A Black Girl Valentine
I remember the first time we met three years ago. I trekked through the rain to the chic and cozy restaurant in Philly where we agreed to meet. At the time, we were both bringing awareness to the complicated issue of colorism—you with your book (1) Drop: Shifting the Lens on Race and me with my children’s book Same Difference.
It was inevitable that we discussed a collaboration, and I was excited about the possibility. As we sat across from each other, I realized that we represented opposite ends of the same spectrum. I’m what some call “high yellow” and you are dark brown.
We talked for hours that day and, although our collabo never manifested, I developed a deep admiration for you. I’ve since marveled at how dedicated you’ve been to bringing awareness to colorism and the complexities of hair and skin politics.
The other day, I read your piece “On ‘Jackson Five Nostrils,’ Creole vs. ‘Negro’ and Beefing Over Beyonce’s Formation.” I reached out to you but then decided to do so formally on this day dedicated to love.
In the article, you explained the uneasy relationship and history between Creoles and “regular Negroes” in New Orleans. It sent my mind racing back to my own childhood experiences in Delaware and my memories of being asked “Are you mixed?” Or, “What are you?” in a tone that made me feel more like a circus freak than another human being.
“Just black,” I’d answer, knowing the response would not scratch their itch or relieve their discomfort. I could tell from the quizzical looks on their faces that they wanted to know why my hair was blonde and my skin so light. They could tell by my features that I wasn’t white, but they couldn’t figure out which box to put me in.
Then there was the time I met the family of my first “official” boyfriend. His older sister, who was dark-skinned, rolled her eyes when I walked through the door then looked me up and down. “Wow!” she chuckled. “You finally brought home a black girl, and she is barley black at all!” she said to her brother. I was speechless. Her words sank deep into my psyche, so much so that, for years, I questioned whether each man I dated “really” found me attractive or whether they liked me because I’m so light.
Yaba, like you, I am viewing the world through my own personal lens and agree the wounds of colorism go deep. I am happy we are at a place to openly discuss such ideas, to understand each other’s experiences, and to share our pain so we can heal.
I love you, girl, for continuing to set a platform for these discussions, for asking the hard questions, and for openly sharing how you feel. I love you for being my Same Difference. I think of us as sisters anchoring the skin complexions of black America. I hope you know I’ve always got your back, and when it’s time to get in formation, we’ll slay together.
Happy Valentine’s Day.