Friday, August 21, 2015

Dark Girls (2011)

I remember a line from CSI that went something like “It’s not what they call you.  It‘s what you answer to.”  (I’ve found similar quotes attributed to Tylor Perry and W. C. Fields.)  What people call themselves, or at least what they answer to, varies quite a bit in Miami.  Just because you have dark skin doesn’t mean you’re African-American.  Your lineage may have come through any one of a number of nearby countries like Jamaica, Haiti or The Bahamas  Even those that trace their ancestry directly to Africa may have no immediate ties to the continent.  They were born here, as were their parents and grandparents.  It’s not that easy to apply one label to such a diverse group.

This is brought up in Dark Girls.  As you might imagine, the movie is about women of color, which is a very general designation.  This includes many different women from many different places.  In the beginning, we get to see a girl reject the label of African-American, as her family doesn’t come directly from Africa.  The movie goes on to show how darker skin is often seen as worse.  A girl is given five drawings of a child.  The outline is the same for each; the only difference is the color.  When asked to pick the smartest or prettiest, she picks the lightest one.  When asked to pick the worst, she picks the darkest.

From there, the movie tends to ramble.  We have lots of people talk about what it means to be darker or lighter in a society that values being lighter.  We see how women are lightened, both digitally and cosmetically, so as to look prettier.  Several women were told by older relatives to marry lighter so as to have lighter children.  This isn’t even something that’s confined to the United States.

I’ve heard of lighter being better in India and Brazil.  (The movie points out that the reverse is true in only one country.)  I recall one story I heard years ago of a women applying for a role in a commercial featuring a husband, wife and a maid.  She wanted the role of the wife, but was thrown a maid’s uniform because she was darker.  It tends to be harder to love yourself when the media portrays your group as being lesser or worse.  It may not always be overt, but it is there.  (The fact that there’s an industry devoted to lightening skin is testament to this.)

The documentary isn’t great, but it could be used as a starting point.  It’s the kind of thing that I could see schools or other organizations using to get a conversation started.  Race is a very complicated thing.  I’m not sure one documentary could do it justice.

Consider that we share 98% of our DNA with chimpanzees.  Imagine the difference between any two humans.  Such a small difference is what makes us judge one another, whether accurately or not.  I’ve often thought this may explain the Fermi paradox.  Aliens bay be looking at us and seeing how we treat our own species.  How can we be expected to treat an alien race fairly?

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