The promoters of the runway show said it was meant to honor African-American women during Black History Month.
St. Louis residents expressed outrage this week over a "Battle of the Complexions" contest scheduled for Friday night, but the event's promoters said they organized it to honor African-American women and regretted any "misunderstanding."
The event was set for 9 p.m. local time (10 p.m. ET) at a nightclub in St. Louis. Promotional materials, including the poster pictured at right, promised a contest to see which African-American women are most attractive — those with light skin, those with brown skin or those with dark skin.
"This is the most debatable topic of the year, whats the sexiest skin complexion?? So ladies come out & lets settle this!!" the promoters — Mack TV, a video and music promotional company, and a local "men's entertainment" promoter calling himself Nelly Da'Celeb — said on a Facebook page for the event, which msnbc.com is not linking to because of extreme language.
Adolphus Pruitt, president of the St. Louis chapter of the NAACP, said the event "raises the ... hair on the back of people's necks like me and some other folks."
"Folks who buy into it, support it, feed into it, they're just assuring that using race — using the skin complexion of women, devaluating women and things of this nature — is going to continue to happen, because as long as people spend money to take advantage of it, somebody's going to use it as a promotional tool," Pruitt told NBC station KSDK.
After the contest was highlighted this week by Kevin C. Johnson, a music writer for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, negative reaction was swift and loud.
Camille Houston, an African-American woman from St. Louis, told KSDK that she found the promotion offensive because it perpetuates historical divisions in the African-American community centered on skin tone.
"Some guys will say, 'I don't like talking to dark-skinned girls,' or, you know, some girls will say. 'I don't like talking to dark-skinned guys,'" Houston said.
The comments section on Johnson's post was filled with remarks reflecting equal parts outrage and sadness, interspersed with some support from commenters whose pictures indicated they were African-American, along with some outright racist sentiments.
"Not only does this kind of nonsense continue to promote a negative collective self image, (which society does fine all by itself). These clowns now promote it. Wow!!!" one said.
"The women, the men, and the promoters of this event are only doing much more to create a larger divide by skin color in an already too divided country," said another, who added: "All involved are losers in my book."
In a post Thursday on Nelly Da'Celeb's personal Facebook page, Mack TV and Nelly Da'Celeb said they understood why some people were upset but that the event would go on:
MACK TV WOULD LIKE TO CLEAR UP THE MISUNDERSTANDING OF OUR CONCEPT FOR THIS PARTY...ITS NOT TO DEGRADE WOMEN OR DIVIDE SKIN COLORS. ITS SIMPLY TO SEE WHICH COMPLEXION OF THE AFRICAN AMERICAN RACE REPRESENTS THE MOST (lightskinned, caramel-brown, or darkskinned) AS A WHOLE , MALE & FEMALE! I CAN SEE THE MISUNDERSTANDING WITH OUR PROMO.....WE COULD HAVE USED A BETTER CHOICE OF WORDS....WE DID NOT MEAN TO OFFEND THE OFFENDED
ITS BLACK HISTORY MONTH , SO WE MADE A PARTY THEME DEDICATED TO OUR AFRICAN AMERICAN CROWD. THE YOUNGER GENERATION IS LOVING THIS PARTY BECAUSE HERE'S THE FIRST TIME EVER YOU CAN COME OUT & BE PROUD THAT YOU ARE BLACK!! REGARDLESS OF YOUR SKIN TONE SORRY FOR THE CONFUSION & MISLEADING INFO.
ITS BLACK HISTORY MONTH , SO LETS BE PROUD OF THE SKIN WE'RE IN!! REPRESENT YOUR COMPLEXION!
They added that "ladies" would be admitted at a discount of "$5 until 11 p.m."
Mike Rush of NBC station KSDK contributed to this report by M. Alex Johnson of msnbc.com.
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