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.”


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)


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.


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)