Light Girls: Colorism in American Society

By: Brandi Patterson

A little over a week ago, the Oprah Winfrey Network aired Bill Duke’s documentary, Light Girls, the sequel to his previous film Dark Girls. Both films give an in-depth look at the social construct of colorism amongst women, with its history and effects on a society. While Dark Girls focused more on issues within the American black community, Light Girls focused on colorism with the respect to an obsession with women of lighter complexions across different races. Amber Rose, Raven-Symone, Soledad O’Brien, and many other women and men from the entertainment, media and scholarly realm sat down and shared their collective experiences of what it is like to live in a world where colorism has grown to be a serious matter.

The film begins with giving a historical context to the colorism phenomenon. For those who are unfamiliar with the term, colorism is a type of discrimination that occurs when someone is treated with preferential treatment because they have a lighter skin complexion. In the context of America, it is usually seen perpetuated amongst blacks who are seen as racially ambiguous. However, from a worldly perspective, colorism can be seen perpetuated from country to country across different racial and ethnic groups, as the film depicted colorism in India and other parts of Asia and the Caribbean. The participants of the Light Girls documentary came to a general consensus – the ultimate goal of colorism is to praise those that look as close to white as possible.

Light Girls

Light Girls touches on how both mass media outlets and the economy help fuel this social construct of colorism. We see the people on television, movies, and in magazines, it becomes imbedded in our brains that we must look like these famous people. Thus, we go out and buy various products – bleaching creams, makeup, hair straighteners, color contacts, plastic surgery – that will claim to make us look like these people, instead of embracing our own natural beauty. According to the film, the revenue for the global beauty market is predicted to reach $265 billion by 2017. This is truly incredible.

The participants of the documentary discussed a so-called healing process to this issue of colorism. There is no concrete step-by-step process; however, many of the participants believe that everyone must start from within and embrace themselves and love who they are as a human being. It is also imperative that we lead by example and teach others that colorism is purely a social construct, created by people, and therefore we can ultimately end it as a human race.

Overall, Light Girls did a great job at focusing on the issues of colorism not only in the United States, but also in other areas of the world. I truly believe that colorism and its negative effects can be put to an end if we come together and start to believe in all of terms of the healing process that many of the participants advised us upon.

-Brandi

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