I was pretty dark, even for a black kid, and the Texas sun I grew up playing in didn’t move me any closer to what the TV and the magazines said was beautiful. In elementary school, I was the constant subject of children’s jokes that began, “You’re so black that…”
But we were black in a world that wanted only white. Even if the white had to be tanned, it was still not black. It was still not of the people that had been called savages. A Latino or an Asian or a native, was not white, but at least they were not black.
And if you were black, but your skin was closer in tone to not black, than it was to BLACK, you had been smiled upon. But me? I was black black, undeniably black, you look like one of them Africans, black. And America never let me forget it.
A guy who was dark black, if he were able, would likely find a girl with a lighter complexion to marry so that he could have the girl who looked closest to the white women, that the world said were what it meant to be beautiful. Then his kids wouldn’t be as black as he; they wouldn’t have to suffer the same abuse that he had.
Maybe he’d find a brave white woman and be assured of it.
As I took those first, terrifying steps into adolescence, and nervously asked those first girls for the coveted phone numbers they awarded to the worthy, many laughed at the idea of them dating someone so dark. And each time, I crawled a little further into myself. Hiding.
And years later, when the girls started to claim that the light-skinned boys were all conceited, the damage had long since been done. I couldn’t hear the ones who now claimed that I was cute. Those of us who had been called black ass boys or girls, were either mean with bitterness or torn to shreds by the insults of a world that worshiped everything that we were not.
I used to hear old folks talk about the paper bag test from their younger years, where if your skin was the color of a paper bag or lighter, it was possible for you to be beautiful, handsome. If it was darker than the paper bag, you were unacceptable. You would need to become wealthy by the standards of black men or be abnormally tall or exceptionally handsome to talk a mate into the idea of you.
The dark girls grew up jealous of the way the world worshipped the light-skinned girls and beat them when they could. A light-skinned boy who was a six, instantly became an eight because of the tone of his skin.
Years ago, they had been the children the slave masters made when they raped black women. They had been the ones who worked in the house of the plantation, dressed in the master’s old clothes. Given extra food. Allowed to learn to read.
The dark ones, the black black ones, had worked the fields until every part of them was broken. The enslavers had favored the ones who looked most like them. And a couple hundred years of that leaves permanent scars.
So, we who had failed the paper bag test, were at the mercy of our examiners. The very eyes with which we gazed hopefully into morning’s mirrors, had been made to hate our own reflections.
We hoped to grow to be rich men, who could get a light-skinned girl to marry and change the world for us. We were the most hated of the most hated. The last chosen. The unwanted.
There was a day when I was a young boy. I was playing with two of my friends who lived on the same street as me. When we were hot from running around, we went to the house of one of the two other boys who were both of lighter skin tones than I. His mother had offered us cold sodas.
His mother had a friend over who looked down at the three of us, standing at the front door, waiting for our drinks. “You are such a cute little boy,” the lady said to one of my light-skinned friends, then, “and you too!” Smiling brightly, to the other. Then she looked down at me, black black, and she said nothing. She turned and walked into the house without a word. Silent, loudly so. The other boys laughed.
I was maybe eight or nine then, but I still know where the scars are. These are the residues of slavery and the fact that we’ve had to spend all those years since in a society where we are the other.
We knew of no world where we were beautiful. We knew of no eyes that could see it. We were the leavings of the world, what was left when you couldn’t get what you wanted. We were the children you could barely see in yearbook photographs, because the photographer wasn’t used to taking pictures of little black black kids.
We had been given death before life. Wrapped in our own burden.
It is like a cut where the blood never clots. It just bleeds and bleeds forever.
About the Creator
English degree with a creative writing minor. Published in The Ampersand Review, The Bayou Review, etc. 2012 winner of The Fabian Worsham Creative Writing Prize. Also a member of Sigma Tau Delta, the international English honor society.
Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!
Niche topic & fresh perspectives
Compelling and original writing
Creative use of language & vocab
Easy to read and follow
Well-structured & engaging content
Original narrative & well developed characters
Heartfelt and relatable
The story invoked strong personal emotions