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Tameka Foster Raymond

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"She's Pretty for a Dark-Skinned Girl..."

Posted: 08/11/2009 3:07 pm

I am a dark-skinned African American woman with features that reflect my ancestry. Debates regarding Light vs. Dark and other biases have plagued our race for years and continues to impact millions of Black women. The deeply rooted intra-racial contempt that lies beneath this inane "compliment" is the reason I've chosen to spark dialogue surrounding the topic of self-hatred in our culture. It saturates every aspect of our lives, dominating the perspectives of our generation as a whole. We culturally are so influential, at times inadvertently, that we affect all with the words we utter and the images we portray. It lends to the theory of systemic racism. I'm authoring this piece because I'm miffed by this reality and would like to share my views on these subjects.

It is a fact that many African-Americans are often mixed with an array of other ethnicities (as am I), which allows for the spectrum of our features to be as distinctive and special as we are diverse. Why is it felt that the more diluted our traditionally African features become the more aesthetically acceptable we are considered? It was said in the 1960s and the sentiment seems to be forgotten, "Black is Beautiful." Wow, nearly 50 years later and is that now only meant for a specific shade? Nonetheless, I believe the beauty of our people and splendor of every individual is reflected in our varying features and hues.

Often dark-skinned women are considered mean, domineering and standoffish and it was these very labels that followed Michelle Obama during the campaign for her husband's presidency and which she has had to work tirelessly to combat. I was appalled when I heard a Black woman refer to Michelle Obama as unattractive. The conversation turned into why President Obama picked her as his mate. No one in the witch-hunt made reference to the possibility that Michelle Obama was smart, funny, caring, a good person, highly accomplished or brilliant. Nor did they mention that she previously was President Obama's supervisor. If she were fair skinned, petite with long straight or wavy hair, would the same opinions be linked to her? I seriously doubt it. It is believed that for the dark skinned, dreams are less obtainable.

In fact, I have read similar comments about myself that I am "dark, aggressive, bossy and bitchy." It has been stated that my husband should have been with a "younger, more beautiful" woman. Astoundingly, the majority of the remarks come from African-American women and are mimicked by others. Sadly enough, I don't know nor have I met 99% of those making these assertions. Funny, how we can judge another without having personally seen, interacted with or experienced a person's character.

As I began to delve into further research on this topic, and the more I read, I concluded that many of our people do not like what they see in the mirror. Seeing ones own reflection in another person and then to dissect it in an effort to destroy can only be the product of self-loathing. Why don't we congratulate as opposed to hate?

There is an adage "hurt people, hurt people". If this is true then we must examine the root of negative words and judgments that are passed on people. Unfortunately, we have internal stereotypes based off of skin color and facial features that stem from years of programming, dating back to the "Willie Lynch" method for creating a slave. In this infamous formula, one of the main factors in separating and creating division was placing the lighter skinned blacks in a higher position in the house, while those with darker skin were made to stay in the fields and deemed "less desirable". Much like the Caste System in India. No matter what strides we make as a people, these issues continue to plague and rot our souls, causing significant decay to a portion of our population and truly hindering our progress. Perhaps we show progress in our wallets and lifestyles but not in our mind set.

Reading magazines, social media sites, watching our music videos, and television shows feed our appetites for all things 'beauty". Rarely, however do I see depictions of grace and elegance in the form of dark complexioned women. I Googled one of the more ethnic models, Alek Wek and I was saddened by the tone of what the bloggers wrote in reference to her complexion, features and hair texture. Ms. Wek's escape from Sudan, her journey, philanthropy, and groundbreaking success as a supermodel in America is not only beautiful, but it displays her tenacity and character. African-Americans seemed to have lost their eye for character. These comments are evidence of the confusion that lies within many black people. It's the cruelty and prejudice that has spilled into the fabric of our everyday lives. It makes me wonder what have we collectively lost as a people? Our Minds.

I too have fallen prey, while on vacation in Brazil I decided to undergo tummy lipo-surgery. After having an allergic reaction to the anesthesia, I went into cardiac arrest before the procedure ever began. I nearly lost my life over something as superficial as having a flatter mid-section and trying to adapt to society's traditional definition of beauty. As I nursed my psychological wounds, I began to realize that trying to live up to the prototypes of external beauty paled in comparison to the fact that I have undergone labor, subsequently being blessed to raise five handsome, smart, healthy, intuitive, and happy children. I emerged from my ordeal realizing that my body is an amazing vessel that has given birth to life and that being healthy is what's important and nothing more.

It is my hope that our First Lady and others who share in this effort will continue to be the beacon to shine a light for those who toil on America's beauty totem pole. Now don't get me wrong or take my words out of context. I truly believe that everyone has a right to delineate what they deem is attractive, but we must not confuse perceived "attractiveness" with authentic "beauty." It is important for African Americans, especially, to realize that true beauty is a spiritual element that lies deep within an individual's spirit. It can neither be seen nor is it tangible. People tend to forget that beauty is not about looks and looks is not about beauty.

One of my favorite quotes comes from the great poet Khalil Gibran who once wrote, "Beauty is not the face; beauty is a light in the heart."

 
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