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Pet Sins November 2004

The preponderance of light-skinned black women in US entertainment

There is a trend in black beauty magazines to favor black women with more European features and lighter skin tone. Many hip hop videos also subscribe to the notion of "light skin is beautiful". One is more likely to see a white woman or brown-skinned Latina than a very dark-skinned black woman in a black male artist's music video. The black women in hiphop videos are usually light-skinned. Are we really past the time when some bougie social clubs in black communities used a "paper bag" test for membership: successful applicants have to be no darker than a paper bag.

Famous black Hollywood actresses like Halle Berry, Jada Pinkett Smith, Pam Grier and Vanessa Williams are generally lighter-skinned than their male counterparts like Wesley Snipes, Denzel Washington, Samuel L. Jackson and Morgan Freeman. Black male actors are usually paired with a lighter skin black female actress. One recent example is the movie Antwone Fisher, where both dark-skinned male leads had love interests who are light-skinned. Djimon Hounsou is very dark-skinned and a successful actor. But I cannot think of an equally dark-skinned female actress with a similar career. Why is this the case?


Comment from 'M.T.'
It seems that there is an unspoken rule in "liberal" Hollywood that for an African American woman to be considered attractive, she must be light-skinned. One can think of numerous examples, from Lena Horne and Dorothy Dandridge a generation ago to Beyonce Knowles and Halle Berry today. If a Black woman is brown-skinned, she is only considered attractive if she has some Caucasian feature(s) (e.g., Tyra Banks and her hazel eyes) and extensions. As for dark-skinned woman, they are usually comediennes (Whoopi Goldberg) or obese "Mammy" types. This "rule" is also true for other women of color. Does anyone think that Jennifer Lopez would be as successful as she is if she looked like, say, Rosie Perez? There are many attractive darker-skinned Asian women, but we almost never see them depicted in Western media.

Comment from 'K.L.'
I second the opinions expressed. For example, Static Shock is my favorite cartoon series which I think is by far the most well-rounded depiction of a black superhero and of black characters in general. But I am still somewhat disappointed that the love interest of the main character follows the convention of "successful black male must have much-lighter-skinned girlfriend." When I first saw Static's girlfriend I thought she was Native American or Asian - she was yellow with straight black hair. But she is a black character, a "high yella" to be specific. There seems to be an unspoken rule on TV that a black man cannot be paired with a woman who is darker-skinned than him. Static's mother, while probably qualifying as dark-skinned, is still lighter than his father.