Modern day North American society is a tough place to be when you are a woman, but it gets even tougher when you are a Black woman whose physical hue is darker than a brown paper bag. Hundreds of years of oppression in the United States created a system where slaves quickly learned to survive by any means necessary. Often the closer you were in color to the master; the “better” you got treated. Sadly the legacy of slavery and all it encompassed endures to this day within the Black community.
Today this clip has been floating around, it’s the preview of a documentary called Dark Girls and let me tell you in the nine minute piece I watched, it stirred up something deep in me. See, I come from one of those Black families where color was very important, the lighter you were the better you got treated. No, I am not talking about my Mom and Dad but my extended family. My Mom rest her soul would as some would say had the misfortune of having been born dark brown in a family where everyone else was very fair, fair to the point that my Great Grandmother had blue eyes and frankly looked like a white woman. To this day there are relatives that believe that Mom was not a legitimate member of the family and that her birth mom had to have conceived my Mom with someone other than my Grandfather because how the hell did she get so Black?
Thankfully my Mom despite being born into such a narrow minded family was born with spirit and self confidence, the same spirit I am convinced lives in my own daughter despite my Ma passing away 18 months before my daughter was born. My Mom also had the misfortune of having the same mother walk away from her at 8 months leaving my mother to be raised by her father and his folks, a bunch of Mexican-Black-Crazy Mix where she stood out like a sore thumb, but she was strong. I think in her case, growing up without a mother was a far bigger issue than being dark.
In some ways I always wished I had that strength because I know all too well the struggles of being a brown girl. My Mom being a dark roast married my Pops who was a chewy caramel complexion and had me, a cocoa brown girl with red undertones. I spent my youth feeling alone and awkward due to my color, always hearing that one phrase that to this day still makes me mad “You are pretty for a Black girl”. Like one of the women in the preview clip I learned early on that people, who looked like me, didn’t seem to care much for me especially the male folks who looked like me. Yet other races especially whites seemed to love my color or at the very least not show disgust.
Often I am asked how I ended up being married to two white men. Many people assume I have a preference for white men, when the fact is I don’t to be brutally honest. In fact when I was between husbands I swore off white men yet the universe had other plans.
I recap and share my story because the struggle to find acceptance within one’s own tribe runs deep, to have people who look like you reject you or belittle you leaves scars that make a grown woman turn back into a vulnerable child. Yet despite the fact more sistas are open about this mistreatment at the hands of those we should be able to trust most, it still goes onto this day. It is just one more reminder that while we may be free in some ways we still are not and still have much healing to do. We may not pull out brown paper bags anymore but every time we as Black people exalt a fair skinned beauty like a Halle or Beyonce yet crack wise at the darker sisters or say the things we have been known to say to our own kids who are darker skinned, we are actively participating in a system that tried to destroy us.