Monday, May 30, 2011

On "Dark Girls" and the Impacts of Lookism

Dark Girls: Preview from Bradinn French on Vimeo.

If you haven't yet, it's absolutely crucial that you give the above video about skin color-based discrimination within the black community nine minutes of your time. Don't worry, I'll wait here.

Done? Yes? Excellent, because I want to have a word with you about it. (I know, a couple of more minutes of your time, please).

There are so many nasty "-isms" in our society, and I would venture that lookism is one that tends to fly under the radar despite its ties with a slew of the others (racism, classism, sexism, etc.). As a white woman, I cannot directly relate with the experiences these black women had going through life with dark skin, but nonetheless it breaks my heart to see women who are so beautiful and articulate struggling like this. "Dark Girls" (or the preview, I should say) is a fine example of how damaging ideas become entrenched in cultures.

Modern society is so focused on looks that the damage lookism can go unnoticed: due to our fixation on looks, it is taken for granted that it is best to look a certain way, that women must be pretty, and that conventional prettiness takes on a narrow definition that makes itself unattainable at best for large segments of the population. You are born with your skin tone, and that's why I believe this kind of discrimination cuts so deeply (disregarding the racial implications for now): your skin is such an integral, unchangeable part of who you are. The rejection of skin is the rejection of the person in it at a fundamental level.

On the topic of unattainable perfection: my boyfriend, Luke, who is half black and half white, has dealt with skin color prejudices in both directions. Biracial people in our society are often forced to exist in a sort of liminal space due to the binaries that we hold so dear: even though most people recognize that you can be two races, you are often put into a position in which you must choose one or the other. Instead of being able to shift comfortably between communities, biracial people often find themselves as double outsiders. Luke often references the fact that the fact that light skin keeps him from feeling "black enough," even though he identifies as black over white. However, being light works in his favor, too. He has access to spaces and opportunities that we can see even just from this documentary are not open to darker black people. That privilege is also alienating.

We must ask ourself why we continue, as a society, to hand privilege to certain people based on their skin color. Despite what many conservatives are saying lately, white people are not the new downtrodden race, and as a white person I realize that I enjoy privileges that I don't even notice every. single. day. We have to start noticing, and we have to start pushing back.

Creating spaces of universal acceptance is a huge job that we all must undertake. What we see in "Dark Girls" is the fact that the attacks come from within our own social groups. Women police other women, people of a particular race police others of their race, and so on and so forth. It takes us-- the brothers and sisters in arms, the insiders-- to get that change rolling.

As I often say with issues of weight, it is time for all of us to not only to refuse to buy into beauty standards ourselves, but to engage an open, positive dialogue with others. It is time to call people out who say nasty comments about others' looks. It is time to instate a No Looks-Bashing Zone around yourself with a zero-tolerance policy. It is time to stop laughing uncomfortably when a friend makes a comment about their own appearance-- because I know sometimes it is hardest to stand up to our friends. These people who have been indoctrinated with the belief that their skin-- or any aspect of their physical appearance-- makes them somehow less than need help to see it in another light.

No one is less worthy of love, happiness and success because of their looks.

We cannot be complacent. We must fight for our friends, our sisters, our mothers, our wives and ourselves.

People brought these -isms into the world, and we have the power to take them out.

Have you experienced prejudice or privilege based on your skin tone?


Anne @ Modern Mrs Darcy said...

Seriously, I have never heard the term "lookism" until I read this post--but I understood immediately, the term carries the meaning so well. I am with you. Well said.

Vanessa said...

Thanks, Anne! I appreciate it!

Rachel said...

Excellent blog post. I'm enjoying your insights here! :)

Parasuramanfsmy said...

Thanks, Anne! I appreciate it!

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