Here, I’m not going to focus on the commonly analyzed role media has on skin color bias. Usually we report on the dearth of dark skinned women in movies and television. We might report on how dark skinned actresses are more often cast in the antagonistic/comedic/sidekick roles. People have even commented on the airbrushing of women’s skin to make them lighter in magazines.
The focus of this series of posts is more meta, in the sense that I’m talking about the act of talking about skin color bias. Therefore, what I’ll give you in this post are thoughts on skin color bias as a topic or storyline in media.
The issue of skin color bias literally gets little air time relative to other issues.
For example I’ve seen many shows and movies that deal directly with biases against overweight children and adults. In fact, I wanted to write this post after watching the premier episode of the ABC Family comedy State of Georgia, starring Raven Symone. In this episode Georgia (Symone’s character on the show) auditions for an acting role, only to have her hopes dashed when the casting director tells her: “When they talk about the big seduction scene, they don’t mean the size of the actress.” (The scene was powerful, but I don’t want to ruin it.) This scene and others like it are important because they give young girls like Raven Symone a great example of how to deal with such bias. The character’s reaction surely empowered me. (FYI: Drop Dead Diva on Lifetime, another show I enjoy, also includes weight bias in its storyline.)
I think the focus on skin color bias gets less air time because “mainstream” individuals and entities still control much of the media, and they primarily target so called “mainstream” audiences. Because we’re talking about color, “mainstream” means white in this context. Whites don’t deal with Colorism/color bias amongst their own race the way people of color do, so the topic doesn’t show up in the media they produce. That, of course, doesn’t mean color bias can’t be addressed in such media.
Maybe I just don’t watch enough television, but I’ve yet to see a show that overtly includes the issue of skin color bias in the storyline. A few movie makers have done a better job of including the issue in their storylines, or at least in a short line of dialogue. Spike Lee’s School Daze probably reigns as the most infamous of such films, with its sorority scene, but what have we produced recently?
A more contemporary film, Dark Girls, epitomizes talking about skin color bias, not just showcasing it in action. The documentary genre lends itself to talking about issues. Dark Girls doesn’t premier until October, but we already see it affecting people in profound ways. More and more people mention it on blogs and social networking sites, and many women have come out and shared their personal stories in writing and video.
Joy Daily has also made skin color bias the topic of discussion in a YouTube series she titled Complexion Obsession. Her slant is toward hip hop videos, and the comments of the rappers and video models are revealing.
I advocate for making skin color bias the topic of discussion rather then an incidental consideration in discussions on other topics. It’s not enough just to know that color bias exists or to point out instances of color bias, though we can stand to do more of that too. We need to realize the adverse effects of color bias and harness power against it. That requires a direct analysis of the issue, not an incidental observation after which we merely shrug our shoulders.
The media is not solely responsible for such discussions, but since the media plays such a huge role in perpetuating, propagating, and even cultivating skin color bias, we will have to use media as part of the solution. Yes, we need more dark skinned actresses and actors cast in desirable roles, but we also need more storylines that express the emotional aspect of color bias. It’s not enough to show dark skinned girls and light skinned girls battling. We need to show these same girls making strides in dealing with the heart of the matter, growing to understand and love each other and love themselves, and ultimately empowering themselves against the racist influences that led them to battle in the first place. Developing such a story arc requires that skin color bias take center stage every once in a while.
As I hope to do with this small series of posts, we also need to talk about skin color bias. However, we need to do more than just ask if Beyonce’s skin was lightened in an ad. We need to ask and answer: What books, movies, songs, museums, affirmations, websites, games, or honest discussions can I share with my child starting before the age of five and continuing on to help her or him have a healthy perspective on skin color? All of these are forms of media that we can wield against skin color bias. Which of them do you already hold in your hand?
The next post addresses the whole “insider vs. outsider” dichotomy.
What’s in your hand?
With love, from Sarah L. Webb
- Mama, Mama Can’t You See: First Line of Defense Against Color Bias (slwrites.wordpress.com)
- 5 Reasons I haven’t said much about color bias… Yet, and how my reasons relate to teen suicide. (slwrites.wordpress.com)
- “Dark Girls” Documentary Explores Skin Color Bias [PREVIEW] (hellobeautiful.com)
- Is Your Child a Target of Weight Bias? (education.com)
- ‘Dark Girls’ Documentary Exposes Skin Color Bias (theroot.com)
- Weight Bias: Important Information for Parents (education.com)
- Colorism on Twitter: Not Just An Interpersonal Matter (theroot.com)
- Documentary Preview: “Dark Girls” (divamission.wordpress.com)