This post was inspired by a lot of the controversy surrounding the Light Girls documentary that premiered on the OWN network January 19th. I still haven’t seen the actual documentary (I know :-\), but I’ve read a few articles and blog posts about it. I saw the film’s predecessor Dark Girls and was really moved by it.
There was criticism surrounding Light Girls before the documentary even aired on OWN. There were people who believed that light-skinned women of color didn’t deserve to have their stories told because of light skin privilege or privilege towards blacks with “whiter” features over darker skinned blacks. However, after the documentary actually aired, judging simply from the articles and blog posts I’ve read, it seems like the criticism ranged from the documentary not addressing the key issue of white supremacy to it reinforcing stereotypes about dark-skinned black women. I believe that these may be valid points (I say ‘may’ only because I haven’t seen the film myself). The aspect that I want to focus on specifically is influenced by a blog post that I encountered called “Light Girls, When Documentaries Get It Wrong” by Jessica Ann Mitchell that stated “colorism cannot be changed through positive thinking.” The author seems to go on to say that positive affirmations and other positive thinking tactics reduce the very real and important issue of colorism when referencing portions of the documentary where positive thinking/self-help ideas were brought up.
Firstly, I wholeheartedly agree that systemic racism, sexism, and colorism exist in America and we must fight against it. When statistics show that dark-skinned African Americans are less likely to be hired for jobs than light-skinned African Americans even when they have better qualifications, we have a HUGE problem and this problem must be addressed. The problem I have is stating that positive thinking/self-help has no role in addressing the problem of colorism or other injustices faced by people of color. I believe that positive thinking must go hand-in-hand with (never in place of) peacefully fighting against systemic injustice because it is self-confidence that will get that person up and out of the door for the job interview in question whether he/she is light-skinned or dark-skinned. With the weight of racism and sexism, I believe it is that much harder for black women of all shades to be confident in their abilities and autonomy.
While I agree that positive thinking won’t solve the problems of colorism or racism, I do believe that positive thinking is key to taking back our power to reach our fullest potential. This issue goes beyond any individual experience but of course I have to bring up my own.
When I think about my past of growing up with an alcoholic father that was a great provider, but wasn’t so great at making me feel valued as a young woman, I believe that my lack of self-esteem held me back from stepping out and taking advantage of the many opportunities available to me. There was one particular time when I had a job interview with Jewel-Osco at their Itasca, IL headquarters during college for a management-in-training position at my local store when I felt tension with the white female job interviewer. I felt like she looked at me like I was nothing and with so much disinterest that I wondered why I was even called for an interview in the first place. This tension could have been because of my race or because of my skimpy resume; I will never know since there was nothing blatantly racist stated. However, I do know that I botched the interview before it even started because I didn’t believe that I had a real chance. I didn’t believe in myself and if I didn’t believe in myself, how could I sell my skills and experience enough to get a recruiter to believe in me? How could I stand a chance fighting external and internal forces working to keep me behind?
I believe without a doubt that low self-esteem held me back from achieving and doing some amazing things. Does this mean that racism or sexism couldn’t have been at play as well? Does any personal experience I have invalidate hard core statistics suggesting colorism is a legit issue? Of course not. However, I believe that while we ensure that systemic injustices are confronted and addressed, we must also address ways that we hold ourselves back because we feel defeated before the game starts.
All women struggle with self-image and self-worth. Yet, black women also have the added battles of racism and colorism. As we fight the long, continual battle for equal treatment of all people, why not also work on building ourselves up and encouraging ourselves to make bold moves to achieve little successes until that big success is won?