I’d like to say that I always liked being black, but I’d be lying. I’d like to say that I always liked being dark-skinned but I’d be lying.
I’ve just started writing this piece and my fingers are already unsteady. I’ve always lived in my head; played stories out there, held long deep conversations with myself when I struggled to find someone to connect with, and wrote long beautiful poems there. I’ve been the dark-skinned oddball in the family for so long, I don’t know how to be anything else. It took a very long time – 20 years – to start to embrace my complexion. I’d also always known that I was black, but until living in the US, I really didn’t know that I was black.
I was the youngest of 5 kids, and 1 of 3 girls. I have the darkest-skin complexion of all 5 kids. I was reminded of this daily growing up; whether by familial jokes or by people on the street. I quickly learnt that skin complexion was of the utmost importance within my culture. My older sister was light-complected and was just viewed as beautiful everywhere she went. My middle sister was more caramel-complected and got close to the same responses. But me, I was told that I was too dark and when I was ready to have kids, I should be sure to find a light-complected man to improve my children’s color. Then, I was also told that I should never wear lipstick because my lips were too thick.
As a child, I did not understand the erosion that was happening to my self-esteem, starting with my own family, and extending to people that I met that felt the need to offer their opinions without being asked. By the time I was a teenager, I realized that I was subconsciously choosing partners who were light-skinned even though I found myself more attracted to dark-skinned boys. I wrote a post earlier advising that mental health in the African and Caribbean culture is nuanced because of the historical traumas we have suffered. Any person of color knows that we are not just viewed as black, we are viewed by people in our communities based on our skin-tone. We have only to listen to dancehall/reggae, soca, and hip-hop music to be reminded of this daily. I was so conditioned to look at skin color that when Destiny’s Child first came out (they were the first poster I hung on my wall), I immediately looked for the darkest-skinned girl in the group which then began my love affair with Kelly Rowland. To finally see a successful dark-skinned girl on TV changed my life.
The irony of my situation became apparent in high school. While I was not pretty because I was dark-complected, I was now suddenly not black enough. I lived in Jamaica for the first 18 years of my life and frankly, I never had a strong accent. In high school, I was now not black enough because I spoke proper English most of the time and so I excelled in English where my counterparts struggled. My grandmother enforced her no Patois language in the house as she always reminded me that the world doesn’t speak that dialect. I followed her rules because I had big dreams in my heart but high school was cruel.
Black Women are beautiful creatures. We have been told by magazines and TV that we are not enough because of our hair, our lips, our body structure, our features, our creative expressions, and our experiences. I was insecure most of the time because of my features, I felt in the shadow of beauty when compared to my sisters. We all had natural hair growing up. But again, I wasn’t enough because my hair wasn’t long like my sisters; my hair wasn’t thick and full like my middle sister; my hair wasn’t brown and curly like my oldest sister. That became another sore topic for me. I permed my hair when I turned 18 and moved to the US for college. My sisters were much older and already living in the US by the time I moved here. Their hair, permed and flowing down their backs, brought home my insecurities.
I recognize that as black women, we are just not taught to encourage each other. We are just taught to look for the weaknesses in others and to pounce on them. We were not taught that pouncing on weaknesses in others only identifies the weaknesses and fears we have in ourselves. Cattiness and pettiness do not make us feel any better about ourselves. In the US, I realized that many other cultures do not treat each other the way that women do in the black community. They have found a way to support each other and move forward.
In the US, I began to understand the impact of the historical ties of my race and culture. I began to understand that we are tied to our past hurts and traumas and we hold onto them. We push people away because trust was not encouraged among us in our history; a lack of trust breeds separation. We have been traumatized in ways that the present generation cannot even grasp but it has been passed down in our DNA and in our generational behaviors. We suffer from abandonment because many of us have no idea where we truly came from. I cannot identify any of my family beyond my grandparents. We are fearful of changes so we hold onto things that are comfortable rather than pushing ourselves to step outside of our boxes. We also do not want to take responsibility for our lives and our decisions so we look for others to blame and project our issues onto. And the saddest of all is that with all these fears and shame we have held on to, we have allowed ourselves to settle. We have allowed ourselves to settle for bad relationships, bad finances, bad choices, men who are not our equals, and we have allowed ourselves to accept sub-standard lives that do not allow us to show our true and immeasurable powers.