I am sick and tired of the cultural story line that insists only one version (complexion) of black women can be “in style” (beautiful, popular, desirable) at any given time. There seems to be a not-so-invisible scale that insinuates that black beauty is either light or dark, always one or the other, never both/and. Binary thinking is always problematic and especially in this instance because these evaluations are inextricably linked to issues of self-esteem and self-worth. In a society that has been obsessed with black women’s single/sex/personal lives, this feels like another opportunity to pinpoint the pitfalls of being a black woman and tell her why she is not wanted (could it be you are the wrong complexion too?). Since black women are routinely subjected to desirability tests that are based on their measure of
whiteness exoticism it should be no surprise that those comparison scales are becoming more intentional and literal (see below).
Being judged and rated in society is an unfortunate plight that black girls learn how to negotiate with the help, love, and reassurance from other girls and women, of various shades, throughout our lives. These women are our red-boned mothers, our high-yellow aunties, our mahogany brown best friends and other brown blood and soul sisters whose beauty we immediately recognize. We learn, from our relationships with these black women, that there is no such thing as one kinda (black) beauty. We learn how to appreciate our differences and likenesses and we realize that the discriminations and prejudices that we face are similar and rooted in racism. But then the outside (influences) makes its way on the inside (mind).
In what was claimed to be “a black history month event,” by club promoters Mack TV and Nelly Da’Celeb of St. Louis, black women were invited to participate in a contest where they would be ranked and evaluated based on their skin color. The “Battle of the Complexions” was a “runway contest for [the] sexiest complexion.” A facebook page for the event announced, ‘This is the most debatable topic of the year, what’s the sexiest skin complexion?? So ladies come out & lets settle this!!”
It seems that this supposedly debatable topic could be settled in a crowded night club with hundreds of horny and inebriated men and attention-needy women on stage with something to prove. When confronted with the multiple and layered problems of their “light skinned versus caramel (brown) skinned versus dark-skinned” contest, the promoters, two black men, not unlike Too $hort a few weeks ago (check out this post, this post , this post, and this one), apologized for offending those who were offended, but not for the misguided event itself (the event took place, as planned, on Friday night). In a statement they said, “It’s Black History Month so we made a party theme dedicated to our African American crowd…here’s the first time ever you can come out and be proud that you are black!! Regardless of your skin tone!!.. We could have used a better choice of words…We did not mean to offend the offended.”
Well…I am offended. And despite the attempt to clean up the mess they made, it is not just a matter of semantics. It is not only the words that are problematic but the theme itself, because evidently it does matter what skin tone you have if the purpose of the event is to choose the most sexy complexion. The ways in which this perpetuates and promotes colorism and division makes it far more than misguided and unfortunate word choice.
I can’t help but wonder what the tone of a venue that pits black women against each other must be like? Do they call each other names? Do they call each other ugly? Do they create color-coded cliques and demean the women not “qualified” to be on their team? How do they prove their worth/beauty/desirability? What must they sacrifice to win? And what would it mean to win a contest that, if only for a moment, puts you at the top of the black girl hierarchy? Is this the kind of victory you celebrate? In these moments black girls turned women forget about the beauty and diversity of skin tones in the family, they dismiss their light or dark skinned sister or best friend, and find themselves needing to prove their worth—their beauty—on a stage where only one can win, and in fact everyone loses. Why does one person’s beauty have to be at the expense of someone else’s?
National Pretty Brown Girl Day, which was celebrated on Saturday, is attempting to avoid what contests like the Battle perpetuates. The need for a day to celebrate “pretty brownness” is evidence that our society doesn’t value and celebrate it on a daily basis. We need to start challenging that–by devoting days to celebrating black beauty, in all of its many manifestations. Perhaps by loving on each other (when no one else will bother) will help to dismantle the cultural cues that say only one version of black is beautiful.