'Dark Girls': Can We Have True Healing?

Artwork for Bill Duke's Dark Girls (One Village/Twitter)
Artwork for Bill Duke's Dark Girls (One Village/Twitter)

(The Root) — Last week, OWN announced that Bill Duke's controversial documentary Dark Girls, which explores the colorism faced by dark-skinned women, would be heading to the network in June. I refer to it as controversial not because of the very important issue it tackles, but because I recall the discussions that the 10-minute trailer started when it hit the Internet.


Every black news site or blog worth its page views chimed in on Dark Girls, which was the whole point, according to Duke. In a 2012 interview with The Root DC, he stated that the film's purpose was "to create a discussion, because in discussion there's healing, and in silence there is suffering. Somehow if you can speak it and get it out, healing starts."

I believe Duke had good intentions in creating this documentary — either that, or like Chris Rock's Good Hair, he knows colorism is a hot-button issue that will bring people out to theaters in droves and get them talking, good or bad. Still, there's a part of me that cringes at the film's concept. I'm fine with the airing of black folks' dirty laundry — and that's largely because colorism isn't solely a "black issue." But frankly, I don't think we as a community are ready to really handle it without some serious therapy.


I'm sure there were pockets of discussions where healing took place, but mostly what I observe whenever colorism is discussed are well-meaning articles that tackle the ongoing issue of colorism and comment discussions that descend into melee. It gets ugly, really ugly. Fast. Instead of open discussion and healing, I see the scabs being torn off old, and fresh, wounds. I also see a lot of attacks on non-dark-skinned women, as if all of them were to blame for colorism's enduring persistence. Oddly, the role that men play and the beauty standards they perpetuate are left out of the discussion. (The topic, though, does come up in Duke's film.)

My trepidation about the film also stems from the portrayal of dark-skinned women. Of course hatred, discrimination and harsh treatment that some women face because of their complexions are worth talking about. But just as Rock's Good Hair led many people to believe that every black woman with a relaxer was self-hating, and all weave-wearing women were blowing their income on high-priced weaves, I fear that Duke's film will paint with a brush that depicts all dark black women as tragically scarred by colorism. That's just not accurate.

It may be asking a lot, but I hope that when Dark Girls makes its small-screen debut this summer — accompanied by massive live-tweeting — this time around we can have an actual discussion, one without blame or finger-pointing. I'd like us all to take a step back from the very real hurt that can surface when facing issues that are painful to some and avoid the dismissal of a sensitive issue just because it doesn't apply to us personally. I'd like to see us finally engage in the actual healing part of this discussion. Can we at least try?

Demetria L. Lucas is a contributing editor to The Root, a life coach and the author of A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life.

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