The idea for “Going There” came about as a result of the 31 Days In My Brown Skin series I wrote in October, 2012. (You can read those posts here.) The series generated a lot of valuable dialogue, and when the thirty-one days were over, it felt as if the conversation wasn’t done. So, I invite you to share your story as it relates to issues of race, ethnicity, and culture in your every day life.
The goal of “Going There” is to encourage ongoing dialogue about topics of race, ethnicity, and culture in a way that is thoughtful and that shows respect, with the goal of advancing our understanding of the beautiful diversity in the humanity that surrounds us. Interested in sharing your story? Start here. Today’s post is written by Alison Hector.
“Dark and lovely,” he whispered as I passed by, a high school girl, utterly uninterested in his attentions. Throwing him shade turned his compliment into verbal abuse. No longer “dark and lovely,” I became a “black b***h,” among other choice phrases typically used by men wanting to deeply diss females. The thread uniting the two descriptions of me was the color of my skin.
Although the event occurred many moons ago, it still dredges up an acute awareness of the blessing (or curse, depending on your perspective) of chocolate skin: reviled by some and tolerated by many. Even within our own families.
“Dark girls” learn early that we can either drown in a sea of inferiority and self-loathing, or we can self-inculcate our intrinsic value and beauty with the help of wise loved ones. It sometimes is a baffling world in which to maneuver.
Growing up in the Caribbean, there was always a subtle colorism at play. I saw it first-hand among extended family who seemed to fall over themselves to cater to lighter-skinned or white individuals. It was a palpable preferring of light over dark. The irony was that I always loved my skin color and was honestly befuddled that people would use that criteria to determine whom to befriend.
Fast-forward several years. I’m living in North America. I still don’t encounter hard-core, overt racism; rather, there’s an undercurrent of actions and reactions that makes me question motives and maintain a comfortable distance from those who seem to be “dark challenged.” Ironically, many of them are people of color, but some Caucasians make the cut, too.
They marvel that I’m so bright, articulate, cute (fill in the adjective) … for a black girl.
Then there are those who seem to be unaware that you’re even present in the room, part of the group, or in the conversation.
At restaurants, hanging out with white friends, there are those awkward instances when the waiter expects that the bill-payer will be white. Why on earth would a black woman be able to foot this bill?
I do still catch myself standing in the middle of aisles in stores to avoid having salespersons think that I’m pilfering goods. As if…
And there was that guy at that church who put out his arm (fully clothed) for “shaking” instead of his hand. Who knows? He might have caught something from me. 😉
So, looking at Bill Duke’s documentary “Dark Girls” a few weeks ago on the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) was a bittersweet experience. I felt a sad camaraderie with those who had experienced the very harsh reality of colorism in this country. But I really haven’t lived through the full strength of the ostracism that a darker hue has brought to many “dark girls.” I will say, however, that it did break my heart to hear one lady say: “My own people see no beauty in me!” And she was a drop-dead-gorgeous dark-skinned lady!
To that guy several decades ago who referred to me as “dark and lovely”: guess what? I concur. I speak those words over myself and over every “dark and lovely” one I encounter. And whenever and wherever I can, I seek to let them know that they are fearfully and wonderfully made and worthy of respect and honor.
Alison Hector is the author of Embrace the Struggle , a blog she describes as “a place where we share life’s challenges prayerfully, joyfully, and fiercely.” She’s a full-time editor, part-time blogger, prayer warrior, professional organizing enthusiast, lover of interior decorating, and social media junkie. Follow Alison on Facebook and Twitter.