“Yo mama’s so black, when she wears orange lipstick, it looks like she’s been eating Cheetos.”–The Dozens
Recently, I shared I’ve been watching reruns of A Different World. The late 80’s/early 90’s show, centered on the lives of Black college students. It covered issues such as police brutality, homelessness, etc. I posted about a good episode that addressed the issue of sexual violence. The other day, another excellent episode aired.
Whitley (Jasmine Guy) decides to host an art collection, featuring images/collectable items of Mammy. Her friend, Kim (Charnele Brown), finds the display offensive. Kim has a bad memory of a childhood incident, when she is referred to as Mammy by a teacher. It was during a costume contest at school. She’d been dressed as an African princess.
Things come to a head when Kim’s boyfriend, Ron (Darryl M. Bell) makes “Yo mama’s so black…” jokes in her presence. Kim is dark-skinned and full-figured. The jokes triggered old feelings of ugliness and self-doubt. As she tells a friend, “Women like me aren’t deemed worthy.” Kim also feels that Whitley (a lighter skinned/slender Black woman), doesn’t understand her pain. She sees the Mammy exhibit as an affront to her.
In typical sitcom fashion, Kim resolves all her issues, makes up with everybody by the end of the 30 minutes. However, I thought the episode was very moving and I found myself crying. The show made me reflect on my childhood experiences as a dark-skinned Black girl.
I’m a child of the 80’s. It was during this time Grace Jones became popular. Now, she is considered an icon, and lauded as paving the way for Afrofuturism music/fashion. But in the 80’s, Jones was often shown in an animalistic manner. Despite being a beautiful woman (with cheekbones on fleek…do the kids still say that?) her looks tended to be mocked. Mostly because she was a very dark Black woman.
It bothered me when people said I looked like her. I viewed Jones as ugly, because she was portrayed as an unattractive woman. The worst thing you could call me was Grace Jones. Of course, as an adult, I realize Grace Jones is fly as hell. She’s almost 70 and still ruling the stage. While some of her outlandish behavior, is part of her personality, there were definitely racist/colorist undertones to the way Jones was presented. Even in the 90’s film “Boomerang,” her character is bizarre.
Besides dealing with folks cracking on me for looking like Jones, my darkness was undermined in other ways. I remember one day, my step-father showing me a picture in a magazine. He said, “Now that’s what a Black woman should look like.” The model was light-skinned/biracial, with long hair. I’m not trying to dis my step-father (rest in peace). He wasn’t a bad person. It was the mentality of a lot people at that time (and now). I remember in fifth grade, the boys were trying to decide which girl’s breast they would like to see. One boy (who was as dark as me), scrunched up his nose and said, “tonya’s titties probably look burnt.” It was really bad in the 80’s for dark-skinned Black girls/women. We had no outlets to confront this issue, no platform to fight back.
The biggest contributor to this new Dark Women’s Revolution, is social media. It’s been wonderful to see younger Black women pushing back against colorism. The marginalization of dark-skinned Black women speaks to the larger issue of anti-blackness. The degradation of dark-skinned Black women upholds white supremacy.
Dark-skinned Black women today are using technology to connect and empower each other. It’s so different from when I was a kid. I felt very alone. I’ve long gotten over the insecure feelings about my skin color. It didn’t happen in a half an hour like Kim, it was a journey. But I’m good. Still, it’s important to provide space for Black girls/women struggling with colorism and resisting an agenda that seeks to erase us from mainstream media.
Thursday: Dark Black Women’s Revolution Pt. 2