Black Like Me – 20 Shades

ImageAs if any of us had a choice about the complexion of our skin. Yes, my skin is light and so what? I’ve been in my light skin all of my life and honestly, I’ve never been made so aware of it until I moved here to Georgia. Other people “see” my complexion and bring it to my attention, as if I didn’t already know.  All I ever saw looking back at me in the mirror was me.  Although both of my daughters are also light skin, my entire family is a beautiful mix of honey caramel to deep rich chocolate and it’s never been an issue at all. From the beautiful caramel shades of myself, my daughters, my Aunts, to the deep, rich gorgeous various shades of browns of my mother and nephew and many of my cousins, and the glorious mix of all shades of brown to all my family in between. Whenever my family had any divisiveness or conflict, and we did, it was certainly never about the shades of our blackness. My true sistah friends are a lushious array of milk chocolate, peanut butter to café-au-lait. They are my girlfriends because we love each other, but not because of the shades of our skin or the size of our dresses. Love yourself on the inside and the outside will take care of itself. While I never apologize for who I am and who God made me, I hate the not-so-subtle divisiveness among our own race. I love the skin I’m in – not because it’s light – but because it’s mine and I own it. Anyone who has a problem with the lightness of my skin probably has a bigger problem with the color of their own.

I’ve talked with dark skinned sistahs, and some of them are honest enough to admit that they were never discriminated against or picked on by a person with lighter skin. Instead, it was usually by someone else who was actually closer to their own complexion. Now I’m sure there are always exceptions to this, but I found that fact very interesting. Sadly, I do “get” where some of my dark skin sistahs are coming from. We live in a society perpetuated by unrealistic standards of beauty – most of which have nothing to do with us- black women. And even more to the point, the darker our skin is, the less likely we are to see our images used as a standard of beauty. The really good news is that we have steadily begun to create our own standards of beauty – measured only with what our ancestors have passed down to us. Many of us are now embracing our naturally kinky, course and thick hair without the chemicals to “straighten it out.”  We are wearing fabulous shades of bright pinks and reds on our full lips and proudly strutting our heavier, curvier figures. And even if we relax our hair or put weave in, that does not make us any less black. It just means that we are versatile, creative, resourceful and have choices. But even with our own new-found acceptance and pride, there is still that unspoken dialogue that manifests its ugly head in the rolling of the eyes, the sneer in the brow and the quick dagger-like once over that we (blacks) send and receive. It’s a silent language understood instantly by one another, and often missed by others.

There is a documentary called Dark Girls by Bill Duke that I saw a while ago. The documentary interviewed dark skinned women and shared their stories about living with dark skin in America (and in other countries). They spoke about the challenges they came against in the workplace and in their personal lives. If you haven’t seen it, then you should. It was poignant and eye opening, but more than anything, it was sad. I remember sitting there watching it and thinking how crazy this whole idea of racial bias within our OWN race is! Wasn’t there a time when we were all lumped together and called “niggers?”  Wasn’t there a time, not that long ago, when a light skinned slave would have been whipped or hanged as quickly as a dark skinned one? Did Jim Crow laws only apply to the dark skinned blacks? Was it only our dark skin sistas and brothas who were beaten, jailed and killed during the Civil Rights Movement?  No. It didn’t matter what shade of black we were, we were still BLACK. Racist white people didn’t discriminate between light skin or dark skin, why do we?  Do we perceive that lighter skin affords more privileges? Well if that’s true, I must have missed that memo because truthfully, I’ve had to work and fight hard for everything that I’ve ever gotten! If life was easier for me because I’m a light skinned black, then I sure would hate to see what it would have been for me if I were darker. In other words, I simply haven’t seen it. There is also another tale to be told – a tale from the lighter side of blackness – A light skin sistah’s story. Once again, thanks to Bill Duke, his sequel documentary, Light Girls, will be airing soon.  No, things aren’t always peaches and cream when you’re bathed in beige, amber or gold. Many times those shades alienate rather than unite us from our darker sistahs and many times for no other reason except for the lightness of our skin. Talk to any light skin woman and ask her if she’s ever felt the instant and palpable  disdain from some of our darker sistahs…not all, but a lot.  I guarantee you will hear a resounding YES and then they will begin to share their stories.  It’s not a pretty picture, but it is the truth.

women smilingI believe whatever privileges I have are because I’ve had to fight damn hard for them or I’ve earned them because of my hard work and tenacity – not because someone thought that I was better or more qualified because of the lightness of my skin. IF…and I say IF I’ve been granted any certain “privileges” simply because of my light skin, well hell, I sure wish that would include a life without struggle or strife and never concerning myself with money, or a lack of it, again. So, since that hasn’t happened, then no, the rest is just “fluff” and probably all very superficial, as far as I’m concerned. Whatever privileges I have are because Dr. King and his many foot soldiers fought, died and fought some more so that ALL shades of black would be welcome at the lunch counters and the voting booths. Wait a minute! hold on here! As I write these words, I can only imagine how Dr. King must have felt when he talked about the content of our character as opposed to the color of our skin. But wasn’t he talking about segregation and racism? Yes, it was white vs. black. Now, and probably for a lot longer than I’ve been aware, it’s segregation and racism within our race.

It goes without saying, at least in my mind, that I’m here and a proud member of the black race and a part of the beautiful rainbow of our shades. All of my life I have been surrounded by beautiful black faces, from my family members, lovers, ex -husbands and dear friends and the only thing I ever remember feeling was love and gratitude that they were in my life. I didn’t always understand when people would say “I don’t see color.” Well now I think that has always been the way it was for me when it comes to the 20 or more shades of blackness in our race. I don’t see the shade of black – I just see beautiful blackness – like me.

My oldest daughter once said to me, “Mom, your skin may be light, but you’re the blackest woman I know!”  That is not only a compliment to me, but a testament of my spirit, not as a “light skinned black woman,” but just as a “black woman.” For me, my blackness has always been more in spirit and soul rather than what shade of black my skin is. Black is beautiful in EVERY shade, but that only matters if you believe it yourself. It’s hard to love others if you don’t love yourself first – and that goes for EVERY SHADE OF BLACKNESS.

Photos: Courtesy of Stock Photos and women smiling — Image by © Jack Hollingsworth/Blend Images/Corbis

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