I am going to take a moment to discuss another problematic image that people have been buzzing about: the cover of Pharrell William’s latest album ‘G I R L’. I first saw the picture last week. I’ll be honest: I wasn’t shocked or outraged by it. Part of my survival strategy for living in the US as a Black woman(and a dark-skinned one especially) has been lowering my expectations. When it comes to African-Americans and the treatment of dark-skinned women in media I gave up exepected to see women who look like me a long time ago. The erasure and marginalization of our skin tones is nothing new.
From the days of Lena Horne to Beyoncé the picture of a ‘beautiful Black woman’ has been defined as a Black woman who is of a much lighter skin tone, whose color is much closer to that of a white woman. We can claim black is beautiful all we want, but our media and entertainment industry have always told a very different story. Black IS beautiful-provided that it’s not ‘too black’ and is of a more ethnically ambiguous variety.
So the cover itself wasn’t particularly outrageous to me. What I found interesting, however, was the reaction to the backlash it provoked. When I saw the cover I knew what was going to happen:
- Those who take issue with Colorism would point out the absence of Black women
- Critics of the cover would be told that there actually IS a Black woman on the cover
- Those who criticized the cover would be told they are getting upset over nothing, that light-skinned women are ‘just as Black’ as the rest of us and the critics are ridiculous for questioning the tendency to exclude dark women
- We’re all Black anyway so let’s just get along
I was right. Every time Black women-dark ones in particular-speak up about their erasure they get the same standard response. When it comes to Colorism and the way we mistreat our dark sisters African-Americans have perfected the art of playing dumb. Indeed we demonstrate a level of obliviousness which is eerily similar to that which many Whites display in discussions on anti-Black racism. The erasure of and hostility towards dark-skinned women can’t EVER be discussed without it being derailed. Instead of facing and addressing it, we shift the focus back on light-skinned black and/or biracial women and how ‘unfair’ it is to criticize the fact that their look is put on a pedestal in the Black community.
We are just supposed to ignore the fact that our ideas of beauty are so narrow that they exclude a vast portion of Black womanhood. We are just supposed to ignore all the songs dedicated to light-skinned and non-black women. We are just supposed to ignore the fact that dark little girls are treated so differently. Yet when we see our people bleaching their skin we will shame them. We will tritely say just need to ‘love’ themselves. We will ignore the fact that our girls grow up in a nation where both the mainstream standards and those of their own community push the idea that they are ugly, inferior and unloveable. We will pretend that we can’t understand what would drive one to hate their own color so. Where Colorism is concerned the African-American community continues to be obtuse. Howeverit is not going to go away with us putting our heads in the sand. The various ways in which WE perpetuate White Supremacy among ourselves has to be called out and put on blast. There ain’t no future in our collective frontin’.