I took a little break from doing work to check out Light Girls (which, like I guessed, was problematic). While watching, a few of the stories tugged at my heartstrings a bit and I had a flashback.
When I was in middle school, some of my friends were browner than me. My being lighter than them became something to poke fun at. There was some lighthearted name calling and I went along with that because, y'know, it wasn’t a big deal.
What did bother me was something else they’d do. They’d roll up my sleeves and press their thumbs into my forearms to watch the color in my skin temporarily change. They’d press so hard, repeatedly, that my arms were often sore. I’d go home trying not to bump anything with my arms because of the soreness. At that age, when fitting in meant everything, I didn’t know how to tell them it was painful and that it made me uncomfortable. I just let it happen.
I always feared that they lumped my academic success with my complexion too, and I think that bothered me the most. I felt like I had to prove that I really was smart and talented and kind to combat the consensus that I received opportunities primarily due to colorism.
What is troublesome for me in my adulthood about the conversation of lighter skinned Black women is the pretending that guilt isn’t the bulk of what we feel. We over and under-compensate, deal with or rage against things because of guilt, not oppression. And light skinned guilt isn’t the same as white guilt. Light skinned guilt is knowing that you’re perceived as different from the very womb you were born from solely because your mother is browner. It’s knowing that the privilege you never asked for stems from and perpetuates violence against dark skinned people.
A few years ago my godsister’s dad made a joke about us all being on a plantation. My sister’s mother is very fair and so is her brother. She herself is just a bit lighter than me. Her father is dark.
According to him they would all “be in the house” (he also mentioned that her brother would probably go and pass as white) and I would be in the field like him. My sister argued that I would be in the house too but he wasn’t backing down. When it first came from his mouth, Emerald would be in the field like me, I almost shouted “NO I WOULDN’T,” but I stopped myself. I feel overwhelming guilt every time I recall the level of offense I felt in that moment. Because what is shameful about being in the field? And why is washing dishes more distinguished than picking cotton? There is no “better n*gger.” The guilt we feel lies in the fallacy of the “better n*gger.” That is the way we have learned to survive.
Considering that, maybe I let them nearly bruise my arms because what amused them was a reflection of my own survival.
My mom told me that when she shows her co-workers pictures of me they’re always surprised. And sometimes when I go to her job the people I meet are in awe when they see me. I notice them all trying to find me in her. They look back and forth and back and forth at us. Too often people can’t find me in my own mother.
I’ve always felt bad about that.
I will always feel bad about that.