Rise Women Rise- A Male Perspective: Khephra Burns

Letter to Bill Duke from Khephra Burns

Khephra Burns’ body of work includes several acclaimed books, as well as works for public and commercial television, for magazines, and for the stage. He also contributes to several monthly publication including Essence Magazine, Art & Auction and the Boule Journal.

Thank you for Dark Girls. I just watched a promo online with my wife, Susan Taylor. This is long overdue. I have hated and resented my whole life being singled out by our folk as handsome because I was lighter skinned. I hated the implied message that my friends were less so because they were darker. But most of all I hated the pain black men cause black women with this ignorance. I thought for a brief moment we had gotten past this in the sixties. But here we are in the 2011 watching hip hoppers in music videos surround themselves with light-bright-damn-near-white women. And my heart aches for all the beautiful, intelligent, talented dark girls Susan and I know who can’t even get a date because niggahs are fawning over Hispanic, Asian and white women, especially if the men (boys?) have any money or notoriety.

Several years ago I spoke at the Yale Club in New York about the pervasive culture of lies that has permeated every aspect of our lives. What I said in part was that despite the growing diversity of representation in media, the standard of feminine beauty in America remains narrowly European, in part because black folk – primarily black men – have bought into it. As any dark-skin, single young woman can tell you, her prospects for a committed, meaningful relationship are, sadly, better outside the race than within it. Our own black-owned media tell the tale, not only reflecting our self-hatred, but perpetuating it as well: Try to recall ever seeing a black couple in a sitcom, drama or music video in which the wife, girlfriend or love interest was darker than her leading man. It doesn’t happen.

How does it feel to be rejected as undesirable by the majority of the men of your own race? In favor of a standard of beauty epitomized by women of another race? Dark Girls puts faces on this pain. Little wonder that bleaching creams are making a comeback. And the price we pay for this narrow aesthetic is greater than just black women’s pain. We all suffer.

A series of studies conducted in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s showed that children whom society deems attractive win praise, attention and encouragement from adults; encouragement that those who deviate from the accepted standard of beauty don’t get. And so, children who are thought to be attractive do better in school: They receive more help, get better grades and suffer fewer punishments. On the other hand, children who are considered unattractive (the primary attribute of which is almost universally regarded as dark skin), are more likely to be placed in special education. Even mothers were found to snuggle, kiss, talk to and play more with their babies if they were of a lighter complexion; and the fathers were more involved as well.

Fairy tales tell our children that the good guys are handsome, that the bad guys are not, that the heroine is always beautiful and “fair.” And if our children are not fair or considered beautiful, even in the eyes of their own community, they can easily assume that they too have been relegated to the role of villain and make that a self-fulfilling prophecy. Black men are damaged. We’ve been brainwashed. We hate ourselves and our mothers for being black and have transferred all that pain to black women and children.

Kudos, brother. Kudos, and thanks. My hope is that Dark Girls will help to wake brothers up. My fear is that we are so damaged that many of us will laugh at these women and make a joke of their pain. Racism and our own intra-racial pigmentocracy are of course at the root of this sickness, and brothers are the primary carriers of this diseased mentality. It’s them we have to try to heal.

– Khephra Burns

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13 Responses to Rise Women Rise- A Male Perspective: Khephra Burns

  1. guy number 1 says:

    I’m just so interested in black women’s desire or even obsession with making this the problem of the black man. I just don’t understand it. I agree, that if you have been made to feel bad about your complexion (or weight or hair etc) its has probably been from a black man as opposed to any other man. That is true. But do you for one second think that black men (or women) have “decided” what they prefer in terms of attraction? I don’t. You can’t have this discussion outside of the context of white supremacy in the West. You just cannot. And honestly when I see women really push the black male hate as opposed to approaching the subject from a perspective that wants to take into account the reality that this is in fact a straight, middle class, white man’s country, and we are just living in it, it really disheartens me. What do you want? For black men to realize that the color of your skin should not be used to gauge your value as a person or a woman? Okay, then you should probably do something about the white media, institutions, and systems of thinking that have told us this. It will never work ground up. It is a system. Its not an unfortunate coincidence. Who do you think owns the record company’s putting out the videos you’re angry about? Not niggas! Who is lightening Beyonce in ads? Not niggas! Who is producing movies with these lightskin black women at every turn? Not niggas! Get out of here. We don;t control enough media, enough property, enough wealth, to determine our own fates. Men or women. And to see that we can’t even get past blaming each other to work for that is honestly disheartening. (aka these types of rants are the ultimate victory of white supremacy)

  2. guy number 1 says:

    And everything I said applies to this guy ranting. Doesn’t change a thing. I’m sure he feels like he’s getting plenty of coolpoints with the women folk, and yea it takes some courage to say what you’re saying, but sir you have a terribly narrow view of the entire situation.

  3. Proud Dark Woman says:

    In response to Guy number 1: I think that your narrow minded view of the world is part of the reason progress is trailing behind. It’s not a white middle class world, it’s a white upperclass world to be honest. But if everyone thought like guy number one black people wouldn’t even be on TV much less having a hand in anything that means anything in this world. You think that just because the “media” is perpetuating the same myths created during slavery, we shouldn’t educate our young black people, men & women, about these attitudes, where they come from, & why we should have pride in our skin color because it’s ours & nothing to be ashamed of. According to guy number one, we should just let everything go & just go with the attitudes and images that the media puts out. With that type of thinking Mammie would still be in the kitchen, & all the black roles in movies/tv would be the help. None of this is about man bashing. It is about changing the ideology from the inside out. Every movement has worked from the ground up, so that statement is just as disqualified. Power does not relinquish power, you have to fight for it & take it. Nobody starts from the top. If you don’t love yourself, nobody else will. So why do you think that this process needs to start anywhere, but among people with brown & black skin? There is so much more wrong with the reply from guy number one, but I have better things to do than point them all out right now. I’ll just suggest you go somewhere & find an original thought of your own, instead of relying on the “media” to think for you.
    Proud Dark Woman

    • ms ali says:

      tell it sis. mr 1 says black people “don’t have control over our own destiny,” but speaking out that brothers need to become attracted to their own women, is “victory for white supremacy!?” smdh.

  4. ms ali says:

    …where the h-e-double-hockey sticks did guy #1 get “male bashing” out of this? if you & your friends/male relatives are different then fine. doesn’t excuse the whole, nor villainize those innocent of it! do i sense some bitterness from experience with male-bashing women at all???

  5. Plumpdn says:

    Actually, Guy Number 1 has a point, eventhough he makes it in the most annoying way possible. Black men learn to hate black women from…..black women, forget the media. They are there while you cuss out your daughter for her nappy hair, talk about how such and such chick is “too black to be wearing that” and drag them to the hair store to buy Asian women’s hair in order to fix your own. Not trying to say that men are dumb, but they are very suggestible. Have you ever seen men start paying attention to a woman because one of his friends is? It’s the same. If you suggest through your words and actions that black women are ugly and need to be fixed, most will grow up and believe it. And if black is wack…at least in women, why be seen in public with wackness? If WE change, all of our children will change.

    • Sauda says:

      No, no, no-it’s the other way around!! We put weaves and perms in our hair, and value Eurocentrism because that’s what THEY want. Are you kidding me?

  6. darkskinbydesign says:

    I’ve said the same thing Plumpdn, specifically as it relates to hair. We tell them what’s beautiful in how we rock our own hair.

    I don’t like to get deep about the hair thing in terms what someone should or should not do with their hair, but at the end of the day how are they going to love something about us that we don’t love ourselves? The topic is popular when it comes to natural hair communities, I never understood how a black man could dislike his own, especially since they see our hair more than we do, but we’ve told them that either long hair is prettier, short hair with a perm is prettier, died hair etc anything but our kinky/curly hair. So they have to adjust and even we’ve adjusted in our journeys to go natural.

    And at the end of the day if we go so far out of the way to not look like black women and this is what black men is seeing day and night in their neighborhoods, why not eventually go for the “real thing”?

    One thing that still gets me however is that the dark skin issue wasn’t just a female thing and while many of us women can get together talk about it and overcome it, men don’t seem to identify with the fact that there is a problem internally and to seek to resolve that problem, not at the same level at least of course there are exceptions, this letter proving just that.

    Also not all black women are the stereotypical bitter can’t love a man don’t know how to get along with other women types, and not all men choosing to jump ship from us, are those that were treated bad by a black women, they believe those that say they’re less than and therefore subconsciously or consciously, they choose to go the way of what society says it beautiful.

    At the end of the day I think each side needs to take responsibility. With my life experiences I have every reason to hate men, let alone black men but I refuse to. I focus on the ones that are good and hold out for that one too. Regardless of what makes us feel the way we do about our own, WE have to change ourselves and our issues period. I wish I would let someone else run me from my own race rather inside or outside of it and the ability to do so even, shows character that’s like the difference between a father who sticks around with their family although unappreciated and one that jets as soon as something happens that they don’t like….ok let me hush before I never stop!:)

  7. blckgrl says:

    Just to be positive (in response to the original post) Let’s Stay Together on BET does have a light skinned male in a relationship with a “dark girl.” (I’ve never watched it myself, but saw snippets after The Game). While this may not be the overwhelming trend there are snippets of it found in media and, yes, even in real life. Yes, mainstream dictates the standard of beauty to the masses and to little black boys and girls, but don’t underestimate the power of these little black girls and boys seeing their own skin tones being appreciated by their parents, teachers, friends and community members. Parents can still influence what their children watch on TV, read at home, magazines they are exposed to and comments made in the home (granted to a certain age). We have in our power to mold how our community sees the light/dark skin continuum. We can’t wait for the media to change. Yes its important (sad in 2011, but important) to have this documentary, but that doesn’t change the fact that people who have young black children/teens/adults in their lives should be reinforcing their beauty and their importance in the world despite what mainstream media (or their friends, love interests, etc) says.

  8. Black Woman says:

    When will we all learn to love ourselves and each other? If we love all of ourselves and each other as a people, these issues will not matter. Straight hair, kinky hair, light skin, dark skin, brown, black…when will we just love all of who we all are? Does it really matter how we look so much that we hate who we are? Are we so weak as a people that we still have not overcome the effects of oppression that created these issues? Are we so ignorant that we still cannot see the truth about ourselves that we are fabulous beyond belief with all our talents, creativity, strengths, and intelligence? We are originals…copied by every other race for what we do “first.” We have our ideas stolen and claimed by others, we create trends, new music, new dances, new arts, new stories, new gadgets, new things, some of which others steal or not give us credit for. We have survived the attempt of total annihilation, attempted genocide, legal and social suicide attempts, and we fought hard, died in the effort and won inspite of incredible odds. Yet, today we still hate ourselves and we criticize ourselves based on our skin color, and we keep hurting and holding onto the hurt from the past and the present, and we embrace the very same practices the slavemaster used to divide us centuries ago. Are we insane? We need to love ourselves and all our differences and choices- men and women. We need to stop treating each other as the enemy. Wear your hair how you want..straight, kinky, natural, weaved, black or blond or pink and blue…wear it proudly and love it…we are a creative people and we look good in our uniqueness…we have always been originals…in Africa and here inthe U.S. Let your color shine and you shine with it whether it is light, dark, brown or black….be proud because we are diverse and beautiful with all our differences. LOVE yourself and LOVE each other and you will see that what others think don’t matter because we know we are BEAUTIFUL in all our uniqueness. The secret is THEY know it too which is why we were enslaved in the first place. We have always been fabulous as a people….we still are. We need to reject the lies of opression and know we are fabulous. Love will heal us. Let’s embrace the love and leave the hate. We are better than this.

  9. RA says:

    Proud Dark Woman is saying it! In the preview some light skinned black guy says “…dark skinned women look funny beside me”, thus they get no dates with him. The black man HAS been brainwashed to love the light and hate the dark and although few will admit it, human evidence speaks for itself. They could never explain to you why that is the case, but that comes with the denial. It’s not about dark women hating themselves all of a sudden. If you never looked in a mirror your whole life you would have no clue what you looked like. OTHER PEOPLE fuel those insecurities and that’s where the problem comes from, thus it’s an issue that needs to be addressed.

    Good on the guest speaker for saying it like it is for a change, instead of getting uncomfortable and passing the buck AND the blame.

  10. I was determined to be everything my father wasn’t. We make excuses, when all we have to do is look in the mirror and hold an honest conversation. Black women are brilliance, pain and promise – purple black, niggah hair and all in between.

  11. Z.N.S says:

    I feel that when you look at society and especially the media in TV shows,movies and even music etc., you will see the darkest hue black men. However hardly ever see a woman of the same completion always a lighter skinned female. This can not be a coincedence that threw all these medians of the media there are no dark skinned woman, so there must be someone who is in control of casting these specific roles. When young black children then see that on black tv shows, hip – hop ?r’n’b videos, black men magazines and in movies that the black man is often always portrayed to be with a women who is not the same colour as him, it is embeded in that childs head and as they grow up and see the same thing (the young black male) will then aspire to have what he has seen on tv. He will then grow up not acknowledging the dark female and having a light skin or white partner. Whilst the darker skin female will grow up feeling not as attractive as the lighter skin or white girls, and today even take drastic measure to change her appearene (skin bleaching). This is the a cycle in which our black culture is living in. If our children are not taught that black is beautiful then they will grow up being non – the wiser. I feel that a way to target this starts from in the home first of all, I then think that black people need to come together and do something about the rascism which is going on within our race. I know i am not the only one who has noiced that darker black women have not been represented in the media, however on the odd occasion that they are, shown they are often being displayed as being the loud, rude and ill – mannered. This is creating a stereotype of dark skin girl.

    If we then look back into slavery when we were first carried out of Africa to the U.S.A and across the globe. The Children who were then born into slavery knew none the wiser of their previous heritage they were born into a life were black was inferior to white and the lighter skin slave had privilleges over the dark skin slave. Therefore many years when slavery was ”over” the great great great however many grandchildren of the blacks who were born into slavery grew up with this mentality, and it is the same mentality which some blacks still have till this day. Therefore nothing has realy changed we may not be inslaved psychically but we are still mentally. So when you hear these stories of some black girls mothers not liking their daughters skin, im not saying its ok, but you cannot get angry with her because she is still mentally enslaved just like her enslaved ancestors, and the media does not help one recover from this . I feel that the media is still working to keep black people with these mentalites.

    If we also look back into the 60’s/70’s theere was alot of black movement and black power, and that was when black people were more united. If we look at society today we have regressed and there is no longer a feeling of togetherness. So instead sharing all these stories of how being dark has effected you, i feel that black people of all shades need to come together and start to do something about the rascism within the black race, and then this vicious cycle will end.

    I would just like to get feedback on why you think darkskin men are portrayed in the media and not women, and why this darkskin stigma does not effet the darker man as much as it does the female.

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