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What Race Documentaries That Are Meant to Be Insightful Get Wrong

o-OWN-LIGHT-GIRLS-ESSENCE-ATKINS-facebook“If you love yourself, don’t watch Light Girls.”

This is what I told a dear friend of mine after watching the documentary. The film was a sequel to Dark Girls, a documentary about colorism in the African-American community. Light Girls was supposed to show the other side of the coin and share the views of women that society labels as “light-skinned.” Instead, it turned into a living rendition of light skin vs. dark skin battles paralleling the epic scenes from School Daze. Why the disdain? There isn’t enough time to cover everything, but here are my top sources of contention with Light Girls.

1. The denial of light skin privilege

Light Girls perpetuated the stereotype that dark-skinned girls are jealous, angry and violent. Rarely was there any nuanced or guided discourse behind light skin privilege. In fact, the topic was carefully avoided. If not for Soledad O’Brien’s brief acknowledgement that her color helped her career, one would think that light skin privilege is a figment of evil dark-skinned imagination.

This is mostly because a discussion surrounding white privilege was painfully absent from most commentary. Light skin privilege exists as a subsidiary of white privilege. This is not a concept made up out of simple jealously. We cannot discuss one without the other. Light skin privilege is when people with skin color closer to what is associated with phenotypically “white features” are granted certain privileges relative to superiority over darker-skinned people.

Consequently, light-skinned women get lighter jail sentences, are more likely to get hired for a job and are even disciplined differently as children. These are just a few examples backed up by data.

Understand that acknowledging light skin privilege is not about finger-pointing. It’s about understanding racial hierarchies determined by structures of white superiority and the role that it plays in Black lives.

If we deny the existence of light skin privilege, we deny the existence of white privilege.

2. Black men are not the gatekeepers of Black women’s value

The documentary spent an agonizing amount of time featuring the scattered thoughts of random Black men, as if Black male scholars were unavailable. Dr. Steve Perry was very much alone in his contribution to the discussion. There were so many cringe-worthy moments where men discussed their color “preferences” like a bunch of drooling eighth-graders. I thought to myself, “Are we in middle school?” Along this line, the film completely ignored the possibility of Black women in same-sex relationships. The film placed the value of Black women on heterosexual, patriarchal male gaze. One commentator even exalted the faulty belief that dark-skinned Black women are better than light-skinned women because they will do more for you. This type of unchallenged thinking reaffirms stereotypes of darker-skinned Black women being built for work and lighter-skinned women existing solely for the purpose of being a trophy.

3. The assertion that light-skinned girls are molested or raped more than dark-skinned girls is disturbing

Two commentators in the film recalled being molested and raped. One of them even boldly stated that light-skinned girls are a prime choice for pedophiles. My mouth dropped open. “Is this really happening?” The film just continued onto the next topic.

To leave such an assertion unchallenged or glossed over is grossly irresponsible. Not to discredit her personal experiences, but that assertion deserved a very nuanced follow-up discussion. No way should this have been included without expert analysis. It was cruel and damaging to the film participants and audience.

Yes, pedophiles have varying preferences. They often take advantage of the more vulnerable segments of society. Yes, light-skinned girls get raped, molested and sexually trafficked. However, because dark-skinned girls are often less championed for, dark skin is often a determinate in sexual abuse and sex trafficking.

Society’s refusal to protect dark-skinned girls is what led to Toni Morrison’s decision to create the character Pecola Breedlove. Pecola, who was both sexually abused and ignored, continually prayed for blue eyes believing it would be a type of salvation from the societal ills associated with her dark-skinned Black identity. This is not a contest on who is sexually abused more.

This is more about understanding the power dynamics of sexual abuse and how it intersects within racial hierarchies. It deserved a fuller conversation.

4. Who are these people?

Apparently, every person with an agent made it into this film except the leading scholar on the one-drop rule, Yaba Blay. It was as if they carefully avoided her input. And it showed. She was featured on Soledad O’Brien’s Who Is Black in America.

Light Girls turned out to be a mess of a documentary because it was filled with commentary from a slew of third-tier comedians and entertainers. Additionally, the film included remarks from pseudo doctor Farrah Gray. Of course there were also a few notable scholars and commentators. Michaela Angela Davis, Goldie Taylor, Jamilah Lemieux, and Soledad O’Brien were among the slim pickings of truthful and knowledgeable commentary. Yet, by the end of the film, many of them were also tweeting disgust concerning what the film had become. I’m still baffled by Raven Symone’s appearance as well, considering her ideas on “colorless” as an identity.

5. It’s not about jealousy

I shudder at the thought of having to say this, but dark-skinned girls are not all lurking in the bushes waiting to pounce on the nearest light-skinned person. This notion is ridiculous but was highly purported throughout the documentary. We’re not all crying in a corner somewhere filled with rage and jealousy. It reasserted the false narrative that all dark-skinned girls are unwanted, hateful, mean and violent. The film made it look like we were all derivatives of the boogeyman.

Rarely did the documentary truthfully discuss playground wars and issues of Black children in general calling each other “too Black,” “ugly Africans,” or “high yellow” and using these learned internalized sentiments in hopes of feeling more superior to each other in the face of constant societal dehumanization.

It’s all a part of white supremacy and learned internalized racial hierarchies, not simplistic hatred or jealousy.

6. Sisterhood does exist

There are issues of colorism throughout our society. However, this belief that Black women in predetermined skin-tone categories are genetically predisposed to hate each other is downright preposterous. As I’ve written before, it’s important to remember that there is sisterhood among Black women that has historically been a source of safety and empowerment. It has thrived, even in the midst of racism and colorism. This sisterhood bond continues to be the salvation for many Black women in need of support and love.

7. Colorism cannot be changed through positive thinking

At one point “Dr.” Farrah Gray asserted that light-skinned and dark-skinned girls simply need to learn to get along and stop “blaming the white man.” Here goes the condescending, “You girls stop fighting,” speech. Other commentators docilely asserted we simply needed to think positive, look in the mirror and say, “I’m beautiful.” Then all will be healed. It reduced the entire subject to Black women being just silly or petty, which is not the case.

No pep talk in the world is going to cure colorism. The film put the onus of colorism on the literal and preverbal backs of dark-skinned girls. As if to say colorism is a personal problem, not a real systematic lived experience. This teeters along the line of saying racism is simply an imagined Black problem that will go away if we just think happy thoughts and be New Black like Pharrell.

8. In conclusion

To be fair, the film had a few positives. For instance, at one point they tried to present a global perspective of colorism. This is helpful in highlighting the fact that colorism is not just a Black issue. The effects of slavery and colonization have been felt worldwide. Also, a film about how colorism affects light-skinned girls is necessary, and efforts of the film are appreciated. Still, the film did what most things in mainstream society do. Light Girls continued the devaluation of Black life by oversimplifying key issues and not providing a thorough analysis for deconstructing the core problems … structural racism and patriarchy.

This article was originally published on, Jessica Ann Mitchell.

What people are saying

14 thoughts on “What Race Documentaries That Are Meant to Be Insightful Get Wrong

  1. Carine Madusa Nzundu says:

    You can only be black, if your maternal mother and paternal father are black. That is not an opinion, it is a simple fact.

    Until the blacks in US learn there is a difference between them and comparing themselves to people who are bi-racial/multi racial, they will always have this problem. Dark-skinned girls focused MORE on the hardships of being black women, whilst this documentary, focused MORE on how the (ACTUAL) black woman / non-mixed, is so mean and jealous.

    The one drop rule was made to confuse you, and God damn it did! As for those old for-fathers of Amerika, their words were Holy. Anything they set their mind to was a prophecy to the blacks in Amerika. They knew what that rule would do to you. You got black people these days asking "what is black" really? E.g: You going to tell me Angela Bassett and Mariah Carey are the same race? Kelly Rowland's son is the same as Paula Patton's? Really?

    Ms Soledad O'brien…just stop it!

    I have yet to see any other race ask such a beyond foolish question and show docs on how the actual race is suppressing love and kindness to their mixed others.

    The author made some valuable points. I agree with many of her points.

  2. Andrea Nicole says:

    maternal mother and paternal father? -_-

  3. Terri White says:

    There are very few African Americans who do not have at least.
    SOME DNA from another race….your statement seems flawed….yes, I would consider all of those celebs a part of the black race….just as not all Asians and all Hispanics and even all Whites don't look the same….races aren't a blanket of one color and shape, each one has variations within. Someone from Vietnam does NOT look like a Korean but both are Asian. An Ethipoian does NOT look the same as a Nigerian but htey ae both black….a Swede does NOT look like an Italian but they are both white, etc etc etc. I wonder, what do you think of black Aboriginies that are born with blond hair….are they "confused"? Or blacks with two black parents that pop up with green eyes….I guess they are "confused as well"… If the one drop rule has bamboozeld us as you say, then the same may be applied to your logic in saying that if someone has any part of their genetic makeup from another race then they aren't black…………….

  4. Carine Madusa Nzundu says:

    Andrea Nicole I had to use those words because I know some people who are adopted. Example: Nicole Richie is adopted.

  5. Carine Madusa Nzundu says:

    I understand what your saying. I'm fully aware of the fact that many AA have non-black ancestors (from 200 years ago) but you should NOT compare those people with someone who is straight up 50% something else. Not all Afrikans are 100% black. You can't tell me that someone like Akon is the same race as Mariah Carey, their genetics are not the same.

    Your mentioning whites and Asians in your post, OK, let's bring them in. Do you see white people make tv shows, about "who/what is a white person in america"? "Do you see articles talking about the struggles of being a yellow Asian in America"?

    Why would I see aboriginals as "confused"? Confusion is to do with ones psychology not phenotype. Since you mentioned Aboriginals…they fully comprehend the difference of the mixed people for what they are in Australia, I even remember watching a documentary were they explained how race mixing was used to dilute many of the tribes and bring them to/ or near extinction. There are many black people with blonde, red, brown hair in the world, I myself have a few blonde hairs on my body.

    Hispanic is not a race. It's a culture.
    Ethiopia is a country with one of the largest mixed population. As is South Africa where they call them "coloured", Egypt, Morocco etc.

    "If the one drop rule has bamboozeld us as you say, then the same may be applied to your logic in saying that if someone has any part of their genetic makeup from another race then they aren't black". I don't see how your applying "bamboozled" to my logic and genetic FACTS. You CAN'T erase their other half. That individual would be mixed/multiracial/half caste, every other race understands this.

    Terri White I don't want you to feel as though I'm mocking AA's. You see, with the one drop rule that was gifted to AA blacks, they are doing one thing that no other group of blacks do, here's what it feels and looks like -> 'The struggles of being a dark skinned black vs our mixed relatives in Amerika Series 415'. It's sad to see but I guess pointing out the "flaws" in clinging onto such a dumb rule is criminal. *Kanye shrug*

  6. Carine Madusa Nzundu says:

    Andrea Nicole There! I fixed it. lol 🙂

  7. Carine Madusa Nzundu I don't agree with everything you've said but you make interesting points. The one drop rule was a racist conception and there is absolutely no denying it. That said we have to decide how to deal with it, in that we MAY prefer to embrace mixed race people as part of our community as we have done historically. Unfortunately the mainstream of America would gladly suggest that a black man, white woman, and bi-racial child is a black family. To which I would disagree.

    The biology concept is problematic as well because African Americans do have a good bit of white blood in us as do our black brethren from south of the border. And native Africans may be looking at us all as mutts. Truth is, a "biracial" individual such as Obama may have more black blood than many African Americans with two black parents because his father was native african. He certainly doesn't look like Halle or the Rock does he?

  8. Miles Johnson says:

    Carine Madusa Nzundu how dark does someone have to be to be black? I would like to be able to know, and can't magically see how many drops of black blood are in people's genetical makeup. SO, I need you to provide a color from the Crayola box at which point if you're darker than this you're black. Show me a crayon. Show. Me. A. Crayon. SHOWMEACRAYON.

  9. Miles Johnson A person is not black by taking into account how dark they are. It is to do with yes, your skin, but most important your genes, hue, phenotype etc.

    For example: I personally have Bangladeshi and Sri Lankan Asian friends who are darker than me, but when you look at their facial features, hair, hue, phenotype, body structure and more, you can easily spot the 'black-sheep' between us all. I have yet to see someone not notice their Asian and call them black because they are brown like myself.

    Furthermore, I beg of you don't do this! I'm fully open to us having a discussion but not when your asking me to decipher a persons race via the use of a crayola box of colours. *I shudder at the thought*.

    I don't know you personally but you surprise me if you cannot see that someone like Mariah Carey and Wenworth Miller are not the same race as Samuel L Jackson or Wesley Snipes. There is a difference between claiming them and seeing them for what they really are.

  10. Carine Madusa Nzundu You are simultaneously erasing people's identity, while also saying that blackness looks like one particular thing. My earlier comment was facetious, but apparently it didn't come across, so I'll be more blunt: please stop. You aren't the gatekeeper of blackness because you're dark-skinned. Stop telling people who are suffering from anti-black racism that they can't claim blackness. Stop. Stop. Stop.

  11. Miles Johnson Wait! Me calling a mixed person mixed is incorrect? Please explain to me how their blackness is being erased by calling them what they are? I guess erasing their other half to you is acceptable.

    As a black person, I have every right to not accept mixed people as black. I know I'm not the gatekeeper, the white man who gave you the One Drop rule already holds this title.
    You ain't gotta agree with me.

    What the F is "anti black racism"? Surely they wouldn't be experiencing this if they were black from other blacks right? But I digress..

    Ps: I'm not "dark-skinned". Lupita Nyongo'o, Alek Wek and Viola Davies are "dark skinned" women. I guess in order for your post to gain more leverage…every non-mixed black woman gets the 'you dark-skinned woman stop hating'.

  12. Rocki Denene says:

    I admire Bill Duke for doing both documentaries . However, I think having a female director would've made a significant difference.

  13. I didn't like the documentary either, but according to your synopsis it should have been a dog fest on light skin girls. This shit is ridiculous. You obviously hate light skin people. You part of the problem.

  14. smh…. well both documentaries were pointless in my book and it's nothing less than you'd expect that a documentary called light girls would simply be a retaliation against a documentary called dark girls. What problem did either documentary address other than the longing of many, if not most black women to be ranked higher as sexual objects in white supremacy's beauty hierarchy?

    Yet… black people's problems are not to do with our complexion, they are mostly to do with the ongoing violence and exploitation inflicted on us by white supremacy. Neither of these programmes addressed that reality and if anything the eternal whining about black women not being appreciated in a white supremacist system is simply validation of and acquiescence to the values of white supremacy.

    You're not rejecting white supremacy's devaluing of our humanity, you're agreeing with it and then asking it to be kinder, inspite of our "lesserness". Not a chance… not this black man.

    These "documentaries" were just your typical black internet flame thread conducted on film. Just more distraction fodder for feeble minds. This is not an important discussion in the BC except to fools.

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