When Your First Grader Doesn’t Want To Be Dark-Skinned
“Mommy, I don’t wanna be black.”
That was what my then-five-year-old daughter came into the kitchen with one evening as I was cooking dinner. “What did you just say?,” I asked, just knowing she couldn’t mean what I think she meant. “So what, you want to be white?,” I swear that my heart stopped waiting on the answer. “No!,” she retorted. “I just don’t want to be black. Like, dark-skinned,” she frowned.
Apparently, something had happened at school earlier to make my peanut butter-complexioned baby share these new concerns with an unsuspecting me, while I was unwinding from the day’s events.
She was halfway through the first grade in a predominately black neighborhood –in Atlanta of all places– and I was wondering how in the world we could already be talking about colorism?
The craziest part of it all is the fact that she was an anomaly in our household — both myself and her dad are dark brown-skinned. He always jokes that he knew she’d come out lighter than us because his own three siblings are a shade or three lighter than him. He’d always been the odd one out, complexion-wise. And they taunted him as kids do. “You black. You blaaack. Man. Why you so black though?” He had thicker skin as a child.
I was born into a family where most of us are deep brown so I never felt out of place. My mom had her pointed remarks here and there after I enjoyed a day of play in the sun, but for the most part, I didn’t hear too much about my dark skin — until I left the house. Then there was: “You’re so pretty to be dark-skinned,” from grownups I didn’t know. And “I would mess with you if you weren’t so dark,” from guys during my teenage years. But never, not ever, did I want to be a single shade lighter.
I don’t run from the sun in the summer, never have. I don’t avoid the pool or the beach in July. The fact that people bleach their brown skin has turned my stomach since the first time I heard of the practice. I’ve never looked at potential suitors and decided the fate of our relationship based on whether or not our babies would be too dark. All of it is absolutely ridiculous to me, but this is the world we’re living in and yes, I would have to explain it to my first grader for the first time.
Her baby sister had been born just months before and her skin tone was closer to that of their dad and I. When she was a day old, my family came to the hospital. They were anxious to see our newest cutie pie. One of my older siblings, the lightest of us all, took one look at her little elfin ears, tinted dark at the points, “She’s gonna be dark!” Not one or twice, it was closer to three or four times that she repeated the statement.
It unnerved my husband and he said something about it later on after they’d left. “What did she think?,” he huffed. “We’re both dark-skinned. It should’ve been more shocking when the first one came out lighter.” But it’s never really alarming when a child is born lighter than expected — it’s more like a sense of relief from most people wrapped up in the whole colorism thing. I imagine the thought is: “Well, at least they ain’t black.”
Moments after my oldest made the comment that night about not wanting to be dark, I cleared my throat, focusing on the sauce I was stirring. “You know me and Daddy are dark-skinned right? Darker than you…” “Yes.” she answered. “Your baby sister too.” “Yes, Mommy. I know,” she responded, not quite getting the point. “But you don’t love us any less do you?” Her face lit up as it finally clicked, “No. I love you and Daddy and Tip!” And it was that simple. We never heard another word about dark versus light though I have a certain level of apprehension about when our youngest starts school.
As tough as she is, how much extra love will we have to give our little deep brown baby? How many times will she come home crying over an insult about her pretty skin? The way she is now, I couldn’t see her shrinking from anyone’s ignorance. She’s a warrior. I hope she hangs on to her hard-headedness. If she does, those other kids should be more worried about her response to them.