I want to take a moment today to show my dark skinned sisters some love. So often we say â€œblack is beautiful,â€ but that clichÃ© doesnâ€™t seem to mean much in communities where beauty is still ranked according to shade. Itâ€™s so obvious when you look at the videos on MTV and BET; the caramel latte girls get to grind on the rapper, and the dark cocoa honeys are sprinkled into crowd shots for color. The issue of black-on-black racism is something that bothers me so much; itâ€™s hard to express in words how it makes me feel. (This is ironic, since thatâ€™s what I do both for a living and for pleasure.)
I spend a lot of time reading comments pages and message boards on popular urban sites. Often, the conversation about certain celebs tends to devolve into racist stereotypes, all variations of that sad clichÃ©, â€œIf youâ€™re light, youâ€™re alright; if youâ€™re black, step back.â€ I find it absolutely tragic that some of the harshest comments come from our own people, who seem to enjoy lambasting people for looking â€œtoo dark,â€ or â€œover black,â€ or even dredging the n-word out. Weâ€™ve all heard relatives or friends casually toss about the same discriminatory phrases. Black as the ace of spades. Blacker than Darth Vaderâ€™s helmet. Black as midnight. Darkie. Darkness. We need to leave that kind of thinking behind and embrace each other for all shades of beautiful.
Kids can say the darndest things. I went to school with a girl who was darker than mahogany. Her skin was velvet smooth and her features were elfin and beautiful. She was also wonderfully petite, and a very sweet and cheerful person. I donâ€™t remember where the joke began, but someone once said that â€œshe was so black, she was purple.â€ People started calling her â€œpurps,â€ and the nickname stuck throughout the time we were together at school. I often wonder about that girl, and how that nickname made her feel. The things we say to each other can be so cruel. The way we see each other can be so heartbreakingly ignorant. I donâ€™t know where my classmate lives now, or what she does. I just know that when I remember those days, I cringe inside at how uninformed and immature we all were. But we got that kind of view somewhere. Itâ€™s a belief system passed down from generation to generation, dating back to the days when the shade of your skin determined whether you worked in the house or in the field.
I started thinking a lot about race and shade after reading this excellent, thoughtful interview on Rocka Candy with Broadway and television legend Sheryl Lee Ralph. Regarding Beyonce taking over her role as Deena Jones in the highly anticipated film remake of Dreamgirls, she had this to say:
R.C: How do you feel about Beyonce portraying the role you originally bought to life – Deena Jones?
SLR: It’s interesting, when Tom Eyen who is the creator, had this idea, he said that the Dreams, have to be three obviously black girls. Why? Because America will always go for that light, bright, long haired black girl because they will feel comfortable building her up, since they see themselves in her. But for the obviously black girl, if she makes it, she deserves to be right there. Because they aren’t trying to push her, that’s why the Dreams had to be three obviously black girls. So when they cast Beyonce in the role of Deena Jones. I said, “Wow, this is exactly what Tom Eyen said would happen.” They going to take to that light, bright blackish blonde girl because they feel comfortable with her. That’s the reality.
R.C: Who would you have cast as Deena Jones?
SLR: That’s hard because the industry isn’t pushing her, so you don’t have an obvious one to pick from. The closest one I can think of, that’s an obvious black girl with that glamour thing to her is Lauryn Hill. Heather Headley is kind of close but she’s not Deena. You know Deena is Diana Ross, she’s a drama girl, an out right glamour girl.
Sheryl Lee Ralph is absolutely right, but Iâ€™d like to (gasp!) defend Beyonce. I know, I know. She gets shit on a lot for representing that light-skinned, could-pass-for-white girl. But Beyonce canâ€™t help her color any more than any of us can help our own. Beyonce didnâ€™t put herself on the cover of every magazine, or on the top of the music chart, she didnâ€™t cast herself in Dreamgirls. We canâ€™t blame her for being annoyingly ubiquitous when we all helped to contribute to her success. And thatâ€™s fine, because she honestly is talented and beautiful. She has obviously worked damn hard to get to where she is. But for every Beyonce, thereâ€™s a Syleena Johnson or a Janelle Monae who sings (almost literally) in the shadows, whose record label might not be pushing their material hard enough, and who donâ€™t get enough media exposure.
Darker skinned women have an even harder time finding makeup in their shades. I already made loving mention of I-Iman, and one of my favorite black beauty product lines is Black Opal. For some reason, Iâ€™ve found Black Opal products increasingly hard to find on store shelves. I have many of their lip glosses and lipsticks, theyâ€™re all excellent. And the range of shades available in their foundation and concealer lines is admirable. Trinidad-based Sacha Cosmetics also caters to women of all skin tones.
Not every model needs to have their own makeup line, but I would love to see women who look like Alek Wek be the official face for more mainstream beauty products. I would also love to see more women like her on the cover of magazines, and (although sheâ€™s too classy for it), in music videos. I hope that someday, we get to see equal representation of women of all colors. I canâ€™t honor Sheryl Lee Ralphâ€™s wish to cast a more appropriate Deena. All I can do is share this remarkable video that was sent to me by regular reader Jerseybred. (Thank you!!)
Jennifer Holliday is an undoubted legend, but Iâ€™m still psyched to see my girl Jennifer Hudson belt this one out. Iâ€™ve been rooting for her since day 1 on Idol.