At our attendance at last years Association of Black Psychologists convention in Los Angeles, my colleagues and I had the opportunity to attend the premiere of the documentary ‘Dark Girls’ which was hosted by the Association.

Directed by Bill Duke and Chansin Berry and featuring sisters from all walks of life and of various age groups. The documentary focuses on the stories of sisters who are of a dark shade. Interspersed with the stories from the sisters; there are contributions from some members of the association who provide psychological insights.

We all have our stories to tell about being dark skinned when pushed. However it is not a story that gets a lot of attention. Its one of those stuck in the back of the closet and boy it stinks so bad, airing it just pollutes the area. It needs to be washed and one wash will not do.


This is a story of a people who had become so ashamed of their looks and so lacking in self-worth that they listened to mad men tell them stories about how your worth as a person was determined by the shade of your skin; so much so that they began to practice it themselves. The mad men have disappeared now but the practice continues. You see we still have that poor opinion of ourselves and so we find a perverse comfort in placing other people below us. Of course in this make believe world those with the darkest shade have nowhere to go. They are at the mercy of all.

“…the capture of the mind and body both is a slavery far more lasting, far more severe than conquest of bodies alone…”  Ayi Kwei Armah, Two Thousand Seasons “(p.33) 

African women have been assaulted both physically and psychologically for centuries, since they were unwillingly taken out of Africa as enslaved work. Depictions of African women were brutal. They were often portrayed as being of low morals and intellect, sexually perverse, and spiritually bankrupt.  Seen, as somewhere between a human and an animal, they were the targets of physical and sexual abuse, discrimination, and psychological cruelty.

However generations of abuse must have an impact and is compounded by too many brothers not being in tune with this and showing a lack of respect.

Watching Dark Girls provides us with a too rare opportunity to take a hard look at the effects of racism on the self-image of Black women individually and collectively, especially as it relates to shade. We can also look at how within the African both women and men perpetuate the negative viewpoint.

One of most difficult parts in the documentary for me was a scene looking at the impact on a beautiful dark child maybe at five or six years old, already beginning to show signs of disliking herself because of her shade. Although media stereotypes will have played a part it was obvious that within her community that child was already becoming aware that being dark was not a good thing to be. This was almost entirely down to the older adult and children she was coming into contact with. So here we have a young child having to deal with the inadequacies and the internalized racism of those around her. I sat their thinking we have some serious mental issues to contend with.

Another interesting scene that was funny and painful at the same time; was of two young dark skinned men, who so disliked black women it just poured out of them.

But the more you listened, the more it became clear they really didn’t like themselves. Black sisters were a like a mirror being placed in front of them and it was an uncomfortable sight.

I have heard this stuff before and I’m fascinated by the negative depictions of black women from black men born of Black women.

To the best of my knowledge no other racial or ethnic group of men so openly denigrate their women and don’t care who’s listening.

Now bearing in mind that many of these brothers lack the intellectual capacity to engage many sisters, and in the looks department are no Denzel, it’s a bit much to be putting Black women down in such an aggressive and contemptuous way.

You know a glass mirror can be deceiving, you can convince yourself what you see is how you are. Its just a reflection of how you perceive yourself. But seeing Black women, particularly a dark skinned one brings all kind of unconscious images about African to the fore.

For the brothers the notion of dark skin women is a constant reminder that when evil entered the house we were unable to protect them. They are a constant reminder that as men we were helpless as our women were abused in all manner of degrading ways. We have come to blame them for our inability to be men.

For the sisters, the dark skinned amongst them have become the depository for their insecurities. For all Black women are viewed as less beautiful than Europeans. How helpful then for Black women of lighter shades to be to compare themselves more favourably to someone else.

Next year Pattigift amongst others will have a showing of Dark Girls. In the conversations that will inevitable ensue , we can choose to take this occasion to heal.

To no longer just accept this as just a cultural thing but to see it for what it really is, a symptom of our ill health. A symptom of our internalized racism, that needs to be treated.

As a brother I can only speak from that perspective; but it is long overdue to begin to make peace with our sisters, dark shade or otherwise. They endured the nightmare of the Maafa as well. Our pain is their pain. We put a smile on the faces of those who revel in our dysfunction when we continue to not embrace our sisters.

To all of us men and women, whose tune are we dancing to when we engage in these thought and actions? Who benefits from treating some members of our family more well than others? When we do not believe we are beautiful what message do we send to our children.

How can we claim to be a spiritual and religious people when we find it so difficult show love because of a family members shade? When we unconsciously and consciously say to the creator ‘you got it wrong’

I urge all of you reading this to look out for any showings of this documentary and go along and have a look.

It is out on DVD (US Version at the moment)

Hetepu (peace and many blessings)