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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