He Wanted a Certain Type of Black Girl
Loving Black women runs deeper than loving those with light skin
Summer 2011: I was watching a Harry Potter movie (don’t ask me which one because I really don’t remember) when a scene completely unnecessary to the plot came up. Harry is sitting in a restaurant and he captures the attention of a young Black woman. She’s slender, tall, light-skinned, big 3C curl pattern hair; think McDonald’s commercial. One of the co-workers who had invited me over to watch this Harry Potter movie couldn’t keep his remarks to himself:
“Man… Black girls like that are so pretty!”
I didn’t know how to respond to that. The fact that he had the gall to say that right in front of me let me know that he obviously didn’t think there was anything wrong with that statement.
“Black girls like what?” I asked.
“You know, like… that skin tone and that brownish hair color with the big curly hair! So pretty!”
This was years ago. I don’t remember my response exactly, but I’m sure it was something along the lines of, “What about everyone else?”
The ideal Black girl
This wasn’t the first time I heard someone express their love for the ideal Black girl, and it most definitely wasn’t the last. I see it most frequently in movies. Women like Zoe Saldana, Paula Patton, and Zendaya are frequently cast as the love interest for the White male protagonist. Do I have a problem with any of these celebrity women? Not necessarily (well, except for Saldana with her Nina Simone biopic b.s.). I just found it puzzling that it seems like when a White male protagonist needs a girlfriend of color, Hollywood knows exactly who to call. And that person tends to fit a consistent description:
- Light skin, often mixed race with a White parent.
- Long straight (or slightly curly) hair.
It’s as if to say: “Let’s cast somebody Black but… not too Black, okay? We want a big name but we have to make sure White people will still like her.”
Let’s take the 2006 film adaptation of Dreamgirls, for example. It stars Jennifer Hudson, Beyoncé Knowles, and Anika Noni Rose as The Dreamettes. As the plot thickens, the group’s manager knows the key to the girls making it big is for them to appeal to White audiences. With their current setup featuring a plus-sized and boisterous Effie White (Hudson) as the lead singer, this wouldn’t work. He changes the group’s center to the thinner, lighter, higher-voiced Deena (Knowles) and the group blows up to stardom.
Effie White was good enough — more than good enough — for The Dreamettes’ original Black audience. They loved her charisma, her thick body, her brown skin, her distinct voice. However, if the group was going to make it big, it had to give the (White) people what they want. They had to give them sanitized Blackness.
A clear divide
I want to preface this by saying that I’m not bringing this up to disregard the Blackness of light-skinned or mixed girls. I know from experience that having the validity of your Blackness questioned because of things outside of your control is extremely hurtful. However, we can’t ignore the fact that the Blackness that, for so long, has been pushed by Hollywood is extremely narrow in perspective. Oftentimes we are viewed from two opposing extremes. There are the old, mammy-like Black women who are usually seen as caretakers or maids. Oftentimes they are loud, “sassy,” and overweight with a darker skin tone, supposedly the epitome of being undesirable. Then there are the objects of desire, typically these characters are light-skinned with Eurocentric facial features; they’re good-natured, quiet, and “classy.”
Loving Black women runs deeper than loving Beyonce and Rihanna.
If I could just bring up this unfortunate memory, the most blatant example of these caricatures would be the film Norbit (2007). The film stars Eddie Murphy as the title character, a mild-mannered guy who gets roped into a relationship and marriage with the gluttonous Rasbutia (aka Eddie Murphy in a fat suit and prosthetic makeup). The film follows Norbit as he reunites with his childhood sweetheart, the light-skinned and good-hearted Kate (played by Thandie Newton).
The movie received a decent amount of backlash, predominantly from Black women. Yes, the overall point was that Rasbutia was a domineering, unfaithful, and abusive woman with whom anyone would want to break ties. However, adding the elements of her fatness and Blackness created a completely different narrative. The film’s promotion came with taglines such as: “Have you ever made a really big mistake?” and “Nice Guy, Big Problem!”
The film was not about a poor guy who had fallen victim to domestic abuse. It was about a poor guy who had the misfortune of being abused by a woman who isn’t even “hot.” Rasputia’s large body, wide nose, dark skin, and bad wigs all became part of a caricature. Had Rasputia been played by a regular actress and wasn’t backed by a lot of hammy acting, the tone of the film would have been completely different. But then we would have been reminded that domestic abuse is an actual thing, and who wants to be reminded of that, right?
You don’t love Black women
For whatever reason, there’s always a need for non-Black men and women to exclaim how much they “love” Black women. But what they fail to realize is that loving Black women runs deeper than loving Beyoncé and Rihanna. Is there anything wrong with loving either of the two? Not at all; they are phenomenal artists and entrepreneurs and I would love to breathe the same air as them one day. But their aesthetic screams: Exception to the White Rule. I mean, Beyonce even had to release “Formation” and give everyone a gentle reminder that she is quite unapologetically Black.
The phrase “I love Black women” is already strange enough to begin with; do you hear anyone say that about anyone else? But it’s even more strange when the person doesn’t actually mean it. Loving Black women means accepting that some of us may be Claire Huxtable and some of us may be Florida Evans. Some of us may be Penny Proud and some of us may be Dijonay Jones. Some of us may be Joan, Maya, Lynn, Toni, Khadijah, Regine, Synclair, or Max. It really doesn’t matter which one, the point is that all of us deserve the same right to be loved and to be valued.