Miss Petaluma On…


The topic of colour is quite contentious within the black community.  Slavery brought about a hierarchy, which quite simply states the lighter your skin tone, the more attractive you are.  Back in the 1700s a fair complexion would mean you could probably swap back-breaking labour for domestic slavery or even your freedom.  However, despite emancipation well over 100 years ago, black people have continued to adhere to these stupid beauty rules.  Even now in many black societies lighter-skinned inhabitants will lead a more successful and affluent lifestyle then their darker-skinned neighbours.

Growing up, I heard it all – Dark-skinned signalled black-attack, butters and picky plantation, ugly, while light-skinned equaled red, brownin’, coolie and beautiful.  I sit firmly in the middle of the colour quota, having experienced both playground cusses and slights for my lighter friends, but also on many occasion the chat up line ‘Do you have Indian in you?’ – it’s meant to be flattering you see, it’s better to have a mixed racial heritage.

So, when I saw  the trailer for a new tear-jerker movie called ‘Precious’ about a overweight, dark-skinned teenage girl living in an abusive and deprived New York home in the 80s, my spirit soared.   She’s branded ugly by her whole community and dreams of a day when she can have a better light-skinned, middle class lifestyle.  It made me reminisce back to my 80s childhood and the kinds of beauty role models we had growing up.  I vividly remember daydreaming about a future when I could ditch the long and thick afro hair and  miraculously obtain lighter skin, a coca cola body and long, luscious, bouncy hair.  I’d stand in front of the mirror with a towel on my head, pretending the weighty square of cotton, was flicky hair.

Back then, in the soul-glo days,  jerry curls, the weave (which hit the major league in this decade), a tonged relaxer and Fashion Fair bright make-up were simple beauty rules for a black woman to follow.   However, what I cannot remember are many black 80s heroines who were dark-skinned.  It’s a shame really as, in my opinion, all black complexions are so beautiful and yet, up until the Fugees and the dark chocolate hued Lauryn Hill, the lesser your melanin count, the more beautiful you were.  Do you remember Coming to America?  One of my all time favourite movies, but like so many others of the time the ‘hot babe’ is very light-skinned.  Played by Shari Headly, Eddie Murphy’s ‘Queen to be, the most beautiful queen’ is stunning, but strangely superior over her dad and sisters’ very dark-skinned colourations – she essentially radiates golden.  You also had the Cosby show, another favourite of mine, where the older the daughter the lighter her skin.  As a little black girl you could relate to Rudy and Vanessa Huxtable, but want to grow into Denise or Sandra (like the Ugly Duckling, turning into a swan).  Those classic music videos, such as Sexual Healing and a whole host of Miami Bass, slow jam and rap videos would feature the knock-out light-skinned girl as the lead, with dark-skinned girls in the background as the dancers – shameful!

Way to give someone a complex, many of my peers have grown up with so many scars as a result of this 80s mentality.  You can see it every day, not only with the bum-grazing weaves, but also the ghoulish panda eyes and black knuckles of someone who bleaches their skin.  Rather then celebrating their unique and beautiful complexion, millions of women will destroy their hair, faces (a la Little Kim, she didn’t have that nose before), skin with toxic concoctions and maybe even hazel contact lenses, giving them eyes they can claim they inherited from the European in them.   Black women from all over the world wanting to look like a light-skinned woman to be more beautiful and are simply afflicting these values onto their society and worse still, their children.  People let’s enjoy what we’ve got, that’s what makes us unique and excellent.  The 80s were fun and I have great memories, but prehistoric ones to do with skin colour, I choose to leave well and truly in the past.


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