Through the Shade

I have a confession to make: I’m light skinned. It’s not so much my color that I must confess, but my childhood beliefs about light skinneditude. I was ten years old at most. My brother–nine years my senior–was driving me, maybe to Mickey D’s or maybe to the comic book store. As we sat at a red light not far from home, a young girl crossed the street in front of us. In that teasing tone of older-brotherness, he elbowed me older-brotherishly and said something like, “There you go,” as in, “You’re old enough to start liking girls, now, and she’s perfect for you.” I looked up and my response was, “Naw. She’s too dark.” Yup. Seriously. Without hesitation, my brother–who shares my complexion–corrected me with something like, “There’s no such thing as too dark. Black people come in all shades, man.”

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I was embarrassed. I remember almost crying. I thought my brother–a person I looked up to, who was already doing me a favor letting me ride in the front seat of his car, carting me around during his prime teenage years–was disappointed in me and my feelings about color. His older-brotherly chiding became a lesson in race that, unbeknownst to me, hibernated within me until I was a teenager myself and reawakened when someone called me high-yellow or white as an insult, or later when I heard jokes about light-skinned niggas being in style thanks to Boris and Shamar. (enter, stage left, Morris Chestnut, Taye Diggs, and Tyson Beckford)

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It was such a small moment, at that stop light, and yet such a defining one.

I wouldn’t say my response to my brother necessarily stemmed from self hatred or internalized racism, either. I, in my childishness, remember thinking alike people ended up together. For instance, tall people married tall people, short people married short people, big boned people married big boned people, and so on. Naturally, that meant dark-skinned folks must want to be with their “own kind” and therefore so should I. I don’t think I hated people of darker shades, I just thought there were societal rules that adults followed and adolescent me was on a need-to-know basis.

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I wasn’t exposed to many of the external factors that could influence how I treated people of different shades at that age. However, I do remember the kids-will-be-kids-name-calling being harsher for the darker kids in my class than for us lighter folks. “Dozens” jokes about glowing in the dark didn’t bite as much as being called “charcoal-blistered” (pronounced “choco-blisted”) or “African booty scratcher.” Those just sounded more hurty to me. Were I different kid, those distinctions could have manifested in different ways, as in the types of people I dated or who I befriended in college. (insert diatribe about black sorority and fraternity traits and prerequesite practices here.)

I’m grateful that I was raised in the kind of environment that didn’t encourage that additional layer of self-division. Feeling separate from society as a minority is one thing I was aware of growing up. Feeling separate within my own community, thankfully, was a stage of adolescence I got to skip.

Because when you think about it, I am of African heritage. On occasion, my booty does itch. So guess what that makes me?

Be good.

(images borrowed from @honeyvybz tumblr)

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Water Spout Philosophy

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It’s been a while and I know what you’re thinking: no, I did not walk mouth first into the giant spider hanging at face level from a tree the other night. Thank goodness. Had I been looking at my phone for Drake v Meek beef updates, or paying more attention to the teens smoking on the bleachers at the park… You know that myth about how many spiders a person accidentally swallows while sleeping? Yeah, I would have been on the short list of people to accidentally do that while awake. A breeze kicked up and made a branch sway a bit lower than normal and when I ducked to dodge the branch, I saw the spider in time to not elevate my palate to include arachnid tar tar.

But what I didn’t know about spiders until Stephen Tobolowsky mentioned it–you may know him as Ned Ryerson from Groundhog Day–is that they’re artists. When they construct a web, the intricate patterns reflect ultraviolet light that appears, to insects, as a flower. Spiders themselves also give off UV rays so they include themselves in the imagery, as well. Furthermore, the way spiders see is completely different than the way, say, a fly sees. Imagine one of those street painters you’ve seen in viral videos; they paint upon the canvas, completely covering it with color except for a person-shaped silhouette left bare. Then, the artist puts the brush(es) down and steps into place, their body completing the painting, and it is a portrait of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. or a still life of a bowl of Oreos or a spider in a web. But, because the artist perceives things differently than the viewer, imagine that artist has vision in only one eye, is color-blind, and is painting upside down. Not a perfect comparison, but you get my drift.

Now, I can’t take credit for the idea of spiders as artists. Ned Ry…er…Stephen Tobolowsky presented that comparison. And I believe him. As much as spiders don’t stand a chance in my house, especially with my wife around (they gotsta die), their notion of “art as purpose” and “art as survival” is concrete. I crave that with words. Art as purpose. Art as survival.

Words are my world wide web.

In other words…

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(in my Batman voice)

Be good.