Dark Girls



I watched the preview of this joint with Kenyatta a few days ago. On different levels we both recognized a lot of truth in the commentary. For me it's a matter of what I thought when I was a kid. There's an anecdote in the book where I foolishly tell one of my mother's friends "I like light-skin girls." My mother, who is lighter than me, read me the riot act in such a way that it sticks with me to this day. 


I was like 12 or something, and I remember being really pissed off at my mother at first ("It's my choice!") Then a few weeks later, as I turned it over in my head, a bit embarrassed ("I wish I hadn't have said that") then deeply ashamed ("I wish I didn't think that") and finally incredibly curious ("Why do I think that anyway?") This was about the time I first read Malcolm's Autobiography and was just starting to get conscious. There is something visceral about the discussion around what we think of black women aesthetically. Malcolm was good at really making black men feel ashamed, stupid, and then angry over acceptance of the dominant beauty norms. 

But none of that compares to actually experiencing it as a dark girl, which is Kenyatta's experience. Her tales of Tennessee and Chicago are, from my perspective, harrowing. Part of it is just what girls go through, but a specific portion of it is in the tradition of this sort of thing:

If you're white, you're alright
If you're yellow, you're mellow
But if you're black, step black

And of course:

Niggers and flies, I do despise,
The more I see niggers, the more I like flies.

With that said, one of things I always liked about Kenyatta was how she owned it. She talked about her experiences, but by the time we met, it was pretty clear to me that she didn't simply consider her complexion a non-obstacle, she considered it an admirable portion of her entire being. Part of that is being at Howard in the mid-90s. But the most important part is the choice, again, to own the thing.

Which leads to my one critique of this trailer: I hope the film doesn't merely offer us a catalouge of pain. And I hope it's conscious of the fallacy of Jelani Cobb's "Black people are the only people who..." fallacy. We are more than what was done to us, more than what we've done to each other.
Presented by

Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

Why Is Google Making Human Skin?

Hidden away on Google’s campus, doctors at a world-class life sciences lab are trying to change the way people think about their health.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register with Disqus.

Please note that The Atlantic's account system is separate from our commenting system. To log in or register with The Atlantic, use the Sign In button at the top of every page.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Videos

Why Is Google Making Human Skin?

Hidden away on Google’s campus, doctors are changing the way people think about health.

Video

How to Build a Tornado

A Canadian inventor believes his tornado machine could solve the world's energy crisis.

Video

A New York City Minute, Frozen in Time

This short film takes you on a whirling tour of the Big Apple

Video

What Happened to the Milky Way?

Light pollution has taken away our ability to see the stars. Can we save the night sky?

Video

The Pentagon's $1.5 Trillion Mistake

The F-35 fighter jet was supposed to do everything. Instead, it can barely do anything.

More in Entertainment

From This Author

Just In