8.21.2016

Why we must keep talking about how #BlackLooksMatter


Etienne Rodriguez just penned a great piece yesterday over at Affinity Magazine entitled "Our Diversity Isn't Looking So Diverse" (from whence I snatched this great image above).  In it he makes the same points we posted from Ms. Jaina Bennett, on the same day she made them...which was perfect.


Let me make this abundantly clear: we love, love, love Zendaya.  And Candice Patton.  And Kylie Bunbury.  And Kat Graham.  And Kiersey Clemons.  And Angel Coulby.  And Nathalie Emmanuel. And Nicole Ari Parker.  And Megan Markle.  We use to love Zoe Saldana too, but she's on a bit of a time-out.  They're our sisters; we respect their accomplishments, and appreciate the struggles they've endured and continue to endure in the hostile world of show business.  We don't want them to give up a single thing (they're not exactly drowning in back-to-back roles).  So when you think about it, this isn't even really about them.  This is about the people who hire them.

For a long time, we've all known about the "Black, but not too Black" rule.  For centuries we've been well aware of White America's fetish with so called "mulattoes" and "octaroons."  We see it all the time on TV, in movies, and in commercials, and we know the unspoken rule: it's okay to hire a Black woman, it's even okay to make her a central character and a love interest...but only so long as she adheres to a very specific aesthetic: light-skinned, thin-bodied, long straight hair (or very loose curls), light-colored eyes, and facial features which don't immediately remind viewers of the African continent.  In other words, women whose appearances cast just enough "doubt."

And that's fine.  By all means, may they all have long, successful careers.  But let's not play dumb and pretend that this singular type of representation is okay - it's not.  Like I said on my own Facebook page, White people may be content to trot out and watch the same variations of Brad and Becky over and over and over again, generation after generation, but we're not them.  We will NOT be a Black Miss Teen USA 2016.  We neither need nor want any parts of this here mess.

I still believe this is all the same person.
Cardi B said it best: If Black Lives Matter, then Black Looks Matter, and we can't allow ourselves to fall into this trap where we get so thirsty for representation that we pretend not to notice that 99% of the melanin spectrum is subject to erasure in the arts.  Now, I specify the arts here because the rules seem to bend when dark-skinned, muscular Black women are killing the competition in sports.*  Notice I said the rules bend; they don't break or change, because these sistas still get body-shamed and blasted even as they're making history, and people can't wait to chastise them for dumb stuff like not holding their hand over their hearts during the national anthem, or for not smiling enough in interviews.

This reinforces the whole House Slave/Field Slave dynamic in which the light-skinned, mixed Africans were favored as cooks and maids and butlers, while the darker-skinned Africans were used to do all the heavy lifting.  Here, the light-skinned, mixed Africans are acceptable representatives of beauty and fashion in music, movies, television, and magazines, while our darker sisters are accepted as sports icons (so long as they shut up, win gold, and then quietly stay out of sight afterward).  Now you can argue, "But Ankh...what about Viola Davis?  She's dark-skinned, in her fifties, stars on her own show, has multiple love interests, won an Emmy...."  Well, yeah, and the New York Times called her "less classically beautiful" than her peers - remember that shitshow?

"Bitch, I AM classic."
"Okay, but what about Aja Naomi King? She's fairly dark, and gets to be young and pretty and feminine and have lovers on the show too."  Mm-hm, with diminished screen time and less interesting, less developed storylines (if you can even call them that).  Two seasons in, and we know less about her than anyone else.  We still haven't even met her family.

"No, but really tho...where my backstory???"
Keep 'em comin', boo.  *nods*  I can do this all day.

I think I've made my point, so I'm just going to end with this: the next time Azealia Banks, Dencia, or Lil Kim talk about feeling the need to bleach their skin, do them a kindness and pause to remember this conversation before you drag them across the internet.

*I just remembered the drama in which light-skinned, Canadian born Marisa Dick was chosen over dark-skinned, curly-haired Trinidadian native Thema Williams to represent at the Olympics. So there are exceptions to THAT rule as well.

Flashback

TV Execs Tried to Whitewash Issa Rae’s ‘Awkward Black Girl,’ Thankfully She Said No

12 comments:

  1. Thank you for speaking on this issue. I definitely noticed how they sidelined Aja Naomi King on HTGAWM. In favor of whiter women like Laurel who is honesty a very privileged white Latina. The actress herself is very privileged in her home country of Mexico where women who look like her are the literal stars of television. So I find it interesting that she gets quite a bit of shine on this show compared to Mikaela. It would have been nice if an afro-latina or darker latina/indigenous woman had been given her role. Hell even an afro-asian/darker asian woman as a regular on the show. Asian Latina? The sky is the limit. There are too many whiteys in the Ketting 5.

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    1. I love Karla Souza, but I am so sick of the Laurel/Frank drama. IDGAF about them. I don't understand why the writers are drawing such a blank with Michaela Pratt. I'm actually a big fan of HTGAWM because it's totally crazy, but if she does not get fleshed out in Season 3, I'm going to start boycotting the damn show.

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  2. Yaaaas! I also wanted to mention the dark skinned black women are only recognized and given plum roles after they gotten way older not when they are young and fertile. Think about that. People love showing women no compassion when they bleach becuase we know that black women are un redeemable.

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    1. dark skinned black women are only recognized and given plum roles after they gotten way older not when they are young and fertile.

      Exactly. Why did it take THIS long to give Viola Davis her own show?

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    2. It's like how there is always a new pretty white thing in town and everyone is throwing opportunities her way that a black actress her age would kill for. I see pretty white nobodies on magazine covers all the damn time and it kills me. I hate the fact that black women are getting famous when they are older and have a strong body of work. Where is that fresh new black girl that everyone should be fawning over?

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  3. "while the darker-skinned Africans were used to do all the heavy lifting. Here, the light-skinned, mixed Africans are acceptable representatives of beauty and fashion in music,"

    Which makes me wonder why so many black women like Empire. The light-skinned and white women are shown as desirable, sought after and put on pedestals. The dark-skinned women are shown as morbidly obese, lesbian, or the stereotypical loud woman.

    Dark-skinned black women are RARELY portrayed in healthy relationships or happy. They are always struggling and playing the role of strong black woman who helps everyone before she helps herself. And I have noticed this even in movies written by POC (TP especially).

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  4. S.Hayashi Author of The Storyteller.August 21, 2016 at 8:45 PM

    This is very true and I'm glad someone finally wrote a bit more in depth about it. If you are dark skinned good luck in getting air time before you turn 50. How can we change this is the question that should be getting asked. I stopped watching Empire for that reason specifically. Forget about music videos, artists like Justin bieber very very rarely use dark women in their videos.even black artists use more Latinas and light skinned women. So if you dont bleach your skin you ain't getting in. It's sad but true. I think that's why when I write I make it a point not to make my female characters milky skinned with straight hair.

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  5. Agreed.

    Same in France. Wait, no, worse. While black male rappers have no problem dominating (with North Africans) the hip hop/rap scene, black female singers are barely on TV and most of them struggle to have a career here.
    Our 3 kinda "mainstream" dark-skinned black female singers (Imany, Irma and Inna Modja) sing in English (the irony) and haven't been that famous in the long-term. Then, we have one duo (the Nubians) who moved to the USA a long time ago (oh just like Surya Bonaly... the irony). And the rest... well, struggling? Because I barely don't know any others. The only black one who's super famous here is half white.

    I've always wondered why our RnB scene was mostly about North African women (with a couple of black men back in the day)... besides pop with also white women of course. Yes, RnB is American. But still, if Monsieur Nov and other non blacks can do it in France and have a decent (though difficult) career, where are the black women? I've always suspected skin color and facial features as the main factor about women. I'm glad to have that discussion on this blog.

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  6. So yeah, I don't blame Azealia Banks and the others for bleaching their skin. I do think that the hate she gets is mostly because of her attitude though. So her insecure feelings about her skin get dismissed.

    As for America... light-skinned black female singers are more well-known, especially if you look "exotic" (I dislike this word but you know what I mean, creole/mixed background). Beyoncé, Rihanna and Nicki Minaj come to mind. Looking only "African" or "black" isn't attractive enough or is "perceived" as not selling enough if you want to be at the top. Sadly.

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  7. "...in her fifties..." Um, WHAT??????? I'm black and I never even thought....I'm 24, but can I be preemptively jealous of this woman for a sec? my god!

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  8. Girl, this. Alladis. ALL OF THIS. I get so tired of seeing a limited palette on my TV screen. I'm so sick of assholes getting mad when WoC get roles that are usually "reserved" for ytfolk. I wish Zendaya well and hope that she slays the role. But like homegirl said, call me when a chocolate sistah with a 4c fro gets casted. This is 20-fucking-16 and we still dealing with this fuckery. So over it.

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  9. Girl, this. Alladis. ALL OF THIS. I get so tired of seeing a limited palette on my TV screen. I'm so sick of assholes getting mad when WoC get roles that are usually "reserved" for ytfolk. I wish Zendaya well and hope that she slays the role. But like homegirl said, call me when a chocolate sistah with a 4c fro gets casted. This is 20-fucking-16 and we still dealing with this fuckery. So over it.

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