I was recently listening to a panel on African Americans and television, and one of the speakers noted the well-known and quite real bias towards light-skinned African American women, even on relatively revolutionary shows like the Cosby Show. The speaker was challenged on this point. While certainly Felicia Rashad, Lisa Bonet (whom I’ve wanted to look like my entire life), and Sabrina LeBeauf are all very light-skinned, it wasn’t clear to some members of the audience that the younger girls were particularly light.
I think the point was well-made; beauty standards for black women too often mirror those for white women, which are just plain screwed up in the first place so by the time those ridiculous standards get chewed up and passed along on the racism platter, black women get a nice serving of double invalidation for being who they really are. Even though the Cosby show maintained these mainstream standards in many regards, you do have to admit the women on the show were singular: educated, intelligent, successful. A breath of fresh air on a significant show.
However, I was also struck by how nobody mentioned Clarice Taylor, shown below, who played Cosby’s mother, Anna Huxtable, along with her real-life husband, distinguished theater actor Earle Hyman, as Russell Huxtable. Clarice strikes me as both not particularly light and exceptionally beautiful. I don’t want to play that rhetorical game of finding one exception/contradiction to what is a sound argument about color bias in a racist world, but…I wish the panel would have at least noticed the older woman on the show as a woman capable of being beautiful. That’s all.
I close with one of my favorite beauties of all time, the late Esther Rolle, who in many respects epitomized how to age well. That smile! That bone structure! And when her hair turned silver, she looked incredible.