Growing up it took awhile for me to really see color. I mean I noticed it, but it wasn’t a big deal to me. A little girl in the hood, I thought everybody was just like me; we all had mamas, we all took the bus (207 and 218), we all ate off of food stamps (the color paper not the card labeled by three letters), we all lived in the hood. You get it. The differences that I saw were hair and money and, well, hell, money wasn’t a worry of mine. Where I grew up (both neighborhoods) was nothing but Black African Americans and Mexicans/Hispanics. We saw white people on tv and a billboard here or there. Again, didn’t mean anything. They were soo far away. Only not really we just didn’t see them often in our everyday lives. I assumed they all lived in the valley, which I didn’t think had a hood and they all had money and cars. My mother and other adults and kids around me always told me how pretty I looked and how beautiful I was. Even when I encountered people of other races and complexions I was complimented. You couldn’t tell me anything. I KNEW I was beautiful and maybe even conceited back then. I saw how light skin and white girls were everywhere on tv, but in my household and my neighbors there were pictures of beautiful, royal black folks all around. TV was just tv which I put in the categories of movies meaning not real just for show.
Late elementary early junior high school I began to silently question my beauty. I had a diverse group of friends ranging in height, weight, and color. I noticed that my girlfriends who were lighter skinned got more attention from boys and girls. It struck me strange. I didn’t think anything of it until i went into high school. Now there is an even bigger diverse group of people here (I was in the valley now y’all!), including white folks. I was told how pretty I was by girls of all colors and races, but I remember a lighter skinned black girl telling me I was cute for a dark girl. Umm wtf? We are both black. What kind of bull is that? I’d also heard that I was pretty for a black girl by someone I randomly saw when walking off campus for lunch. I’m not sure what race the woman was but she looked to be white. I couldn’t say thank you either time that happened to me. I recall clearly a friend of mine being upset when I shared my experience in class. She wasn’t black. I couldn’t explain to her why I was more upset with the “black light skin” girl than the white woman. How do you explain that feeling for belittling by your “own kind?” I say belittling because if the “compliment” was genuine that last part “for a dark girl” would not have been attached.
I recall growing up in the apartment building off of Slauson and Western and being complimented more than my childhood bestfriend (as we were the youngest two and different shades). I also remember being asked by a teen in the building what color I was and how funny she thought my answer was. At the young age of 4 I said I was brown like a paper bag so don’t call me black. No one is black. At least I hadn’t seen someone who I deemed black black. My mom thought it was funny, but she uplifted me. “That’s right baby. You’re brown, but you are black like she’s black even though she’s bright.” You damn right! When I was in the 5th grade my description of my skin changed from paper bag brown to mocha cherrywood. My teacher Mrs. Ali-Bell (who was a gorgeous beige tan black woman) told me I was brown with hints of red when we had to do an assignment. I liked it! I liked it because she was right. I can turn noticeably red for various reasons. I liked it because it was different and unique and no one else in my class was described like that. Honey my 5th teacher doesn’t know how that stuck. I still describe myself that way. Ooh she and my mother and others in this world don’t know how they pushed my self esteem beyond sky high.
But I did question was I really darker than what I thought I was. Why was I being over looked as I grew older? I over looked it but the thought popped up here and there. What made me really see and hurt at the thought that light and dark skin black was really a thing of “importance” was friends darker than me. I heard how people talked to and about them. I sat with girlfriends who were labeled black in a negative way and cried because they could not change it. I’ve had a friend who is a half shade darker than I am (outside of summer) spend the night at my house and ask if we had bleach she could pour in the tub when she bathes. What was this? I didn’t understand, and she shrugged it off. I remember crying when I told my mom about this and her trying to explain it to me.
Why do we do this to ourselves and each other when others tan to get more dark like us? For those of us who don’t, why do we not speak up more about it or try to do more to help?