The show ‘Altered Carbon‘ is a futuristic science fiction thriller set in the 25th century where humans now have the capability to live forever via transferring their consciousness between bodies, also known as sleeves. The show follows Takeshi Kovacs, a prisoner and former intersteller solider who is awakened after 250 years of forced hibernation to solve the murder of a 365 year old aristocrat in exchange for his freedom. Takeshi is plauged by memories of his captain and former lover, Quellcrist Falconer. The chance to reminisce on his memories of her is his sole motivation on agreeing to his new mission.
I have never been a big fan of science fiction but it was this sub plot of the show that kept me hooked. Not only does the chemistry between the two charecters feel natural but Quellcrist is a fully developed charecter all on her own and serves a critical role to the plot of the story. She is the scientist that pioneered the technology that allowed for consciousness to be transferiable. Once she realizes that it could be misused to create an unjust society where the wealthy use it to live forever she forms an army (known as envoys) and sets out to prevent this from happening.
Quellcrist is a strong but compassionate leader who is unmatched in her skill set as a warrior. She has a society of dedicated followers who believe in her mission and are willing to follow her rebellion. And she’s Black.
Not only is she Black but she is a darker skinned Black woman. This should mean nothing to me but the reality is that im just not used to seeing such a role be given to an actress with a similar skintone to myself. When a Black woman does procure such a role it usually goes to a racially ambiguous or light skinned Black women. Even when the charecter was originally dark skinned. When darker skinned Black women were shown it wasn’t surprising to see us put into one of the plethora of stereotypes society has about us. We were angry or vengeful. A mammy or side kick. Many are not allowed to develop into multi dimensional charecters.
Growing up charecters like Quellcrist was something I desperately needed to see. I needed to see dark skinned Black charecters who were self actualized, talented, capable people. Because everywhere I went there were people who let me know that those were traits that I would never posses. I was too dark, “dirty”. I was told no one would ever want me. That I had to subdue certain personality traits in order to make myself more palatable to society. I had no one to teach me that I was valuabe as a person. I had virtually no self esteem growing up and as a result my outlook on myself and my future always had limits. I could not achieve certain things because I was too dark. I could not be a certain way because I was too dark.
Of course the implications of colorism go far beyond one’s self esteem. From housing oppurtunities to employment, marriage, and even the outcomes of court proceedings. The lighter your skin the better oppurtunities you will have. A research team at Villanova University found that among incarcerated women lighter skinned women recieved less time when they commited the same crimes as darker skinned women. Earlier studies, such as one conducted by Stanford University, found that the same dynamic played out among Black male inmates.
Colorism is about constant rejection of one’s humanity. Tone determines one’s outcomes in academia and their respective career field and just about ever other facet of life because it is still engrained within our society to base a person’s worth on their skin. This is why even among historical black institutions the paper bag test was implemented. If one did not pass that test they could easily find themselves boxed out of certain spaces. This is something the black community and the rest of our society has still not grappled with.
Black people are gaining more representation oppurtunities but more often than not we are only seeing one kind of Black. Representation of dark skinned bodies matters because it allows us to be humanized. We need the world to see that we aren’t these angry, monstrous beings that we have always been seen as. We need the world to see that not only are we human but that we are also intelligent, capable, and creative individuals.
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