!!!Major Spoiler Alert for Pose Season 2!!!

The Same Exhausting Rhetoric

Listen, I’m real tired so I’m gonna skip straight to the point. Showrunners! You need to hire dark skin people to write dark skin characters, because it seems like the writers y’all hired don’t know how to do it. Since we like to have the conversation about needing diversity in writers’ rooms, let’s talk about media representation and colorism. Black folks have seen stereotypes for as long as we could remember. We’ve had caricatures depicted across our screens that instill fear and racism to this day. We’ve seen us associated with violence, betrayal, a counteracting ingredient to purity. Today, I’d like to discuss another topic under the umbrella of racism, colorism. We’ve covered it in different ways in our articles, especially this one that dissects colorism and casting; but today we’re going to focus on dark skin folks and how they are written in the television world.

Dark skin women are not the scapegoats you lug your insults at for comic relief. We’re not the friend you fail to appreciate until we’re dead. We’re not animalistic beings who lack intelligence or empathy. We are not to be forgotten until we have something gracious to offer to you. I have too many examples from movies and television shows that do not explore dark skin women with the depth and love they offer their light skin counterparts. This rhetoric is anti-black and embarrassing.

Cut the “Tyler Perry Effect” and hold yourself accountable.

Dark skin characters are often unappreciated until others no longer have access to them. A great example of this, Candy from Pose. I cried when Candy died. Not because they handled her character with grace and she was taken away so suddenly, it’s because they did Candy dirty throughout the whole series and then she was killed off. Trans-women already experience a world of violence so when we talk about the intersectionality of being dark skin and being a trans-woman, the way she died was absolutely triggering.

Why was Candy’s death the offering to start a serious conversation about violence towards Trans-women? Why did they not give her the love she deserved through the whole series? Her death felt like a sacrifice waiting to happen. She was the one with potential, drive, and sass but was always written for others to make a fool out of her. When she stepped onto the ballroom floor to walk in a category she didn’t belong in, didn’t they always crucify her? When others walked onto the floor and did not succeed, were they met with the same harshness as Candy?

The writers gave Candy most of the eye-rolling predicaments in the series, so when Candy died and all of a sudden, she was worshiped, it was absolutely triggering. Who was always there to sacrifice her first, was it not Pray Tell? Now, you want her ghost to grant forgiveness? The Candy that is presented in the funeral is this magnificent role model who was always gracious and empathetic, but the writers did not grant that same grace while she was alive.

Characters like this are often called “The Sapphire.” According to the article: Portrayals of Black Women in TV Shows That Aired in 1997 Versus 2017: A Qualitative Content Analysis: “‘The Sapphire’ is one of the most prominent negative black women stereotypes. She is seen as aggressive, sassy, and hostile. The sapphire’s sassiness and rudeness contradict the feminine nature expected of women (Goldman & Waymer, 2015). Her skin is usually a darker skin tone, and she is known for mocking black men for what she considers to be their inadequacies (Collins, 2005).” (Henderson, 66) This role is given specifically to darker skinned women and meant to be someone who is defensive and sassy and never leaves that paradigm.

Can the Real Aunt Viv Please Stand up?

This is a constant struggle with dark skin interpretation in media. If we are not given brutal deaths, we are the scheming side character praying for the love of our light skin friend (Pam in Martin), or we are re-casted with lighter skinned people (Aunt Viv in The Fresh Prince of Bel air, Claire in My Wife and Kids). There are many aspects to the same rhetoric, being darker skinned is considered to be more “masculine.” Dark skin it is often paired with aggressiveness. It is assumed that we are hardy and can handle the digs more than anyone else.

They Love Darker Skin Women When They Bring Gifts

The gifts are not always physical offerings, sometimes they could be talents or abilities. When we speak of diversity we must also speak of the “twinkling Black person,” the one who must have something to bring to the table in order to be loved. We do not give Black characters the space to be mediocre, they are deemed as useless and not relatable. So, when we think about how Black folks are not given the opportunity to be mediocre both in real life and media portrayal, then pair it with the added layer of being dark skin and being perceived to have this sense of super resilience, we fail to give realistic representation and in the end hurt our own perception of dark skin people around us.

A dark-skinned woman that was outlined and navigated well was Annalise Keating in How to Get Away with Murder. On the surface Annalise would be considered the “twinkling Black person,” a sought-out lawyer with a proven record of excellence and consistency. Throughout the series, we explore Annalise’s presence as a dark skin woman navigating life as a professor and lawyer, and the gray areas of intersectionality. She is given the opportunity to make mistakes. In many cases throughout the series, we see her as both the hero and the instigator to chaos.

Annalise is talented and capable of making mistakes. Granted there are many cases of exploitation and the concept of being a “mammy” is explored in confrontations with peers and students, but it is discussed not as the joke but as a multi-layered ideology that is broken down across the series. The duality of wanting versus the inability to obtain. There are talks about grief and how we often hurt those around us in the midst of it, but never do we question if Annalise is multifaceted.

When people create dark skin characters, they should first think of the implications that will follow them. We should be looking at how society perceives dark skin people and make their character judgments based on critiques and while stepping out of societal paradigms. We will not be able to challenge colorism in media if creators do not reflect on how they are building the blocks to house the problem. In the article Color Names and Color Notions”: A Contemporary Examination of Language and Attitudes of Skin Color Among Young Black Women, Wilder states: “As the literature on gendered colorism indicates, the experience of dark-skinned black often creates a position of quadruple jeopardy…the attitudes expressed about dark-skinned women reflect the polar opposite of the attitudes expressed about light skin. In every focus group, women with darker skin tones were typically described as loud, suspicious, unattractive, and less intelligent” (Wilder,195). We see this reflected in television, so it is not surprising to see the rhetoric continue in different aspects of our life.

Though we are directly affected by racism and the smaller umbrellas that reign under it, we are not to uphold the same standards on a platform that has consistently tried to dismantle our experiences. Creators need to consistently ask themselves, am I bettering or perpetuating the standards that have continuously oppressed people for generations. When they ask themselves that question, we get dynamic characters like Arabella (I May Destroy You), and dark skin women who are more than just “strong” but capable of failure, growth, and not at the expense of their intellect. When that question is asked more often, we will be well on our way to fully dissecting what we ingest and reflect across people with different experiences than us.

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  • Khadjiah Johnson is a Caribbean-American writer and humor advocate who uses poetry and comedy as a leverage to empathize and uplift. Her work has taken her to Madison Square Garden, Lincoln Center, Apollo Theater, BET, Off-Broadway and many more! She hopes to use her talents to sway her way into the writers room for a Late Night Comedy Show.

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