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“The chains have been removed from our wrists and our ankles, but not from our heads,” says Celeste Crenshaw, senior producer of the documentary Black Women On: The Light, Dark Thang. In her one-hour exploration of the impact of colorism, 14 D.C.-area residents come clean about what is typically a taboo subject among African-Americans: light-skinned supremacy.
Crenshaw weaves together dramatization,
literary excerpts, and testimonials to bring what she calls black women’s “kitchen-table talk” to the forefront, giving The Light, Dark Thang an air of often painful frankness as it confronts color politics in the African-American community. “Discrimination coming from anybody, for any reason, is unacceptable,” Crenshaw says. For her, the chastening begins at home.
Kusen Crawford Sampson, a deep-chocolate-toned woman in the film, admits that she once believed that “dark-skinned” and “ugly” were synonymouswhich compelled her to enter therapy. “It still hurts,” Sampson says, on the verge of tears. “I didn’t realize it would hurt so much until we started sharing.”
At the other end of the spectrum, Taressa Stovall is no less candid. She has light skin, and “Black folks have suggested to me that I’ve gotten certain jobs because of the way I look” despite her solid credentials, she says. “You can’t deny the fact that it gives you entree. It gives you access”a truth few people, black or white, would reveal.
The coffee-colored Crenshaw says privileges afforded to lighter-skinned blacks seemed out of bounds to her when, in 1990, she was a producer for Black Entertainment Television and decided to try for an on-air position. She eventually got the job, but not before she had waged her own “little campaign” against the unwritten rules that she says tended to work against darker female employees at the network. The indifference she encountered around the subject of colorism left her unsettled, she says. She began producing The Light, Dark Thang to break the silence. “There are some people,” she observes, “who feel it’s a one-two punch to the stomach.”Nefretiti Makenta
Black Women On: The Light, Dark Thang airs at 9 p.m. Friday, Feb. 5, on WHUT Channel 32.