To my Dark Skin:
It’s hard writing this letter. I never thought I would do this, but I have a responsibility to give you all the love and honesty I have. I never thought you were ugly. I never thought you were wrong. I never hated you to the point of changing your shade. However, I know that I’ve done things that were unkind—disguised as jokes upon myself. I have compared myself many times to other girls of lighter and darker complexions. I’ve allowed opinions from strangers to dictate my own thoughts about you. Well, I’m here to tell you what they are, and how I’m learning to love you within every second of every day.
Beginning with jewelry. Since I was in middle school, when I was figuring out my style, I would always choose silver. Silver earrings. Silver necklace. Even a watch with a silver band or face. Never would I touch gold. I was, and still am scared of it because, for some reason, I never felt gorgeous with it on. I remember watching the movie, ATL, and “New-New” would walk around with gold bamboo hoops. I remember as a child, seeing my father with two gold rope chains, and four gold rings on one hand, which were a bit too small for his fingers. With those images, along with default depictions of everyday male hip-hop artists, I associated gold with wealth and attention. I felt like you made gold easy to notice, and I didn’t want that. I still feel insecure about it. Silver allows me to disappear when I want to, and feel beautiful at the same time. I didn’t realize that by thinking this way, I was diminishing your value. I didn’t feel like you were worthy enough to be lavished in the metal that queens are known to wear. How do I call myself a queen if I’m afraid of gold?
I’m sorry. I’m doing better in how I see this color and working to kill these negative perceptions. Now that I wear makeup, I get excited when it’s time to apply a highlighter. I use either “Gold Deposit” by MAC, or the Honor Roll Highlighter by The Crayon Case. With makeup, I realized how much gold compliments your richness and radiance, and I wish I saw that as a child. In my room, I have three art canvas on my wall with gold, white, and black accents. Not many people know this, but the reason why I chose gold as one of the colors for my blog, is to honor you. It’s a reminder that I’m worthy enough for this color, this metal, this chemical element. I recently went to Primark, and as I was searching for more silver stud earrings, I finally made it over to the gold earrings section, which I usually avoid at any department store. I stared at this jewelry for at least 10 minutes, contemplating on whether to buy it or not. I didn’t, so I still have more work to do in convincing myself that both silver and gold are great on me. Yet, I hope you’re proud of the progress I’m making.
Speaking of gold, I think my relationship with the sun is important to talk about. I was born on a really hot day, so I love the summer. My mother would always tell me to wear sunscreen, so even before I knew about melanin and the benefits of having you, I learned to always protect you. However, I grew into a habit of saying a statement that I didn’t fully realize was offensive, until adulthood.
“….I need to find some shade, I don’t want to get any darker. lol.”
Throughout my teenage years, either at the beach, at the park, or walking outside with friends, I would state that your shade would get darker as if it was bad to let it happen. I also acknowledge my laugh at the end of that statement was to indicate humor. Now, I’m realizing that I may have been uncomfortable saying “darker”, so I topped it with a laugh. I was afraid others would say something about you, so I beat them to it.
I enjoy remembering specific things about my childhood because as a 25-year-old, I understand why I’ve internalized these perceptions and habits, and I want to change them.
I realized the issue of this statement around five years ago when my mom and I was talking to a younger teenage girl at church. I was a college sophomore at the time. I remember saying a similar statement in regards to you, and I remember the girl’s facial expression changed. It was almost like she was shocked and empathetic at the same time. I have to note that she was of lighter complexion. She then explained to me that my shade will go back to my regular tone in the cooler months, so I don’t have to worry about that. I knew that because my mom would always say it, but it felt different when someone else said it. Since then, I have not used that statement. I actually embrace my darker shade in the summertime more, and I love the glow that I get from the sun as it shines on me. On my 25th birthday last month, all I wanted to do was take photos under the sun. Just to celebrate the beautiful brown of you. I want to keep celebrating.
I’m blessed that I was never called “darkie”… well, not to my face. I don’t remember ever getting bullied because of you, but I remember in elementary school, some girls received rude comments. The girls I grew up with, both lighter and darker than me, and from countries like Haiti, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Jamaica, and others, have such perfectly toned and rich dark skin. You would think they had foundation on. Although they are black just like me, I felt like they had more confidence in their skin because their countries represented more dark-skinned people than America. They represent their culture, their heritage, their ethnicity. As an African-American, I had a different experience, and America’s perception of beauty is pale to light skin. I was ignorant in thinking that America’s perception of beauty wouldn’t affect those girls as much as it affected me, because I’m sure those rude comments hurt them a lot. I was also unaware as a child that African and Caribbean countries deal with colorism as well.
As a teenager, I thought you were the reason high-school boys didn’t like me back. I thought I was undesirable. I always thought my friends who were lighter or skinnier had a higher chance of love than I did. It wasn’t until junior year of college when I used dating apps, that I learned men of lighter complexions thought I was attractive. I rarely saw dark-skinned women with men who were lighter toned or white in the media. It was always the other way around. When I did, I felt like it was a rare occasion…that in our society it wasn’t normal. Ironically, most of the crushes I had growing up were on boys who were light-skinned or white. When I was in therapy at 15, I realized that it stemmed from my broken relationship with my father. He has dark skin, left me at a young age, and I didn’t want to be with someone who resembled him. It took a while to get over that, but I did. One of my first ever dates was with a dark-skinned guy.
My heart stops whenever I see a photo of Kofi Siriboe. Do you remember when his character was staring at Jada Pinkett-Smith’s character in Girls Trip while they were all at Bourbon Street? My lord.
Now I think differently. It’s more of my confidence in my overall look that hinders me from dating nowadays. I don’t blame you anymore. If anything, I’m blessed that I have you. There’s no other shade I’d rather have. Representation in the media has gotten better, especially with women like Issa Rae, Gabrielle Union, Jackie Aina, Lupita Nyong’o, and so many more women who look like me. Ari Lennox’s Shea Butter Baby is my soundtrack for 2019. These public figures make me proud and more valued as a creative and brown girl.
So, I love you. I’m learning to love you better and stronger. I keep you moisturized with cocoa butter. I still deal with hyperpigmentation on my face, but African black soap, face masks, and serum help us. I’m doing better with foundation matching because I have often bought shades that were too red, too orange, or too light for you. Makeup isn’t an everyday thing for me, but when I use it, I want it to enhance you, not change you. It’s an everyday journey to defend you, especially when colorism within all women of color, including Asian and Latinx communities, are constantly told through commercials, skin products, and in entertainment that dark-skinned women are not valued. Well, I’ll celebrate you regardless. I will no longer let others tell me that my shade is not welcomed. We will break the door down.
Here’s to more and more years of celebration, liberation, and self-love to you and this journey we have together. Thank you for the glow you give me, you are gold.