In class, we have talked extensively about how, within many African American communities, lighter skin often dominates ideals of female beauty. This does not mean that African American women who desire light skin want to be or look white (“Wannabe better than me,” not “Wannabe white”), but rather that African American standards are beauty are shaped by whiteness.
While watching Mo’ Better Blues, I realized that much of our discussion of lighter versus darker skin has focused exclusively on women and female rather than male ideals of beauty. Mo’ Better Blues certainly provides evidence to support the light skin-dark skin divide among women. The central conflict involving women in the film is essentially Clarke and Indigo’s battle for Bleek’s attention. Clarke is more seductive and has lighter skin, whereas Indigo seems more dependable and has darker features.
But I wonder if Mo’ Better Blues also has something to say about the divide between lighter and darker skin within MALE ideals of beauty. Most of the male characters in the film do have darker skin, so the difference is skin tones is not as prominent. However, there are differences. Most noticeably, Shadow (Wesley Snipes), whom Bleek (Denzel Washington) constantly derides, has darker skin, and I wonder if the difference in skin tone contributes to the tension between the two men. Of course, there are other factors that divide them. Shadow wants to lead the group, and Bleek will not let him. They also vie for Clarke’s attention, and though Shadow ultimately wins, he does so only through intense effort (versus Bleek’s complete disregard for Clarke’s feelings and musical ambitions) and through promises of having her sing when he starts his own band.
What are your thoughts? Are African American male standards of beauty also shaped by preferences for lighter skin? Do men experience this hierarchy similarly to the way women experience this hierarchy?