I thank all of you who have followed this series on Colorism and listened to my journey. The response I’ve received has been truly overwhelming. I started this blog about two and a half years ago, and prior to addressing this topic I had twenty eight subscribers. In the short period of time that has passed since I began to post on race and colorism, I’ve gained over four hundred followers! This is particularly gratifying for me, as Colorism in particular has been a topic I’ve been loathe to discuss due to the hostility I’ve encountered when discussing it(online and off).
Within the next week I hope to bring this series to a close. The autobiographical portion of it is winding down, as I (thankfully) don’t have the same experiences. I wish I could end this on a happy, upbeat note. I wish I could inform my readers that Colorism is now a relic of the past, that my people no longer deal with it on any level. But to do so would be to tell a bold-faced lie.
In 2004, the year a charismatic young senator wowed the nation with a speech at the Democratic National Convention, I gave birth to my daughter. While on maternity leave I’d simply stare at her, amazed with her very existence.I reveled in the attention my family lavished on her. On more than one occasion, however, the attention took on an unwelcome tone.
“She’s so PRETTY AND SWEET”, a relative gushed one day as she cradled my daughter in her arms. “Good thing she didn’t come out as dark as you”, she continued, smiling down at my daughter and cooing as if she hadn’t just said something extremely out of line to me. I wrenched my daughter away from her and left the room. I was quite angry, but I knew it would be futile to go off on her. Some people are so thoroughly brainwashed, so damaged beyond repair that to even bother engaging them is senseless.
During my pregnancy I often pondered what type of parent I wanted to be and how I wanted to raise my child. When my relatives made comments about my baby’s lighter color it solidified my resolve to start anew. I didn’t care what I had to do, or who I had to isolate myself and my daughter from. The poison that had been handed down from generation to generation was going to bypass her.
In 2008, that charismatic senator from 2004 would become the President-Elect, and with much pomp and circumstance my country would declare itself to be “post-racial”. As with every great step taken before-the Emancipation Proclamation and passage of the Civil Rights Act-we would tell ourselves that we were completely done with all that ugliness. See, there’s no color issue in the USA; we just elected a Black president! But I’d sit in my best friend Tisha’s living room, slack-jawed as I sipped wine with her and listened to more stories of her experiences on the other side of the color line.
“You know WHY I stopped dating black men out here? I got SICK of them. You have no idea what kind of shit they say about black women”, Tisha said, her face full of anger and contempt.
“Like what?” , I asked. Tisha took another sip of her wine then went on.
“Soon as they ask me my name, they want to know ‘what’ I am. And each fucking time I tell them I’m black. They don’t believe me. You can’t possibly be Black, you’re too pretty, sweet and dainty to be a sista. Sistas are never as attractive as you. Stop playing, your mama must be Asian or something.Or maybe you’re Puerto Rican!”
“DAMN! They say it like that, just that raw Tisha?”
“YES”, she spat out. “And they expect me to take that shit as a compliment!”
I shook my head at the gall of Tisha’s would be admirers. “And how did you react?” Tisha smiled.
“I tell them that my Mama’s a black woman, and they can kiss my black ass. then walk away leaving them looking dumb”, Tisha replied, and we both started laughing. Years had passed and we were now grown women with kids of our own, but Tisha was still the same blunt girl who refused to suffer fools gladly.
In 2009, one of my younger sisters entered her freshman year of college. I love my sister very much and am proud of all she’s accomplished. We are close and talk often. In her first year of school she came to me with stories of campus life that set my old wounds afire.
“The black guys on campus reject dark-skinned black girls”, she nonchalantly told me one day. “It’s just how it is at the UW. They chase White and Asian girls, but dark girls might as well be invisible to them.”
I sighed. Being nine years older, I had a strong sense of protectiveness over her. I looked back at her, feeling so weary. My sister was extremely intelligent, hard-working and classy. She possessed rich cocoa skin,a Coca-Cola shaped body, a dazzling smile and stood nearly 6 ft tall. Yet she was experiencing the same rejection that I had a decade earlier. Unbelievable, I thought to myself. We talked about it more. I told her that I fully understood what she was going through and reminded her of how awesome and beautiful she was. My sister would rise above it as well. After becoming part of the Divine Nine, she would travel out of state and interact with African Americans from different regions. I’ll never forget the shocked amusement in her voice when she called me from her hotel room in Nashville. She was there for picnic held by her sorority, and she was positively tickled to be there.
“Sis I LOVE Nashville”, she squealed into the phone,”there are so many Black men here…and they actually LIKE Black women!”
I laughed at her excitement. “Excellent! If that’s the case you might want to consider leaving the West Coast once you’re done with school. Trying to find a black(American) man to marry out here-”
“I know”, she cut in. “I started thinking about that too, Washington is not the place to be!”
She went on, describing her trip and activities, then filling me in with her return flight information. Though I was angered to learn she was experiencing what I had, I was relieved to see her still living her life and expanding her horizons.
The incidents with my baby daughter, my baby sister and Tisha would all serve as strong reminders that we still had a ways to go as a people. In the meantime, I’d survive by wrapping myself and my child in a cocoon of self-love and affirmation.