Shout out to every redboned militant in my family who knew the deal. Who lovingly painted angels brown so their babies would feel welcome at Christmastime. Who shook their heads and chuckled at the women using umbrellas on sunny days so that their little girls would see how ridiculous it looked, and how sad it would be to deprive the skin of sunshine.
Shout out to the light-brights who wove art into Afros while their wavy locks snapped in summer breezes. Who bought chocolate-hued Barbies by the armload. Who told their daughters that God made them the color they were because they were as sweet as cinnamon and should look like it too. Who used jobs their fair skin clearly afforded them to feed a family so very many shades of black.
Shout out to the high yellows who knew that the road would be hard for the daughters they sired who had been cloaked in the skin of the men they loved so, so deeply. Who were furious that the world would try to deny their children their rightful place by their side in all things. And so they would do all they could to support them and love them, to do battle until the world loved and supported them too.
Can we stop pretending this isn’t deliberate?
I am not asking for a recast of Shana. Even with the assistance of colorism, it is still very difficult for non-white actresses to obtain major roles. If a white actress can be hired for the role? She will be. So every role cast to an actress of color should be held onto with all its might, for the opportunity may not come again. What I am asking for is the basic acknowledgement that colorism exists, it is in play here, and it is erasing black, Latina, Native, and Asian actresses of darker hues from the canvas. It is telling our daughters and our sisters that their skin tone is unfeminine and undesirable. That we should not be relegated to the back, in brief full-body shots in celluloid to provide contrast to the fairer lead, but that we are so unattractive that we should not be seen at all. That we must be adjusted—lightened—to be of worth. To be beautiful. To be wanted. An actress such as Lupita Nyong’o is held as an exception to the “rule” that women of darker hues are unattractive instead of as one mere example of a new rule—that women of all hues are equally beautiful.
I am not going to support the upcoming Jem and the Holograms film. I am no longer going to support any film or television show where a character once heralded as beautiful—due to and not in spite of her skin tone—has been lightened to make said character “acceptable.” Marketable. Not until at least one character makes it from the second dimension to the third with her melanin levels intact. And Hollywood has amazingly yet to give us that. Not even one character.
We are no longer going to accept the message that we are not wanted here and yet still leave our money on the counter as we make our way out.
We have other options now.
I will make this short, but sweet. Should Rihanna ever allow a surgeon to carve into her face, to raise the slope of her nose and narrow the bridge between her wide, sparkling eyes, she would cease to be unique. For unlike the many pop princesses who have preceded her, women who have unfortunately thinned their features to secure public acceptance, Rihanna’s beauty is subversive. Cloaked in the light skin that is erroneously heralded as superior in many cultures, Rihanna’s decidedly wide African features are allowed to project boldly from the covers of fashion magazines, to be emblazoned upon billboards, to slip across our television screens, to be uniformly heralded as what they are and would sadly not be considered should they be found upon a woman of a darker hue—beautiful.
Like water eroding stone, each appearance, each reinforcement of her desirability is a slow and steady wearing away of the narrow and racist standards of beauty that have maintained a chokehold upon North and South America for centuries. Like a bombshell girl of the forties, Rihanna is a symbol of warfare, though cultural rather than conventional. Undoubtedly beautiful and black, she is unapologetic and joyful regarding both.