Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Incorporated, along with the National Association of Colored People, co-sponsored an event entitled “The Plight of the Dark Skin Girl” on Monday, March 26. The program was created to bring to the forefront the issues in the lives of dark-skin women growing up in America. Jonathan Foucault, president of Alpha Phi Alpha, stated the purpose of the event was to discuss skin color in an open forum.
“Skin color especially within the African American Community is always spoken about in private conversations, never in public,” he said.
Speaker Cathleen Williams, a journalist professional, was invited to host the event and truly probe audience members.
Williams began the event with audience members folding a piece of paper down the middle and writing stereotypes of fairer-toned African Americans on one side, and writing stereotypes of browner toned-skin women on the other. The floor was then opened to discussion.
One of the first issues to be raised was the title of the event, “The Plight of the Dark Skin Girl,” as some audience members had harbored feelings with the use of the word “plight.”
According to Dictionary.com, Plight is defined as “a condition, state, or situation, especially an unfavorable or unfortunate one”. Audience members cited the journey of the browner African-American female as hard, but not unfortunate.
“We should embrace being black. The fact that the title is called ‘Plight of the Dark Skin Girl’ feeds into the stereotype and it ignores the fact that lighter skin women have issues too,” said Alexia Channer, president of Hofstra’s chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers. “A lot of times Black people consider being dark skin as something negative.”
Channer’s comment made me think: Maybe African-Americans want to be considered “lighter” because of what it meant. It meant one got treated better. As a slave if one were light enough, he or she could pass as white and escape to freedom. During the discussion I referenced examples such as Queen Charlotte, Queen of England during the time of the American Revolution. Queen Charlotte had ancestry of African descent, but was light enough to be queen.
As a fairer toned African-American female the conversation brought questions to the forefront of my mind. Do darker-toned blacks think as a lighter-skinned female I have it easier in life? Do they feel as though my life has been less of a struggle?
Since my move to New York less than a year ago, I have faced racism boldly to my face, being called a nappy-headed hoe, to being told directly that slavery wasn’t oppressive, to even being subject of dirty looks from browner-toned African-American females for just looking the way I am. As a lighter-skinned female, I face many of the same issues as my browner sisters do. I wish this was brought to greater attention during the event.
However, “The Plight of the Dark-Skin Girl” was a successful event; honest feelings were shared, but it was not enough. During the tale end of the program I heard some audience members shout, “The darker the berry, the sweeter the juice.” Did we not as a community just discuss to stop segregation within ourselves?
This event was a start to healing the wounds of the African-American race, but it was just a start. It’s going to take much greater work to heal the history of our people, but more events like this should help. I applaud Alpha Phi Alpha and NAACP for hosting the event, yet I challenge them to host more similar to this. So here’s to being black, not light-skin, light skinned, dark-skin, dark-skinned, just black.
-Tatiana M. Brown