I think about race a lot, but color? Not so much. Some would argue that’s because I don’t have to, being of a lighter complexion. But there are more people who have told me about my own skin tone and level of blackness than I’ve ever cared to think about myself.
I can recall the first time someone tried to set me apart. I was in high school and some girls were talking about their enemies—basically the girls who didn’t like them because of some boy they were both messing with at the time. I remember one girl asked me who my enemies were and when I said I didn’t have any, she said, “Please. You’re light skinned and you have long hair. You have enemies.” It was the most ridiculous thing I had ever heard, but over time what she said played out to be very true.
I remember in college I was (admittedly inappropriately) using the n-word, and a guy stopped me and asked, “Should you be saying that word? You don’t even look like you’re allowed to use it.” I thought — did he really just put me in the same category we put white people in?
As an adult, it seems the spotlight on my lack of melanin has grown even brighter. It’s become sort of a running joke among some of my friends that I’m “not really black.” Somehow whenever I’m attempting to have a serious conversation about issues in the black community with other associates, my skin tone always finds its way into the discussion—you know those issues I know nothing about, because I’m of a lighter persuasion.
I always facetiously hit people with the same argument that the LGBTQ community uses: who would choose to be black? Blackness may be a cool fad to some white suburban kids watching Lil Wayne on MTV but anyone who is African-American knows there’s a slew of discrimination, prejudice, and racism that you must bear as a person of color and it’s hardly worth the “right” to call someone a n***a.
I also remind these people that they’re more hung up on my color than I am. I don’t want to explain my blackness every time I get passionate about black on black crime or broken homes, and I certainly don’t need to be reminded of what I look like. I see myself every day. I also don’t want to have to explain my family tree every time someone isn’t satisfied when they ask what I am and I simply say, “black.” I refuse to feel guilty because somewhere along the line Massa most likely raped one of my ancestors or a Cherokee found his way over to one of my enslaved relatives and they procreated, or that my maternal grandfather and great grandparents are Louisiana creoles with a whole mix of things going on.
If I’m down for the black community isn’t that all that should matter?