'Light Girls': More Problematic Than Useful

Curious, but skeptical, I decided to turn to the OWN network on Monday night and watch the premiere of Bill Duke’s second documentary on colorism Light Girls, a follow up to Dark Girls—which explored the marginalization and ridicule darker complexioned Black women face.

Light Girls continued the ongoing discussion about intraracial discrimination and presented personal anecdotes from more than 200 people on the opposite (most preferred) end of the complexion panorama; interviews with lighter- skinned Black and biracial (half-Black) women, including TV journalist Soledad O’Brien, actress Raven-Symoné, glamour model Amber Rose, and “image activist” Michaela Angela Davis, among others

Since intraracial discussions about colorism—much like discussions between Black and white people about racism—seem to breed denial, cognitive dissonance and sow the seeds of discontent, I was reluctant about tuning in. Alas, curiosity got the upper hand and I had already watched Dark Girls, so I thought it only fitting that I check it out. I decided to table Sleepy Hollow until later and dove in, not knowing what to expect. Needless to say, there were several moments during the course of watching Light Girls that made me heavy-sigh in frustration.

Much like the first installment, Light Girls mostly grazed the surface of a very multilayered and often contentious issue, and focused on the more superficial arguments surrounding colorism; which is often the case with documentaries--often produced and directed by men--exploring Black female body and beauty politics (see: Chris Rock's Good Hair).

Light Girls started off okay, presented noteworthy opinions from some of the more informed interviewees, and offered a bit of historical context (than was offered in Dark Girls) into how violently oppressive plantation politics and anti-Black Jim Crow laws cultivated colorism; but without explicitly saying the words: white supremacy; as was the case in Duke's first exploration into the topic.

As Iyanla Vanzant noted, generations of Black folks have had their value placed on them based on skin tone and hair texture, and it has left scars... the wounds so gaping, that it prompted some Black people to pass and assimilate into whiteness; so gaping, that it informs the way the criminal justice system prosecutes light-skinned female offenders vs. the way darker-skinned female offenders are treated; and so gaping, that it also factors into how young girls are disciplined in school.

Not to mention, mass media and the entertainment industry reminds Black women every day that we won't pass muster if we're inhabiting skin or "less classically beautiful" features darker and more African-looking than level Halle Berry.

I also found it a bit perplexing that a few of the interviewees who bemoaned the tribulations of having a lighter hue (such as actress Tatyana Ali), were not visibly light-skinned and were as brown as I am. So those narratives left me feeling a bit lost... until I finally chalked it up to them, perhaps, associating their more angular features and softer hair textures with attributes most commonly associated with Black and/or biracial women with lighter-complexions.

While Light Girls meant well, and touched on some crucial points about history and the havoc white supremacy has wreaked on Black people; the more problematic and awkward moments engulfed the documentary. There’s much to parse, but these were some of the things that stuck under my craw the most…
  • How often the burden of possessing light skin/biracial privilege was projected onto monoracial and darker skinned Black women via statements like: “I always felt the need to overcompensate by acting ‘stereotypically’ Black.’” Apparently dialing up the volume on the Black-o-meter is meant to quiet the perceived insecurities dark-skinned people allegedly have while in the company of light-skinned folks, lest dark-skinned people fly into a violent and jealous rage. I have more to say about this indictment, but will just leave it at this.
  • I found the cursory inclusion of an albino Black woman’s narrative—without any profundity to her story—to be extremely misplaced. Not because I think Black people with albinism aren't ostracized or worthy enough to be heard, but because it had little to do with the dismantling of light skin privilege; and light-skinned and biracial Black people don’t suffer the same type of persecution those with albinism do. Including this woman’s story in a documentary about colorism seemed disingenuous and random, and it trivialized her lived experience.
  • Comments about colorism being ‘even more damaging’ than racism, without acknowledging how white supremacy/colonialism inculcates the way Black folks— particularly Black and brown men—internalize the message when they’re spouting off about their dating “preferences.” And the men guzzling the most Kool-Aid tend to be dark-skinned themselves.
  • I noted, and groaned, at how often light skin was equated to automatic prettiness courtesy of frivolous testimonies: 'I went to a really bad elementary school,’recounted comedienne Hope Flood, 'and this Black girl… she was Blaaack and had real short hair, and I was beautiful, and light skinned, and had long, pretty sandy-colored hair...'
  • Most egregious and irresponsible was when a woman named Onyxx Monopoly said (without shame or regard for other survivors) that light-skinned women and girls are more susceptible to being preyed on by sexual predators and street harassment than dark-skinned women and girls. Just... no.
While Bill Duke’s examination of colorism professes to be about the experiences of Black women, both documentaries relied too heavily on the opinions of the very segment of Black men who are complicit in pedastling lighter-skinned and white women, and who often ridicule and gas-light dark-skinned Black women about this issue. And, of course, they were in top form, reciting pages from The Book of Ash to the letter; a veritable round-table of Black men using the ubiquitous car analogy to describe women and mmm-mmm-mmmabout why light-skinned women ‘stand out.'
  • An actor named Gary “G-Thang” Johnson and a Black comedian named James “Talent” Harris said they found dark-skinned women were more tolerable because of their willingness to “get their hands dirty” and be overly accommodating mules...presumably in service to undeserving, sexist, and opportunistic Black men too lazy to get their own theater snacks: "A lot is handed to, and given to, and expected by the pretty light-skinned woman, as opposed to dark-skinned women. …When I’m hanging out with them or we’re doing dinner or we’re doing the movies, I see a light-skinned woman ain’t getting up to go get me no popcorn…”, said Harris.
  • Lastly, and most interesting, was when light-skinned/biracial actresses purported that they'd been overlooked for jobs by casting directors in favor of darker-skinned actresses; which is news to me since that's not typically the norm in Hollywood and there only seems to be room for one dark-skinned It Girl at a time; while lighter-skinned and racially ambiguous looking Black actresses not only serve as the standard for Black beauty, but continue to be in demand for plum roles talented dark-skinned actresses are ideal for, but are often shut out from. So this particular whinge sounded like light-skinned entitlement.

I mean...Light Girls tried, but despite intermittent moments of earnestness and self-awareness—particularly from Soledad O’Brien—it just didn't contribute anything profound to the discourse save for the light-skinned/biracial tears of women who didn't want to admit that, despite some hardships, they essentially benefited from color privilege; and who seemed more interested in vilifying dark-skinned women as violent, irrational, jealous and ugly. And I say this while not meaning to sound like I’m being indifferent to these women’s lived experiences. And as far as some of the male experts who thought they were offering substantive feedback go, there are a slew of experts—namely Black women—who've put in work researching the effects of colorism on diasporic communities, who could have offered their scholarship and contributed something of substance to the conversation. Dr. Yaba Blay has written and spoken extensively on the topic, and could have offered a more nuanced analysis; not to mention her ‘Pretty Period’ campaign. I would have much rather seen her weigh in than Iyanla Vanzant or Farrah Gray, to be quite honest.

Needless to say, I didn't go into Light Girls with any grandiose expectations. But it definitely further illustrates the need for Black women to be at the helm of relaying our own stories. It also reiterates how we’ll never be able to have an honest discussion about the trauma of colorism and the privileges of those who're at the top of the color hierarchy, if most Black folks aren't even comfortable enough to name the very impetus to colorism and how some of us emphatically uphold the division ... and I mean an honest discussion without referencing a mythological letter or resorting to trite platitudes. Bill Duke tried but, much like Dark Girls, this was a resounding ‘not really’ for me. Both played out like the "Good and Bad Hair" song and dance scene from School Daze... But maybe I'm just a jaded brown-skinned woman waiting for part 3...Brown Girls: Adrift at Sea.


  1. great article. i myself avoid "documentaries" like those.

  2. Agree...my keyboard deleted my comment *cries*. Well the gist of it was that I also notice the double standard about light-skinned girls being automatically viewed as pretty. However I'm light brown (with nappy hair) and people's feedback don't lie, I've never really felt I had extra postive attention than other girls nor had compliments. I DO think some African guys approached me because of my skin but men just don't flock to me, period lol I sometimes admire dark-skinned girls, many are gorgeous with smooth skin, I feel plain next to them to be honest.

    As for the biracial (black) girls, I nodded to some of what they said. I didn't experience it but I remember hearing stuff from my family and other people, like "oh, she didn't want to come with us, well you know how snobish mulatas are", and all the names we were given by the white colons (in the Caribbean and Latina America) are still used! I don't use them, I refuse to do so.

    And yeah, black men need to clean their closet before doing documentaries about us. When I see alll my male cousins dating and marrying white girls...hm-hm.

  3. This is a great article and I'm happy that you discussed this.

    Do you know that I have NEVER seen either installments of these shows documentaries? I intended to,but never did. It makes me wonder is the good lord trying to tell me something..Lol!

    Anyways..back on the discussion. One of the reasons that I wanted to see " Light Girls" was to see what they had to say and contribute to their viewers. Though I didn't get to watch them, every body is talking about Amber Rose ,her folks and t hem some of them not showing up for her wedding because of Wiz Khalifa not being Cape Verde American Creole or White. I don't know if what she said about her folks are true/false but in case it it is true,it's shameful.

    No matter how old intracialism/colorism is or it being a part of our past,it's still embarrassing to see members of the same race discriminate against a member of their own group. Like some of us, we may have some folks who may have talked about someone having " good" hair, fair skin or even light colored eyes. When I listen to how some of my folks( predominately on my father's side of the family), it really makes me sick. Intracialism prejudice is one of the reasons that ( with the exception of my late grandfather and a couple of others) that I rarely go around them. I promised myself that if I dated a fair man Black/biracial man who is fair skinned, or had the so-called " good" hair, I don't think I would want for them to go around them too much. All I could hear them discuss is " how light the next child will be" or "how beautiful they will be"because of it. Maybe they can me dark ,but he has to have the hair. I had a relative who ..up until 2007( and I only see her once a year), I had nothing to do with because she thought I was jealous of "Cinderella"( my cuz). If you call a woman who have had x amount of jobs( not being laid off) because of her mouth, lost a 4 year scholarship at a prestiguous HBCU because she " didn't like it( don't believe it,but that's another story) and have been to two other colleges universities, a golddigger and told this admiring relative to " go to h--l!"..if I'm lying , Im flying. I nicely reminded this person that I was far from jealous of my cousin and if I could do bad by myself. Besides, there are plenty of dark/medium and light skinned women who looks better than she does. Yep.. I'm jealous of a woman who is intentionally purposeless..C'mon. At least, I know what I want from life and is stable. Since then , she's seeing the light in my cousin and I have cautiously came around her after a 23 year absence from here,but not too much.

    If there is one thing that I've learned about genocide is that a person doesn't have to be like Hilter in attempting to kill a race of people with weapons of mass destruction, all they need to do is to treated a member like garbage because of who they are. I mean, when I hear people do this, I would like for them to look in the mirror and ask them," who do you think you are..?" Really..who do they think they are? It's embarrassing. Some people may think that being dark and/or being Black is a curse. With all of the trials and tribulations that Black people goes through, I do not see it as being such. I see it as a blessing. I'm not ashamed to say that I pay homage to my ancestors sacrificing their lives in the past and the present for me and future generations to live. I love my culture,my people , history and love my skin tone. I don't want to be anything else but Black.

  4. First of all, it's great to have you back Tiff J.

    If these documentaries were articles instead of films, they'd be little more than clickbait. I read that "Light Girls" didn't even bother to bring back all those psychologists they hired in "Dark Girls", so this project was mostly just a bunch of light-skinned people basically giving their opinions.

    Then there's this:

    Needless to say, I didn't go into Light Girls with any grandiose expectations. But it definitely further illustrates the need for Black women to be at the helm of relaying our own stories. It also reiterates how we’ll never be able to have an honest discussion about the trauma of colorism and the privileges of those who're at the top of the color hierarchy, if most Black folks aren't even comfortable enough to name the very impetus to colorism and how some of us emphatically uphold the division ... and I mean an honest discussion without referencing a mythological letter or resorting to trite platitudes.


    Before writing my response, I finally watched "Dark Girls" on Netflix after avoiding it for, like, forever. These documentaries don't fully and honestly diagnose the problem, so they can't/don't have to correctly state the solution, most likely because the solution would involve the dissolution of light-skinned privilege, which many light-skinned brown people don't want to admit exists anyway.

    One writer also brought up the heterosexist, patriarchal gaze of these films; in "Dark Girls", for example, they trotted out the marriage statistics and then interviewed black and white men to get their opinions on our bodies. Lesbians, bisexuals, and transgendered women were never even mentioned. So the gist of the video I was left with was, "Darker-skinned women in America face a really huge crisis: they can't get a man."

    Forget the sexual harassment and dehumanization, the racist slurs, the exclusion in professional, social, and even familial settings. Forget the deep-seated self-loathing being programmed into our children from birth. Why talk about all of that in-depth when you can just interview some teary women, play some melancholic music, get some random men to say their piece, then end with "Black women just need love themselves more and everything will be all right"?

    (Side note: I grew up in a predominantly white state. When I left in 2011, most of the white women I'd gone to high school and college with were married as opposed to the sistahs - this was true. But once again, certain factors must be taken into account. For example, with exception out of maybe two women I knew, the white women had settled. They had settled for the first dude - and I do mean the first dude to come along and stick around long enough to get married. It didn't matter if he had a job, his own home, whether or not he'd finished school, or what. I saw how they would grovel and cry and scrape to keep pretty useless men who didn't want them anymore...only to jump into a new relationship 2-3 weeks later, and then get married to that guy as soon as they could afford a wedding and a place to stay.

    So yes, white women are getting married more often, but that doesn't mean they're getting all the best men. And it certainly doesn't mean they have the best marriages, because America has been the divorce capital of the planet

    1. Great points,
      With many shows and documentaries,it's about the following two : ratings and/or propaganda. Solutions are the following that you just mentioned...digging deeper into the people, the problems , talking about the problems that took place in your life and enlightening people.

      I liked the part that you mentioned about White women. Black women are bombarded with all sort of reasons that they aren't married. Media will make it seem that they are married because they know how to discern their potential mates. As you just mentioned they may be the first to get married,but on what conditions. Some of them will marry and will suck up all the wrong that their men will dish on them. Yet, when Black women attempt to weed out the wrong men or stand up against and injustice, they're accused of being " masculine" or " ghetto"

      Media will also tell you that Black woman are the least marraied group of women in the world...another way in their attempt of shaming them,but I see it this way. Some of us like me, have no problems of being that or married, or this is of bad men being discerned from the lives of black women. These are the men who think that White women are better because..supposedly..they are more easier to "handle"than Black women. They are the ones that will jump when they tell them to jump, for them to be unhappy but will also say that they are the " greatest" women in the world.

      You're so correct in bring up divorces stats. If marriages are supposed to be great among White women, the rates wouldn't be as high as it is. It just goes to show you that some of these marriages aren't built around substance.which is what I think that anti-Black women critics don't get.Some of us don't always want the easy way out in life.

    2. "the heterosexist, patriarchal gaze of these films"
      YES THIS!
      I've seen Dark Girls and Good hair. I found it very patronizing, the overall effect is that all of this is just in black women's minds and they need to get over it with some self esteem coaching. They never questioned black men's role in colorism both professionally and personally. Black men have always had more power in Hollywood, why aren't they casting more dark or brown skinned women? They have no problem casting dark skin men. They don't address the misogyny, misogynoir, and sexism that contributes to colorism. Women are not trophies for you to show your status in society. Yes white supremacy part of it but so is male privilege.

    3. So glad you mentioned the marriage thing.

      I'm so sick and tired of hearing about the low marriage rate among Black women... and I notice a lot of BWE (read: interracial dating forums masquerading as BWE) sites touting that same, tired pathology as a way to shame Black women.

      What some folks don't take into account is that the marriage rate is a doozy for ALL women, and that some Black women don't even WANT to get married or CAN'T get married in some states (if they're in a same-sex partnership).

      And yes... these documentaries that dissect Black women's bodies and lives are usually ALWAYS done from a patriarchal, heterosexist and/or white anthropological lens. And these are the folks who usually ALWAYS miss the mark, because they're so busy trying to perpetuate tired tropes about Black women.

      Docs like "Dark Girls" and "Light Girls" love to have a panel of ashies weighing-in, while NOT holding them accountable for their complicity in intraracial discrimination towards dark-skinned Black women.

      When those Black male comedians basically said dark-skinned women were choice, because they're more likely to basically act as grateful to be coupled up mules for sorry ass, lazy Black men, I was *done.* That popcorn analogy that man used was disgusting.

    4. @modest-goddess-"Black men have always had more power in Hollywood, why aren't they casting more dark or brown skinned women? They have no problem casting dark skin men. They don't address the misogyny, misogynoir, and sexism that contributes to colorism."

      Because they don't have to or want to. They look out for number one...THEMSELVES! If black women want to see dark skinned women come up in Hollywood then they need to take the lead and do it themselves. If you are not watching out for yourself don't expect anyone else to do it either.

    5. It's sad.

      I was just looking at The Haves And Have Not. Even though Tyler Perry has been associated with as Spike Lee said " buffoonery", I will give the man credit where credit is due: In this series,most of the people on show are either light brown or a dark brown. He have his characters play diversified roles whether it's about playing sinister, IR love and Black on Black love..he have them play it.The way they are in Hollywood, you'll think that no attractive dark skinned women live in California

      Just thinking about this topic made me think about that NWA biopic that is supposed to be shown in August of this year. I will repeat myself but I will not be watching this flick because of what the casting director did. Some may say that she's responsible for it and technically, she is mostly at fault for the discrimination against fuller figured /darker skinned women but one thing people like Ice Cube ,Dr. Dre and the the creator of the biopic could have done was to speak up about the problem,but they did. It just goes to show where their heart lies with Black women.

      That's ok,though.Black women leads are being dominant, whether they're directing/writing and even acting in hit series and movies that ..so far..are doing quite well.These days you cannot take them for granted.

  5. When I first heard about this documentary the first thing that came to my mind was this is going to be some " white history month", "straight pride parade" type ish and it sounds like I wasn't too far off. I didn't watch the documentary so I don't know if this was brought up but if the light skin women talk about possibly feeling alienated from other black women for not being perceived as "black enough" or "authentically black" and questioning their racial loyalty so to speak, especially when it comes issue facing black women and girls since a lot of times they're on the positive receiving end could they really care about black women and girls especially darker skin ones without drawing suspicion, then I might buy that, but this just sounds like a bunch of hurt feelings and condescension "the darker skin girls were so mean to me because I was light skin and pretty."

  6. Thanks for the feedback, folks!

    I definitely watched "Light Girls" with a great deal of skepticism and almost just didn't bother. But curiosity got the best of me and, while I knew what it'd probably entail, I wanted to see what the other end of the color spectrum had to say. To be honest, it was ... worse than I thought it'd be. BROWN-skinned women weighing-in about what it's like being light-skinned threw me for a loop. (.__.)

    There was just so much... "ugh". And the stories always read the same from biracial (1/2 black) and light skinned black women: the evil, ugly, monoracial darkies were jealous of me because I was so pretty, and fair, and Ell-Debargey. Never fails. Not to mention, the refusal of calling out THE THING that's responsible for colorism... White Supremacy.

    Of course, they had to throw in the random, colorblind white man (who I didn't even bother mentioning), to drone on about how he, supposedly, didn't notice the shade of the Black women he's dated... yeah... likely story.

    I thought it was a mess. And I have to say, in my experience, as a brown-skinned girl coming of age, I used to witness a LOT of light-skinned and Latina girls, bullying and making fun of girls who were dark-skinned with kinky hair. Somehow, THOSE narratives ... light-skinned girls and women bullying dark-skinned girls/women... conveniently get erased.

  7. Now this is even more interesting...light-skinned girls bullying darker sisters...never heard of that but it's shocking to me to hear about such stupid meanness. I also think that the experiences of both sides need to be about their professional careers and emotional scars or perspective. Not just about how men view them.
    I can't contribute on that because I have few friends and in my European country these documentaries don't exist. It's not a mainstream topic. If I had to make a guess, I wouldn't say that blacks here are exactly the same as American ones. There are similarities but the "black women can't get married" cliché isn't a thing here. Fortunately. Why? I dunno, probably because the "loud, angry strong black woman" cliché doesn't really exist here.
    I grew up around Africans (from Africa or raised in France) and Caribbeans and I didn't see these issues being brought up. We just didn't have this conversation (not on these terms anyway). We did talk about prejudiced views about each other countries though. So you ladies are lucky, in a way. Yeah, these documentaries suck (I haven't seen them) but at least ya'll having this needed conversation. And with black folks (and women) making their own webseries and content, I'm hopeful the subject will be handled correctly in the near future, though not in a mainstream way. Who wants to hear that their preferences are bigoted, maipulated, overrrated and hurt others? Right? Right...

    However, as for the darkest-skinned aunts of mine...when I look at their daughters (lighter-skinned) I can't help but think that their must have suffered from their skin color. When I hear stupid comments within my family and culture, it makes me wonder how they internalized them.

    1. Again, like you said in another topic, it all comes down to dodging responsibility within and outside our community, as an audience, as a person (black or not).

  8. This post was dead on. Everything you wrote was exactly what I was feeling or noticed. My issue is that this documentary didn't do anything to help. In some ways I think it only hurt (that comment by Hope Flood really bothered me). I've seen many post about this doc and the comments are ugly. Filled with who had it worst and those denying any perceived privileges. One point that can help this situation and as the commenter above stated, we, within our own community need to take a stand to move past this and shame those who don't. This includes men. They need to also see women of all shades as beautiful and stop putting stereotypes on us based only on our color.

  9. Thank you so much for this post!!! You literally said everything I was thinking. When Onyxx Monopoly said her piece, I was appalled. What was she thinking? It was almost like she was talking about light-skinned women being the victims of sexual assault with a sense of... pride. No! Just no. And to think, she was one of the contributors who really wasn't even light. She was brown! (A beautiful almond shade of brown... Because ALL shades of black are beautiful.)
    And, directors talking about light-skinned black women being passed over for roles is a joke. I can probably count on one hand the number of black actresses that are big right now. Almost all of the black actresses that are really big right now -- and there's only a handful, because there's only so many black actresses of ANY shade allowed in Hollywood -- are either light, or medium brown. Tarji P. Henson, Thandie Newton, Kerry Washinton, Wendy Raquel Robinson, Megan Good, Tia Mowry, etc. come to mind. I'll give them Gab Union, Lupita, and Regina Hall... but other than that, there aren't that many dark-skinned women in Hollywood!

    1. I think it would be even worse if you asked "which Black American actress do you know?" to a non-American person. Seriously, some may know a few names but some others might not even remember their names (or know them at all).


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