In her own words, actress Tika Sumpter describes the ups and downs of her skin tone within her own people and outside of her race. In an essay for Hello Beautiful, she writes:
It’s important to understand that I was born into a family with seven children, each of us equipped with varying personalities, dispositions, and, yes, skin tones as well. My mom has the most beautiful café au lait complexion, which she shares with my two older sisters and older brother. My three younger siblings have skin tones that range from caramel to a golden bronze. And then there’s me.
My mother says that when my father, a striking man with kind eyes, broad shoulders, and deep ebony-brown skin, first saw me in the hospital that day, his eyes lit up brightly as he promptly proclaimed, “’She has my color. She looks like me!’
Though I obviously have no recollection of that day at all, I’m quite certain that hearing that story heavily influenced the ways in which I’ve been able to navigate my journey as a woman, an African-American woman, and a woman of a darker hue.
I was recently reminded of my childhood as I watched the amazing documentary Dark Girls (OWN documentary). My heart broke just listening to the stories of so many young girls with brown skin traumatized by the cruel and hurtful views of those around them. I experienced that same emotion when I began my role as Raina Thorpe on the popular CW show Gossip Girl a few years back. I was truly unprepared for the tremendous impact I’d have while on that show. Each week I’d get the tons of letters from mothers, grandmothers, and young girls literally thanking me for simply existing. They wrote me saying they’d never seen a woman that looked like me on television before.
Which really meant they’d never seen anyone that looked like them before. And it got much deeper than that. Some fans even remarked that they’d never witnessed any woman with my skin color speak the way I spoke, have a successful career the way I had on that show, or carry themselves in such a ladylike manner.
Of course, I did experienced my share of hurtful reactions to my skin color, but thankfully only after I was an adult. Who hasn’t heard the obligatory, ‘You’re pretty for a dark-skin girl’? Or my personal favorite, ‘I usually don’t date dark-skin women, but you’re so beautiful.’ That one really warms the heart. But in reality, the most disturbing aspect of all of this is that those comments were most often made by men with exactly the same skin tone as my own.
Still, I always knew there were far too many other people who saw my beauty and embraced every part of me with open arms to think twice about what was said. It hurts me to know that so many young girls today are growing up without that same realization and reassurance. I also regret that so many are forced to seek their self-worth between the pages of mainstream magazines or in the background of a rap music video.
Click here to read more. Tika will play Michelle Robinson Obama in romantic comedy-drama, Southside with You, that hits theaters August 26th.