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Working IT Like a Dark-Skinned Girl

Working IT Like a Dark-Skinned Girl


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Working IT Like a Dark-Skinned Girl Some years ago, I came across the expression, “working like a dark-skinned girl.” I’m not sure of the origin of this phrase, but the speaker (I can’t recall who), explained that she had heard it from the wife of Samuel L. Jackson. At the time, I felt it appropriate to my situation, and I still find it apt (although I am no longer considered a girl). I didn’t need to do much research on the phrase because it was my lived experience. All my life, I have been working hard, and I am still dark-skinned, last time I was reminded. I pondered the meaning of this phrase for a long time after encountering it. I tried researching it but came up empty-handed. Well, not quite. I found essays, articles, and blogs on colorism and videos of Beyoncé’s “Brown Skin Girl.” Another expression, “pretty for a dark-skinned girl” popped up. I’ve heard the expression, “Black and ugly,” as if the two words are interchangeable in meaning or somehow conjoined. I’m not ready to give up in my search for the roots of the expression “working like a dark-skinned girl,” but for now, I’d like to thank you, Mrs. Jackson, for expressing so aptly what my own lived experience as been. In trying to make sense of why dark-skinned women have had to work so hard, I delved into the literature, hoping this would help shed some kind of light, so to speak, for a moment I could say, “Aha!” I found the painful truth of slavery and a system that placed people of color in categories based on the lightness or darkness of their skin. The ‘union’ of a white European and his black slave produced a new (not really, but now identified as such) category of humans they called the mulatto. For many of these mulattos, this proved to be a blessing because their fathers owned up to their responsibility and provided them with a future. Some became the merchants and shopkeepers, even slaveowners themselves, and created a new social and economic class of people that rested heavily on racial origin. Others might not have been so lucky, but the shade of their dark skin gave them certain privileges like working in the house instead of the fields. For the darker-skinned denizens, there really were not that many options. The field slaves carried the weight of their circumstances on their backs. Literally. From before sunup to after sundown, they labored under the sun until their complexions darkened further still and they became invisible. At the end of slavery, these darkest of humans had nothing with which to begin as free people. No one handed them anything. Thus, began my journey as a dark-skinned woman. Now, I don’t sit and pine away at my fate. I often speak of the effects of over four hundred years of oppression on the fates of black, white, brown, and everyone in-between. People say we should get over it; it was a long time ago. Well, guess what? I got over IT, despite the fact that it’s still bearing down on me as I still continue to work like a dark-skinned girl with no privileges handed to me and having my worth being questioned at every turn. Now, I just work ‘It’ like a dark-skinned girl.


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