Mar 9, 2012

(Daily Beast) Skin color and its importance around the world—and particularly in the African-American community—has been a hot-button issue for generations. The debate over skin color and its painful origins dates back to the days of slavery, when lighter skin often equaled a better overall quality of life. With more pronounced European features, bearers of a lighter complexion were also considered more attractive than their darker-skinned peers. Possessing this trait was believed to open the cracked doors of opportunity ever wider.

Attitudes haven’t veered very far from that notion, says noted character actor (Predator, American Gigolo) and film producer Bill Duke. The veteran Hollywood actor recently produced and directed the haunting documentary Dark Girls, which examines the lives of African American women whose dark skin tones often have no “true match” when they approach the cosmetics counters.

“In the 1960s they did a test on young black girls by showing them dolls of all colors,’’ says Duke. “Each time they were shown the dolls and asked which wasn’t pretty or smart, they pointed to the black doll—the one that looked most like them. They did that same test recently and the results were the same. What does that tell you?’’

The documentary features heartbreaking personal accounts by women dismissed as unattractive and unworthy based on mainstream ideals of beauty. One young woman painfully describes her own mother’s suggestion that she’d be even prettier with a lighter skin tone. Another discusses being bathed by her grandmother as a child with lye soap in an effort to lighten her complexion.

Duke stresses the African American community’s continued confusion and denial of a bias toward darker-skinned African Americans by other African Americans. He suggests that the community’s message will only foster feelings of low self-esteem and rejection among future generations.

“I’m a dark-skin man, so I know the mean and ugly things said to me by other black people,’’ says Duke. “Then I had to watch my sister and now my young nieces face the same thing. We shouldn’t be here, but we are. We have to practice a self love with being black, no matter what that black may look like.’’

Some say it is in fact that intense sensitivity to skin color and race that’s unfairly made Beyoncé a controversial figure when matters of beauty and its meaning arise. In an earlier interview with Newsweek magazine, the singer admitted feeling harshly judged by others because of the lightness of her skin.
“I think people look at me and jump to conclusions without getting to know me,’’ said Beyoncé. “I think they think I feel I’m better because of my skin, and I don’t. The unfairness goes both ways.’’

To address Beyoncé’s point of view on the issue, Duke is currently working on The Yellow Brick Road, a documentary examining stigma and issues faced by women with lighter skin tones.


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