“You’re pretty for a dark skin girl.”
He said it as if I was supposed to be honored to have his visual approval. He assumed that, just like cat calling, this was a welcome form of adoration. I’m sure in his mind after he said this killer line, I would smile widely and blush the way the Disney princesses do. I would bat my eyelashes and say in my best southern Savannah accent, “Why thank you, kind sir. Will you take me to your bed?”
Instead, with clenched fist, I gave him my best tight-lipped smile. “That’s weird, I was just thinking something similar to you.” He smiled waiting for a compliment. “I didn’t know they still made neanderthals, I thought they went extinct with dodo birds. So I guess it’s been an enlightening day for both of us huh?”
Sadly, this wasn’t the first time I had to let someone’s son know that their inappropriate comments on my skin color wouldn’t be tolerated. The frustrating thing is that these comments often come from people of the same race as me. People are surprised that they find a girl with my skin complexion like mine attractive.
I grew up in a loving family and as a child you are aware of things but not necessarily of their significance. For example, when my military family and I first moved to Virginia, there was a family of three boys that lived next door to us. My older sister and I would play with them and the rest of the neighborhood kids often. Each time I saw the father of the family next door, he would always say, “Girl, you sho is a pretty lil thang aint ya?” while bending over and stroking my chin slightly. As a child, I was aware that he was giving me a compliment I had heard before but I was unaware why the way he said it made me uncomfortable. Maybe it was his 6’4 400lb sloppy build that frightened me. Or possibly the fact that he always had a food soaked mechanic shirt on and a creepy smile. It wasn’t until my teenage years that I relived this memory with my mom and she told me the hairs on her neck would stick up when he used to come around. This mothers intuition was why their house was the only house we were not allowed to go inside. She was sure he meant me harm.
Just like this memory, I’ve always known my skin is dark but it wasn’t until the second grade that I was fully aware that having skin as dark as mine was an issue for a lot of people. Like all the other children in my second grade class, I learned my colors and could point them out like a boss, so when my classmate Andre pointed at me and said ‘Blurple’, I was confused. Blurple wasn’t my name or a real color so why was everyone laughing on the playground? What was probably just ten kids laughing felt like a sea of humiliating laughs at my expense. To ease the tension, I fake laughed along with my peers. The laughing died down but my curiosity didn’t. I went to my classroom worried that the kids at my new school knew more advanced topics than I had learned at my old school.
“What’s blurple?” I asked the hispanic girl seated in the desk next to me.
“It’s black and purple mixed.” She said without emotion. “It’s what you are!”
“No, I’m brown, see!” I showed her my arm. Moving it around so she can see all its glorious melanin from every angle.
“Nuh uh, that’s brown.” She looked up and pointed to a caramel colored boy on the other side of the room. “Your skin is burnt, like blurple.”
That was the first day I didn’t want to be me anymore. I looked at myself in the mirror and I was disgusted. No one likes anything burnt, no wonder these kids didn’t like me. I was burnt. I didn’t cry because like children do, I had a rational and logical thought-out plan… don’t be dark skin anymore. That afternoon after school, I told my mom I wasn’t going to be dark anymore.
“Who told you you are dark?” She asked with a laugh.
“This boy in my class.”
“Oh.” She paused. “Why don’t you want to be dark anymore?” Her voice turned serious and I thought for a second I was going to get in trouble.
“I’m too dark. I think being lighter brown like you is better.” I said nonchalantly.
“Why is lighter brown better?”
“No one likes anything burnt Mom. You wouldn’t eat eggs if they’re burnt.”
“No, but I wouldn’t eat chocolate that’s light.” She paused looking at my reaction. She could see the wheels turning in my head trying to make logical sense of all I had learned that day. “Colors are colors. There is no good or bad ones just like there is no boy or girl colors. If you want to wear green you can, it doesn’t mean you’re a boy. Just because your skin is darker than some people does not mean you have bad skin.”
As a dark skin woman, I look around the world at society, at my culture and there are so many things I still do not understand. The societal and cultural ‘norms’ are constantly changing but I’ve never felt that someone who looks like me is an accepted part of any of these media induced ‘norms’. For women like myself there is a double standard and oxymoron surrounded by everything we are told.
I’ve been told my whole life that I am ‘too dark’ but it is acceptable for white or lighter skinned black women to tan. I joked with my good friend Logan a couple years ago that we should film the reaction of the staff at a tanning salon when I go in to ask for a sun-kissed look for an upcoming date. There are tanning salons, creams, and sprays in every single department or cosmetic store in America and I’ve often heard my friends who use these services say, “I don’t want to get too dark”. It subconsciously gives the implication that MY skin color is unacceptable.
There is a new phenomenon where people of darker skin tones are now using creams and lotions to lighten the tone of their skin. I was outraged when I first heard about it until I asked myself, what’s the difference between skin lightening and tanning? Both can cause irreversible damage. They alter your original tone to give you a look two to three shades different than what God gave you. Tanning even causes cancer! But one is a societal norm and one is looked at as self hatred. Translation, being dark is okay as long as it is a friendly dark and if you are past that ‘too dark’ mark…stay there!
Even in my immediate and extended family, I am the darkest person. It’s me. Just me. By myself, and when I tell people that I want to have kids that are darker in skin color than me I get all kinds of laughs and jeers and strange looks. I tell people all the time that I want a husband that is so black he can lay on the pavement without clothes and blend in. People think I’m crazy. However, it’s not unusual or strange to hear other black (and dark skin) people dreaming out loud of lighter skinned children with silky 4a curls. I felt isolated romantically because men would always use me as their experiment to dark skin girls. I was everyone’s first dark skin crush so the weight of all darkskin-dom hung on my every word and action. I always felt like an experiment for people I was dating when they would describe the looks of their ideal mate because I never fit that description.
A couple years back, I briefly dated a white police officer. He was tall and athletic with a good sense of humor and always smelled really good. We met during a traffic stop. I noticed he kept smiling at me and seemed nervous. I assumed his nervousness was a result of him being new to the police force. Before departing, he asked me if he could use my personal phone number to arrange a date later on in the week. I agreed and we had a great time. Over the course of about a month, we saw each other often and he asked to introduce me to his family. I agreed. He invited me over to his parents house for their weekly family dinner. Dinner was going really well until his grandfather said, “Jake, I didn’t know you liked darkeys. Had I known that, I would’ve introduced you to my neighbors granddaughter years ago.” I waited for him to correct his family. Instead they all laughed it off awkwardly and continued to eat. Jake leaned his thin lips close to my ears and said the WORST thing I’ve ever heard.
“He came from a different time. He doesn’t know better.” Can we all take a second and eye roll together? A different time? I was so angry I could’ve snapped my fork in half. My face was hot. I stared at my plate trying to regain my composure. I was torn on whether I should strangle his grandfather or slap him first.
“He came from the same time as Martin Luther King, Chicago Red, Elizabeth Warren, & Bernie Sanders. Somehow they knew the difference between right and wrong so why did that lesson skip your racist forefather?” I didn’t wait or care for a response. I stood, thanked his mother for a lovely meal. She and the rest of the family looked confused and slightly frightened but I didn’t care. I gathered my purse and coat and I left. That was the last time I saw or spoke to him. His unanswered voicemails expressed his confusion. He genuinely didn’t understand my response. Why do I have to explain common sense to a grown man? The defense he decided to use was that this was his family’s first time around “someone like me”. Someone like me? I’m a human being aren’t I? So was this their first time around a person? A woman? An outsider to their family? No, this was their first time around a black girl. An unapologetic, kind, strong, product-of-the-ghetto-but-can-still-hold-her-own-in-corporate-America, black girl.
So, why is my skin so unacceptable?
This is the question that tormented the earlier part of my adulthood. The answer came after many years of personal struggle. I first had to remember my moms words. There is no BAD skin. I had to practice liking my skin. So, I started researching the proper ways to take care of my skin. I learned to exfoliate, moisturize, and protect my skin. I enjoyed making my skin look as beautiful as it possibly could (hence my makeup obsession). Next, I had to be comfortable in expressing my value to others. This included de-friending people who use the phrase ‘too dark’ and not saying thank you to men who ended a compliment with ‘for a dark skin girl’. I learned how to use my voice and say things like “that is not a compliment” & of course because I’m from the roasting capital of the world (The DMV) I taught myself the art of comedic insults. Lastly, I had to come to terms with the fact that I am loved. I am loved for much more than just my skin tone. It does not define who I am in a positive or negative way. It is just ONE part of me like the shape of my eyes. Even though I may be judged on it, I won’t ever let it hold me back because in God’s eyes I look exactly how I’m supposed to. He’s never made a single mistake, and He didn’t start with me.
These lessons are what sparked my passion for young women and my determination for all little girls (especially dark skin girls ones) to love themselves and not look to family, friends, or the media for true and accurate representation. Representation is important but I can’t wait for the rest of the world to realize that women who look like me are beautiful. Be the change you want to see in the world. And as proud as I am to be black, I’m just as proud to be ‘too dark’.
k, good talk