I appreciate that the title makes this post sound like it is about to narrate the world’s biggest sob story, but you know what, it’s my sob story, and I will tell it how I want. Before we begin and for the purposes of clarity, I would like to point out that a) this post will be discussing skin tones and NOT ethnicity and b) when I say “black” and “white”, I mean dark and light-skinned; broad and inaccurate terms that have unfortunately been deemed acceptable to use nowadays when describing skin colour.
I am taking a deep breath as I write this because, as a dark-skinned person, there is huge room for bias in this account, but given that this is a topic I care deeply about, I want to do it justice both for me and for everyone reading it so here goes nothing, well no actually, here goes a lot of things;
For as long as I can remember, I have had an issue with the colour of my skin and it has taken me a very long time, thanks to people, culture, self-esteem issues and the stupid make-up industry, to make my peace with it.
To brief you a little; I come from a culture where being fair-skinned or “white” is a very sought after quality. The love for this attribute has been passed down generation to generation until people now not only believe that it is acceptable to prefer light skin over dark, but somewhere along the line, they have also convinced themselves that they don’t do this at all and that any claims of otherwise are hallucinations on the part of the dark skinned person.
I find this notion so ludicrous, that I’m willing to bet that it is from situations such as this that the term ‘salt on wound’ originates. I have experienced an array of situations where my skin colour was the centre of attention for all the wrong reasons. Some incidents were serious, others not so serious but most were detrimental to how I felt when I looked in the mirror growing up.
In childhood, I remember playing outdoors with a bunch of children, minding my own business as you do, when the father of those children called them back indoors lest they become black like “that one” if they play in the sun for much longer.’ As a child, this made me feel embarrassed about being “black” as an adult however, I am hurt and indignant that a child was judged on something they 1) had no control over 2) wasn’t even bad in the first place.
At school, I had every African ethnicity forcibly attached to me, whether I liked it or not, because ignorance had reached levels whereby it was believed that dark people belonged exclusively to African backgrounds and any other possibility was a mere rumour. Because children are vulnerable to suggestion, I grew up believing that being called Sudanese was the ultimate insult until my mother challenged; why is that bad? Are Sudanese people not humans like you me and everybody else?
During my teenage years, I don’t think anyone owned more whitening creams than I. Anybody out there remember Fair & Lovely? I had enough tubes of that cream to open my own store. I wanted to be “white” so bad, that I pleaded with my mother to buy me an endless supply. I don’t know about white, but looking back, I think it actually made my complexion look grey; less radiant and more corpse-like. When I wasn’t abusing my skin with chemicals, I was avoiding the sun like the plague. Naturally, the adult me now has severe vitamin D deficiency, all in the name of being more white; more beautiful.
In life, I now laugh at how stupid people were for believing that being light skinned meant you were more beautiful and thank God that times have changed. Then slowly but surely, that laugh changes into a hesitant smile when someone tells you that you are beautiful despite having dark skin and expects you to embrace their words as complimentary. The hesitant smile soon turns into a pained expression when the first description you hear being given to a man about a potential spouse is that she is ‘pretty and white’ like the two traits are love birds eternally destined to be together. The pained expression becomes a frown when a patronising male friend, needlessly trying to boost your morale, reassures you that he prefers brown girls as his snow-white girlfriend hangs off his arm, thus negating that declaration.
But, the frown only changes to tears when they tell you that this light skin nonsense is a figment of your imagination which you are using to feel sorry for yourself, that you alone are responsible for the damage it has inflicted on your confidence and how you see your beauty inside and out.
And although these tears have broken me down at times, they have also empowered me enough to know that I am beautiful because I am the funniest person on the planet. If that delusion isn’t beautiful then what is? Pray tell.
Beauty will never be justified by how you look on the outside alone, so if you’re waiting to get validation on how beautiful you are based on height, skin-colour, ethnicity and anything else which you have no control over, you are in danger of denying your soul the nourishment it deserves.