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.
Ta-Nehisi Coates is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.
Born in 1975, the product of two beautiful parents. Raised in West Baltimore -- not quite The Wire, but sometimes ill all the same. Studied at the Mecca for some years in the mid-'90s. Emerged with a purpose, if not a degree. Slowly migrated up the East Coast with a baby and my beloved, until I reached the shores of Harlem. Wrote some stuff along the way.