Grown-ish and the Erasure of Darkskinned Women

Grown-ish and the Erasure of Darkskinned Women

Colourism: a word that incites a riot within my soul. This one ideology, that consists of nine letters has dictated how I would be treated before my own conception. It rips apart my confidence no matter how hard I try to run away from its grasp. I am consistently reminded throughout society that I am merely an afterthought and subject to discrimination because of the colour of my skin. The following has been a message that has been communicated to my black body since my childhood and television has done nothing but contribute to my erasure.

Despite the advancements and fantastic strides black people have made in the entertainment industry, there seems to be a issue with the erasure of darkskin and representation.Grown-ish, a spin-off of the hit TV show Black-ish that features Anthony Anderson, Yara Shahidi, Marcus Scribner, Miles Brown, the fabulous Tracee Ellis Ross and my personal fav, Marsai Martin, has been touted as the modern A Different World by various users on social media and the show's creator Kenya Barris. Starring Yara Shahidi as Zoey Johnson, the series follows her character as she heads to college and embarks on a journey of self discovery. Without a doubt, Black-ish has made an impact in prime-time television with its witty and socially-conscious narratives, so I expected nothing less with Barris’ project.

However, after viewing the initial promos for Grown-ish in October 2017, I was left confused. Immediately, I noticed the lack of dark skinned women and tweeted my thoughts to reflect my disappointment. Despite this, I still held onto hope that Barris and co. would display a wider range of skin tones  in the main cast. However, as the premiere neared its deadline, that reassurance never came.

Staring at beautiful promo shots reminiscent of distinct TV shows that I admired in the 90’s, I bit my tongue and swallowed every ounce of courage I had left. The cast, assembled of new and familiar faces, isn't groundbreaking, it's insulting. Not only does it sustain colourist ideals, it contributes to the erasure of those with darker skin. My thoughts consisted of pain and rage. The silence that followed was an attempt to shrink myself in an effort to not take up space and to avoid being labelled bitter or angry. Speaking out would result in hyper-visibility that would attract negative attention from trolls, despite my genuine concern.

While I’m elated to see that Yara Shahidi would be spearheading a much needed spin-off to display another side of black women in television, the absence of dark skinned girls sends a clear message that goes against the ‘woke’ sentiments the actress often vocalizes on social media.

Are we not good enough? Do we not share the same experiences of those who are lighter than us? Do we not deserve recognition? Lastly, what message is this sending to little dark skinned girls?

After the promo photos for Grown-ish made its rounds, it elicited various reactions. The argument that keeps on being recycled like a bad joke, consists of: “But aren’t we all black?" "Why are y'all always complaining?" "Why can't y'all just be happy that we have a black show?" While I’d like to think this flawed logic is a one-off, it is reflective of a much deeper issue. Its dismissive nature is used a way to gaslight those who are brave enough to critique the brown paper bag test and all its contents. Moreover, attempting to dismantle colourism and speaking out against the ideology brings forth an unimaginable wrath of hatred by those who believe that all black people—despite difference of skin tone and statistics—face the exact same struggles.

And to endure pushback from those who are too busy reaping the benefits of their privilege, is also hurtful.Being accused of dividing the community is another insult that I loathe due to its irony. If you assume that someone rising against toxic ideologies is an act against the black community, I urge you to understand that silencing darker skinned women at the expense of preserving the faux image of unity does greater damage. While I appreciate the contributions that Shonda Rhimes and other notable writers have brought to television, I still feel like there’s a lot of work that needs to be done to deviate from Hollywood's status quo.In a perfect world, I believe there should be a responsibility to fairly and accurately cast the black community in all its glory but I’ve slowly learned that it isn't a requirement or a right. The expectation that black writers and/or creators should include darker skinned women in modern day narratives, without the usual package of extreme attitude and sass, is a concept that I will not hold my breath over. 

Wanting to feel that indescribable joy that is felt when seeing yourself positively portrayed in the media is something I’ve chased since childhood but sadly it comes in doses. Throughout television, dark skinned woman are often berated and/or erased which contributes to the way many of us see ourselves and how others view our bodies. We’re either promiscuous, too harsh or removed with little variety in between.In a recent article for Teen Vogue titled, "The Grown-ish Cast on Activism and Representation in Television" I found the following excerpt interesting:

Like A Different World, Grown-ish is disrupting the prime-time status quo through its cast, which is largely comprised of young people of color. “Being of mixed race myself, it warmed my heart to know that young people around the world will be able to watch the show and see all different ethnicities represented,” says Jordan, who as a kid never felt represented on TV. That inclusivity extends behind the scenes. “The writers’ room is gender-balanced. We have a female [executive producer], young directors are coming in, and all of these beautiful different voices are being heard,” Yara explains. “We’re really trying to get this right from start to finish.”

While Grown-ish may compare to A Different World, if we consider the choice of clothing that was used in the the photograph above or the topics they aim to discuss in future episodes to come, I fail to see the connection. A Different World was successful and solidified a place in my heart, as well as popular culture, due to the diverse cast that displayed a wide range of skin tones, most significantly those with darker skin. The word 'inclusivity' is often shouted from the mountain tops to appear "woke" but if you exclude those who are othered and/or erased in the community, how inclusive are you? After the series premiere, I hope that fans of the show will see dark-skinned women appear from the shadows and invoke meaningful dialogue, because you know…darkskin girls go to college too but if the main cast is any indication of what’s to come, Grown-ish is a missed opportunity. 

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Featured image photographed by Sean Thomas via. Teen Vogue