Hollywood is eager to showcase dark-skinned beauties, just not too dark. Colorism is more subtle than racism, which makes it dangerous in a totally different way.
Maybe it’s because Europeans and their descendants took over the world. Or maybe it’s because for thousands of years, the wealthy and powerful avoided hard labor in the sun. For one reason or the other, fair skin is a common standard of beauty across the world. In the United States, it is certainly possible to be black and beautiful, just not too black. The problem is especially onerous for dark women.
People of color are still reduced to ethnic/racial tropes. Men of color, typically black men, are often macho action stars (Wesley Snipes, Will Smith, Samuel L. Jackson) or wise “magical negros” (Morgan Freeman, Michael Clark Duncan). Black women have an even narrower window of opportunity. For women, the archetype of the plump, sassy, god-fearing matriarch has given way to a more contemporary sexual object.
Plenty of black women are considered beautiful, but the most famous ones almost always conform to white standards of beauty. Who are generally considered to be the icons of black beauty in the 21st century? Halle Berry, Beyonce and Alicia Keys? How about Tyra Banks? Rihanna? Even when Beyonce rocks an afro, it’s a tongue-in-cheek comedy throwback to the 70s when it was normal to see Pam Greer sport one.
Of course these women are all gorgeous, but imagine how many darker complexioned women get ignored. Imagine how many little dark girls grow up thinking that there may be something wrong with them. It would be difficult for them to dismiss the pattern as racism because, after all, there are clearly black women on the screens. We must stop thinking of colorism as a word made up by complainers and the politically correct. It is a real and harmful practice.
And yes, Oprah may be one of the more popular and powerful women in the world, but she was never renowned for her beauty. This preference for lighter skin minorities can be found in the newsrooms as well where a disproportionate number of minority anchors are light-skinned.
To achieve mainstream success in Hollywood, one must still be able to pass a brown paper bag test – unless you have a penis and can fire a gun while looking cool.