“Black Is Black”: Thoughts on “Dark Girls”

DarkGirlsPeople think they diss my person/By stating I’m darkly packed/ I know this, so I point at Q-Tip/ And he states ‘black is black’ ~ “Me Myself and I” by De La Soul

I was unable to see the documentary “Dark Girls” when it appeared on the OWN Network in June, but I immediately put it on my Netflix list in anticipation of the DVD release. Last night I was able to watch it on Amazon Instant Video, and I was pleasantly surprised at how well it dealt with a difficult issue.

“Dark Girls” explores the issue of colorism, primarily as it relates to dark-skinned African-American women, using history, personal narratives, educators, and psychologists. Not surprisingly, the media images in American culture often emphasize beauty as “white,” or at least as “light.” In addition, however, the intra-racial messages that dark-skinned women receive are also damaging. Historically and in contemporary society, some African Americans have internalized negative images about blackness and projected them onto other black people.

Much of what “Dark Girls” shows is what astute observers of social history and culture already know through study and the lived experience of being black in America. As recent events have illustrated, disparaging practices, policies and remarks regarding African American women’s beauty, hair, and skin color come from whites as well as blacks. “Dark Girls” asserts that these experiences have resulted in trauma. And the first step toward dealing with this trauma is to acknowledge it, so that we can start a dialogue to overcome it.

As I listened to stories from the girls and women in the documentary, I began to think about my own experiences with colorism. I, too, have been told that I was “awful pretty for a colored girl” by a young white man when I was in college. (I didn’t know whether to be offended because he called me “a colored girl” or because he said I was “awful pretty” for one.) But I can’t imagine the impact of hearing statements like that all the time.

Maybe I never developed any issues of colorism because my family, like many black families, has every color–from the so-called “light, bright, and damn near white” to “jet black.” (No kidding. When my mother was young, children called her “Jet Black.”)  Just because I thought to myself “black is black,” that doesn’t mean that everyone in my family was unaffected. I discovered this when I overheard my little cousin, who was about five at the time, and one of her playmates arguing a few years ago. My cousin who is kinda light brown called her friend “black and ugly.” I snatched cuz up (not physically) right away and asked who was she calling “black and ugly.” I said, “Your Aunt J is dark-skinned; she’s black. Is she ugly?” “No,” she replied, and I hope she meant that. Anger probably wasn’t quite the way to handle the issue, but I needed her to know that we were all black. And that if she thought her friend was ugly, she was also saying my mother, her Aunt J–who raised her, incidentally–was also ugly. I had to make a point that was far beyond my usual admonishment, “That’s not the proper way for young ladies to behave.”

So, “Dark Girls” made me think, and that’s a good thing. It’s a compelling and interesting documentary. It’s a film that could help start a conversation about discrimination based on skin color.

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Natural in Iowa: A Work in Progress (Update)

I did not have a black beauty epiphany about the cultural relevance of natural hair when

Fully transitioned TWA

Fully transitioned TWA

I decided to let my relaxer grow out. I have always loved the wonderful, creative things that we black women can do with our hair. Mine had been “fried, dyed, and laid to the side” for quite some time. The decision to “go natural” was really just a matter of circumstance. I was happy with my relaxer and my pixie cut. Of course, there were some issues. In the summer, the relaxer changed the color of my hair from black to brown. Also, I had a spot where my hair seemed to be thinning, and I was sure this came from all the years of relaxers. But I probably would have still been wearing it the same way if I had not moved to Iowa two years ago. Yes. . . Iowa.

Finding a salon where I can get my hair done is usually one of the first things I do when I move to a new place. I can usually accomplish this by simply spotting someone with a stylish cut and inquiring where she got her ‘do. But the pickings were slim here. I found no one whose hair I admired. I searched the web and I found a few salons that looked promising. One turned out to be closed. Another looked so shady that I didn’t go in. I tried one very professional-looking salon, but the hair stylist gave me a haircut that I could have done at home with a bowl. If I wanted to find a good salon, I was probably going to have to drive to Des Moines, a much larger city than where I live. I just wasn’t willing to make a two-hour drive to get my hair done. Finally, I decided I would go to the barber shop with my husband and get one of the barbers to cut my hair.

Well, my hair looked okay, but not really the way that I wanted it. It wasn’t laid. This went on for a while, as I debated internally and with Da Hype 1 about what to do. Finally, I decided that what I’d been doing was no longer working for me. It was time to shake things up, so in January 2013 I stopped relaxing my hair.

Four weeks after last relaxer. Only the top remained.

Four weeks after last relaxer. Only the top remained.

That was seven months ago. The perm is long gone and my TWA is in effect. Since my hair was already short, there was no need for “the big chop.” After one month, most of the perm was gone anyway.

I’ve received some compliments: My neighbor told me that my hair was “cool.” But I’ve also been informed that my hair is “densely packed” and that I need something to “loosen the curl pattern.” Hmm.. . sounds like code for nappy. But I’m not bothered by that.

At this point, I don’t know if I can consider the “transition” a success. It’s a work in progress. I don’t know what the future holds. Will I become impatient and relax it again? Will I keep it short, let it grow? Who knows? Wish me luck, y’all.

Update 11-25-2013:

My Afro-puff Selfie

My Afro-puff Selfie

Since I wrote this post three months ago, I have had some growing pains. I had my hair cut into a kind of modified Mohawk. I didn’t shave the sides off, but it was low. After a while, I had to admit that the cut was not really for me. My grandmother always said I had a “moon face,” and it was on full display with the Mohawk. So, I cut it off, and I started over.

I must confess that I still don’t quite know what to do with my hair. Last week I blow dried it for the first time and found that I could make a serviceable Afro-puff. Sometimes I think about getting braids or locs, but for now I’m sticking with my TWA.

“Black Is Black”: Thoughts on “Dark Girls”

DarkGirlsPeople think they diss my person/By stating I’m darkly packed/ I know this, so I point at Q-Tip/ And he states ‘black is black’ ~ “Me Myself and I” by De La Soul

I was unable to see the documentary “Dark Girls” when it appeared on the OWN Network in June, but I immediately put it on my Netflix list in anticipation of the DVD release. Last night I was able to watch it on Amazon Instant Video, and I was pleasantly surprised at how well it dealt with a difficult issue.

“Dark Girls” explores the issue of colorism, primarily as it relates to dark-skinned African-American women, using history, personal narratives, educators, and psychologists. Not surprisingly, the media images in American culture often emphasize beauty as “white,” or at least as “light.” In addition, however, the intra-racial messages that dark-skinned women receive are also damaging. Historically and in contemporary society, some African Americans have internalized negative images about blackness and projected them onto other black people.

Much of what “Dark Girls” shows is what astute observers of social history and culture already know through study and the lived experience of being black in America. As recent events have illustrated, disparaging practices, policies and remarks regarding African American women’s beauty, hair, and skin color come from whites as well as blacks. “Dark Girls” asserts that these experiences have resulted in trauma. And the first step toward dealing with this trauma is to acknowledge it, so that we can start a dialogue to overcome it.

As I listened to stories from the girls and women in the documentary, I began to think about my own experiences with colorism. I, too, have been told that I was “awful pretty for a colored girl” by a young white man when I was in college. (I didn’t know whether to be offended because he called me “a colored girl” or because he said I was “awful pretty” for one.) But I can’t imagine the impact of hearing statements like that all the time.

Maybe I never developed any issues of colorism because my family, like many black families, has every color–from the so-called “light, bright, and damn near white” to “jet black.” (No kidding. When my mother was young, children called her “Jet Black.”)  Just because I thought to myself “black is black,” that doesn’t mean that everyone in my family was unaffected. I discovered this when I overheard my little cousin, who was about five at the time, and one of her playmates arguing a few years ago. My cousin who is kinda light brown called her friend “black and ugly.” I snatched cuz up (not physically) right away and asked who was she calling “black and ugly.” I said, “Your Aunt J is dark-skinned; she’s black. Is she ugly?” “No,” she replied, and I hope she meant that. Anger probably wasn’t quite the way to handle the issue, but I needed her to know that we were all black. And that if she thought her friend was ugly, she was also saying my mother, her Aunt J–who raised her, incidentally–was also ugly. I had to make a point that was far beyond my usual admonishment, “That’s not the proper way for young ladies to behave.”

So, “Dark Girls” made me think, and that’s a good thing. It’s a compelling and interesting documentary. It’s a film that could help start a conversation about discrimination based on skin color.

Natural in Iowa: A Work in Progress

I did not have a black beauty epiphany about the cultural relevance of natural hair when

Fully transitioned TWA

Fully transitioned TWA

I decided to let my relaxer grow out. I have always loved the wonderful, creative things that we black women can do with our hair. Mine had been “fried, dyed, and laid to the side” for quite some time. The decision to “go natural” was really just a matter of circumstance. I was happy with my relaxer and my pixie cut. Of course, there were some issues. In the summer, the relaxer changed the color of my hair from black to brown. Also, I had a spot where my hair seemed to be thinning, and I was sure this came from all the years of relaxers. But I probably would have still been wearing it the same way if I had not moved to Iowa two years ago. Yes. . . Iowa.

Finding a salon where I can get my hair done is usually one of the first things I do when I move to a new place. I can usually accomplish this by simply spotting someone with a stylish cut and inquiring where she got her ‘do. But the pickings were slim here. I found no one whose hair I admired. I searched the web and I found a few salons that looked promising. One  turned out to be closed. Another looked so shady that I didn’t go in. I tried one very professional-looking salon, but the hair stylist gave me a haircut that I could have done at home with a bowl. If I wanted to find a good salon, I was probably going to have to drive to Des Moines, a much larger city than where I live. I just wasn’t willing to make a two-hour drive to get my hair done. Finally, I decided I would go to the barber shop with my husband and get one of the barbers to cut my hair.

Well, my hair looked okay, but not really the way that I wanted it. It wasn’t laid. This went on for a while, as I debated internally and with Da Hype 1 about what to do. Finally, I decided that what I’d been doing was no longer working for me. It was time to shake things up, so in January 2013 I stopped relaxing my hair.

Four weeks after last relaxer. Only the top remained.

Four weeks after last relaxer. Only the top remained.

That was seven months ago. The perm is long gone and my TWA is in effect. Since my hair was already short, there was no need for “the big chop.” After one month, most of the perm was gone anyway.

I’ve received some compliments: My neighbor told me that my hair was “cool.” But I’ve also been informed that my hair is “densely packed” and that I need something to “loosen the curl pattern.” Hmm.. . sounds like code for nappy. But I’m not bothered by that.

At this point, I don’t know if I can consider the “transition” a success. It’s a work in progress. I don’t know what the future holds. Will I become impatient and relax it again? Will I keep it short, let it grow? Who knows? Wish me luck, y’all.