The mirrored reflection sometimes has its payoffs. As I stared at my face in the glass in front of me, I enjoyed my view. The right shade of red adorned my lips, my winged eyeliner was perfectly sculpted, and my eyebrows donned a gorgeous arch. My reflection looked a lot better than when I was pregnant years earlier. When my nose spread, acne surfaced, and my neck darkened. In pregnancy, I felt my face had fared way better than my body as my feet grew, belly blackened, and an uncharted freeway appeared from my chest down. Years later although my hips had returned to normal, there were still some things I wanted to keep from my nine-month pilgrimage to motherhood. I loved my breasts full, supple and at the ready to prepare for my hungry daughter. Yes, some things of pregnancy I wanted to keep, but some things I longed to discard.
My mother told me when I was a child, words hurt and I believed her. I am rubber, you’re glue whatever you say bounces off of me and sticks to you. I was prepared to take on the daggers about me, but never my unborn child. I didn’t notice it at first. Pregnancy banter was a norm. Storied experiences colored many conversations. Sharing commonalties and comparing battles. At first it was a delight to hear the testimonies of other women, but the comments that called me to attention began shortly after my third trimester. “Girl, look at that nose! I know what you’re having.” Another small joke highlighted my blackened belly. A haphazard comment to examine the genitals of my daughter to see what shade she was going to be. Would she carry the same lightened hue that I had become accustomed to or that of my darker skin husband?
I had always been keenly aware of the color of my skin. Not from outside folks, but the ones that very life’s blood was the same as my own; my family. My loving, strong, passionate, intelligent, spiritually minded good family. The ones I adored, celebrated, and belonged to. I loved being in their presence and they in mine. Color lines were never drawn growing up, but they were definitely noticed. My siblings and I were lighter than most members of my family, if not all. Still black, still proud, still beautiful, but slightly different. In my family home we were not better or worse, we were just different. And at an early age I knew it – didn’t care about it, but I knew. My great uncle had a tinge of blue that circled his iris, my aunt had beautiful moles that danced all over her face, my dad had a hairy round birthmark that decorated his hand, and I had light skin. We all had uniqueness. Sometimes commented upon, sometimes not, but never weighted. It took until my passage into motherhood to frame what I knew all along, but failed to acknowledge – judgement was attached to the color of my skin, and I discovered it had meaning.
I had heard jabs like, light bright and almost white, you must be bi-racial, and even the off putting you’re pretty for a black girl. Those comments meant nothing coming from someone who didn’t know me. Both my grandmothers were pretty, my aunties were pretty, and my uncles were in a class all by themselves. But as I looked at myself, I realized it was not what I thought, but what others thought about me that placed me into a category. I was simply a snotty nosed brat in my family that happened to be lighter skinned- but in the outside world I realized I was treated differently because of my skin color.
The many women that I had come in contact with that questioned the hue of my unborn child drew lines in the sand. To be one shade or another was somehow valued or discounted. The skin had somehow lost it purpose and had been set upon a hierarchy. I never was privileged enough to hear banter about my child’s brain, heart, or lungs. The things I felt that really mattered in-utero. When my daughter was born, she took a similar place in my family that I once had, a force to be reckoned with. She was bold, she was beautiful, and she was brown. Everyone loved her as they had me, from the marrow that was stationed in their bones. Her smile lit up every room, until it didn’t. Until she watched my reflection in the mirror and proclaimed, “I wish I was as light as you.” The sadness in her eyes burned me to my soul. At first, I didn’t know how to respond. Reassure her that her black was beautiful, chastise her for not valuing herself, or hold her in my arms and keep her away from the world. I then decided to provide what wasn’t given to me, discussion.
Educating my daughter was much more important that ignoring what she was, a black woman. She was a black woman who was different. Different than any other woman that walked this planet. Sure, some would see her uniqueness as a flaw, some an advantage. I acknowledged the advantages of “light privilege” that I’d been given as a black woman. I owned the assistances that I had been afforded as a woman. I educated her on the benefits that I had been provided as a college educated woman. I reviewed the benefits, but I also exposed the hardships. As a black woman, she was denied white privilege. As a woman, she was denied gender equality. And as a woman she could be seen as inferior, college educated or not.
My daughter and I now laugh together about that day she decided that she wasn’t good enough, but learned she was. We have talked many times about the limitations that the world places on us, but the liberties that God provides. Skin color opened the door to a conversation about all the labels we should reject, and the only one we should accept. 1 John 3:1 See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.