For Colored Girls ... Who Need to Talk About Colorism

Marian Edusei’s film Dark Skinned Girls (Dazed magazine via YouTube)

How do you feel about this film?

Or, perhaps a better question is: How does this film make you feel?

I’m going to be honest: When I saw this film, Marian Edusei’s Dark Skinned Girls, on Dazed, I felt a mixture of horror, wonder, disappointment, disgust, confusion, intrigue, envy and amusement—perhaps in that order. But, mostly, as a light-skinned, nonbiracial, hopefully self-aware black woman, I felt painfully aware that conversations about colorism are still uncomfortable for me—and, often, should be.


Those aren’t “light-skinned tears”—or light-skinned guilt—just a simple admission that I’m occasionally challenged by how to honestly and effectively address privilege and oppression in the same space and breath. Because while I can readily acknowledge the many ways my privilege overrides my oppression—including the “pretty privilege” that afforded me a modeling career (albeit as a plus model, which is another story)—it’s a balancing act to do so without throwing my own experiences under the bus. (Because contrary to the popular belief espoused above, light-skinned women aren’t actually “broken down that easy.”)

But it’s necessary work and therefore, a discussion I continue to have with myself. I’d hope (wish?) that white women would have similar discussions with themselves as they approach the intersection of racism and feminism, and that black men would do the same as they consider the benefits and functions of patriarchy, as well as cis-hetero white men in relation to ... well, everyone else.

And so on, and so on. ... For instance, if you’re reading this, you’re enjoying a first-world, net-neutral (for now) privilege, in and of itself. But the best way to deconstruct someone else’s privilege and resulting pathology is to first make sense of your own. You know—oxygen masks, and all that.

And what better place to have that conversation than here at The Glow Up?

Veronica Webb and I crafted this space with a mission: to represent, inspire and empower all iterations of black womanhood. How can we do that by ignoring the rainbow in the room? And no, that doesn’t just mean simply addressing the issues and needs of our LGBTQ sisters, but the full spectrum of shades in which black women arrive, whenever and wherever they enter.


I am not ignorant or dismissive of the optics: No matter how well-meaning or qualified, can two black women privileged in seemingly similar ways ensure that The Glow Up will be—for lack of a less-clichéd word—inclusive?

Three weeks in, we’re a work in progress, and I hope we always will be. Even during our brief tenure, we’ve already faced concerns of elitism and being too “kumbaya” about colorism. So this video inspired me to initiate a conversation we all need to be more comfortable having. And before we continue, maybe it’s best to start by saying what many of us wish had been said, in so many instances:


I believe you.

Whatever your experience with colorism is, it’s not for me to explain away, or turn into something more comfortable for me to digest. I will not use denial to “what about” anyone into submission. My job—especially here—is to listen, observe, empathize when possible, act when necessary and to trust what I’m hearing.


I believe you. I hope you’ll believe me, too.

Because while I’m not “kumbaya” enough to think that belief alone is enough to heal the damage of colorism, I am humble enough to admit that I don’t know what I don’t know. I know I’ve been fetishized because of my color more than I’ve been rejected. I know I’ve been rejected, in turn. I also know that I can’t speak for anyone’s experience but my own; but above all else, I know that this shit does a deep disservice to us all—especially us women.


When I shared this film with a few colleagues, one of them questioned its effectiveness, saying, “I don’t understand what this video is trying to do. It’s just a bunch of insults while images of normal, attractive women stand around.”

Admittedly, I agree. So, when I ask how a film like the one above makes you feel, it’s because we need to know, and we need to talk about it. We need to be honest about where this ongoing issue sits in our bodies, and under our skins, individually and collectively. And then we need to believe one another. As a colored girl, I need to be able to speak, write and think openly about colorism—and I still have much to learn. How about you?

Maiysha Kai is managing editor of The Glow Up, host of The Root Presents: It's Lit! podcast and Big Beauty Tuesdays, and your average Grammy-nominated goddess next door. May I borrow some sugar?



Ok. When I said Kumbaya in that comment I was using it as a short hand to describe the dismissive language that tends to come from light skin women when addressing the topic. In the same way, that white people like to say, “There’s only one race. The human race” or white women say, “we’re all women” when we have talks about racism. There is a pattern of “We’re all black” when it comes to colorism. When we both know it’s a bit more complicated than that. That’s what Kumbaya meant.

Colorism is more than, hurt feelings. There are hard numbers and studies that show, lighter complexioned black people receive higher pay, are hired at higher rates, receive lighter sentencing and less prison time, and at least in regards to women are well represented in media.

Issa and Molly on Insecure are the only dark skin women I can think of in the last five years whose stories are taken relatively seriously, (as serious as one can be in a comedy although the show is a dramedy. And that’s a whole nother conversation as I have a lot of thoughts about the reasons why serious dramas with black casts aren’t really greenlit) Who aren’t played for laughs. Who are not coded as ghetto, uneducated, slovenly, and unkempt.

I love Beyonce, Rihanna, Zendaya, Amandla and Nicki too, but it doesn’t escape my attention that they are all light.

It doesn’t escape my attention that before HTGAWM Viola Davis was mammy, welfare queen, or house keeper. While Gugu Mbatha-Raw gets to be pop star, princess, and space cadet.