7. (Slim Thug’s comment illustrates the power struggle often faced between Black men and women. I believe both genders need to change their views about each other for the sake of a healthier community.)

    Complete agreement! As black men and black women continue slinging mud at each other, the black relationship suffers. Both are at fault and both should come to the table for an open discussion rather than degrading each other for the whole world to see.

    8. (It is hoped that as America becomes more multicultural, colorism will become a thing of the past.)

    This is a common hope/assumption for the future. But speaking from the Brazilian perspective, where race mixture has been going on longer and is much wider spread than in the US, racial mixture does not solve the problem. Brazil is world’s largest “mixed race” nation but when one turns on the TV in Brazil, as Spike Lee noted, you will think all Brazilians are blond and blue:

    The economic power, political power, media representation and standard for beauty and intelligence in Brazil are all associated with whiteness even though non-whites are the majority.

    Just my thoughts! I enjoyed the post!

    • Thanks for your feedback. I have revised the article to address some of your issues. I would love to have you as a guest contributor. Please let me know if you are interested.

      • Thank you! Let’s talk about this! I haven’t seen the film but I am very interested in the topic. This issue of skin color and its psychological effects can seen from Nigeria to India, Brazil to Jamaica the United States. Looking forward to corresponding with you!

    • I posted a letter yesterday written by my brother’s girlfriend. I would love your feedback on it as well.

  2. Jueseppi B. says:

    Reblogged this on The ObamaCrat.Com™ and commented:
    I do believe I love this blog. Stylish layout, powerful factual content and truth. I suggest you give Ms. Mia Moody-Ramirez and her blog, Critical Issues Blog, a spin.

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