In an exclusive feature with SpiceUK, the young filmmaker behind the documentary “Being Light Skinned” tells us why the light vs dark skinned debate is one that’s far from over…
Lil’ Wayne, Snoop Dogg, Kanye West…they’ve all referenced “light-skins” in their lyrics. Similarly, the 2015 film Straight out of Compton was heavily criticised for the casting of light skin girls as the “hottest of the hottest” “A Girls” and dark skinned girls as the “poor” “D Girls.” For a culture that has built itself on expressing its diversity, it seems to have an awfully narrow representation of light skinned people. They are either sexualised (see Snoop’s “Point Seen Money Gone” or the Lil’ Wayne remix of Gucci Mane’s “Cyeah,”) or attached to a privilege that has its roots in slavery (see Kanye’s “All Day.”)
Colourism in Bollywood has reached epidemic levels. There is now not a single leading actress in Bollywood today with dark skin, resulting in most to assume that light skin actresses are hired for their beauty rather than their talent. All this creates a light skin prototype that is all beauty and good hair, but with nothing in their heads apart from a presumed Eurocentric influence that leaves them unwillingly divided from both their dark skinned and white peers.
But did anyone ever think of asking what it’s like to be light-skinned in Britain today? Kashif Boothe did exactly that when he made the documentary “Being Light Skinned.” Boothe, 24, is an amateur film-maker from South London. He started producing films four years ago, graduating from Roehampton University with a BA in film. Addressing various topics in his documentary, the light skin/dark skin debate was one that Boothe believed needed tackling. “The light skin vs dark skin debate has been highlighted in the media,” Boothe told SpiceUK in an exclusive interview, “I wanted to give men and women who are light skinned a platform to share their views on the debate and to highlight that everyone is affected by the issue.”
There are countless vlogs on YouTube of mixed raced people baring their souls about their experiences as a light skin, which although insightful, is sometimes, as Boothe points out, “one-sided.” While managing to keep the documentary personal, there’s some real contextual grit behind it in order for people to really grasp the issue that has been a problem in many cultures for decades. Boothe frequently interrupts the narrative to embed excerpts from Zora Howard, who performed her poem “Biracial Hair” at the Urban Word NYC Grand Slam, and Kev Young, who runs the YouTube channel HapaUnited, just to name a few. “I didn’t think to make it a vlog and I probably didn’t because I wanted to get a variety of opinions and experiences from the interviewees,” Boothe said.
The interviewees are the people that truly make the film. As all 10 of them reel off their cultural backgrounds, you begin to wonder not only where Boothe managed to find such kaleidoscope of people, but also instantly learn that there really is no such thing as a typical “light skin.”
Surprisingly, it was the most trivial question that seemed to get the most interesting responses. “What are your thoughts on the conception that light skin men & women have good hair?” Boothe asks his interviewees. “I think we do have good hair,” one confesses, laughing, “but that doesn’t mean it’s as wiry as full afro hair or as limp as full white hair would be, it just means we have the best of both.”
Biracial hair has long been a subject of both envy and fetishisation, and although it is simply down to genes, as one interviewee points out, it is used as collateral in order to strengthen the divide between light and dark skin.
“I have biracial hair because I have biracial blood. Not that
Cute they met and fell in love blood.
I’m talkin’ bout that slave raped by the master birthing six
Mixed babied later hung blood.” – Zora Howard, “Biracial Hair”
The points that the interviewees make are accidentally synonymous with what Howard is trying to express in her poetry. Hair is a trivial topic, yes, but is idolised and sometimes criticised in a way that is not appropriate or relevant- and people forget the roots of light skin hair are the roots of their cultural heritage. With this in mind, where does the line between light skin/dark skin get drawn?
Boothe is quick to denounce the divide, which is really more of a social construction: “I think the light skin vs dark skin divide is stupid,” he says, “we as Black and Asian people need to lift up each other rather than tear each other down. I gained a lot of knowledge on what it is like having light skin from the conversations that were not on camera, it changed my perception as I was able to see how the divide affects everyone.”
You kind of have to agree with Boothe on this one- if there’s one thing you take away from this documentary, make sure it’s knowledge, both that the interviewees possess and you yourself have in order to form a compassionate understanding. In essence, recognising that the experiences of dark and light skinned people are undeniably different, rather than it being all about light skin privilege against a dark skin disadvantage. Unfortunately, as Boothe tells us, not all of his audience felt the same way.
“A person on twitter was upset that they were denying their ‘privilege’ and some comments were ignorant and refused to believe that people who have light skin are persecuted because of it.” Thankfully, though, he said most of the responses were positive: “Men and women who are light skinned have enjoyed it and could relate to the experiences and opinions shared, some were educated and their opinions changed.”
we as Black and Asian people need to lift each other up rather than tear each other down.
Boothe released his documentary in March this year. Howard performed at the poetry slam in 2006. In the 18th and 19th centuries, light skin house slaves were used as tools by white slave owners to create a tension between them and the darker skinned field slaves, since a community divided would never be able to unite against a shared injustice. Even though it’s ridiculous that the same partition, which wasn’t even created by us, is still disconnecting us today, it is clear from Boothe’s documentary that it is still a topic which needs to be discussed.
“There needs to be a lot more awareness of how colourism affects both sides of the debate,” says Boothe, “at the moment it is very one sided and that is arguably due to popular culture and what the hierarchy is within certain cultures. To create more unity within BAME communities, I think it would be great if this topic is a part of youth and non-profit organisations when talking to the young people and adults.”
When asked about his hopes for the future of Being Light Skinned, Boothe seems keen to keep the conversation going: “I’m working with A Lot Management to produce event screenings of the documentary in London, Birmingham, Nottingham and Leicester to raise awareness and hopefully to put an end to the light skin vs dark skin debate.”
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*The author and SpiceUK do not share the same views as Kashif Boothe or those represented in the “Being Light Skinned” Documentary.