This post was inspired by Gabrielle Union’s book “We’re going to need more wine”. Despite being absolutely gorgeous, she grew up being told she was “pretty for a dark skinned girl” or “pretty for a black girl” in a small suburb in California. This led her to wanting to try to assimilate to her white suburban peers who occasionally used the N-word in front her as they did not perceive her as a “regular black person”. This led her to wanting to be the best black person she can be. Even in Hollywood, she felt that it was her against all the other black actresses. This led her to later admitting during an acceptance speech for an Essence Fierce and Fearless Award that she was in fact a mean girl, far from the uplifting person that the award described.
I could really relate to her story as I went through the same thing in middle and high school where some people didn’t consider me black because I was African. People would speak ill of black Americans in front of me because I wasn’t considered one of them. This led me to feel like I didn’t really belong because I wasn’t black enough for black Americans and I wasn’t Asian or Hispanic or part of any other minority group in my schools. But despite all this, I never realized I was dark skinned until like 10th grade (form 2 for my Kenyans).
I was probably 15 or 16 at the time and I was riding the bus from school when our bus driver had to include another bus route in our trip because the other bus driver called out of work. So this light skinned black American guy sits next to me on the bus and starts to talk to me. He had cut stripes in his eyebrows like a lot of people did when Soulja Boy popularized it (see picture below). I could tell that we went on the same level mentally but talking to him was better than watching trees go by in the window. He seemed obsessed with his looks as he kept asking me if I thought he was cute. He also asked me to tell him if he looked more like Souljah Boy or Chris Brown. I told him I didn’t find Souljah Boy attractive (the gangsta look is not what attracts me to a guy) and that I didn’t like Chris Brown anymore since he beat up Rihanna (mind you I had a huge crush on Chris Brown in 6 and 7th grade before that horrific beat down happened).
Eventually, the guy gets a call from one of his friends on his cell phone ( we weren’t really supposed to be using them on the bus but the bus drivers broke that rule too so no one cared as long you were discreet). So the guy start to describe where is at and what he’s doing. At some point he says “I was talking to this pretty dark skinned girl, I wish you could see her”. Oblivious to me, I didn’t actually think he was talking to me and I started getting mad wondering why he would be talking about another girl while sitting next to me. I didn’t realize that “pretty dark skinned girl” was me until I saw other girls on the bus looking at me while seeming jealous of me. Shortly after, we reached his bus stop and he got off while saying that he hoped to see me again. I said “cool” but deep down I was still in thought about whether I was dark skinned or not.
Now that I think about it, I think the gradient of skin color depends on each individual person’s perspective. For the guy on the bus, he probably saw me as dark skinned since he was light skinned with a yellow skin tone. Growing up in my family, I always knew I was the darkest when compared to my two brothers. My mother is light-skinned while my dad is darker skinned so I think when I grew into looking like my mother, I assumed I was light-skinned like her. I knew to non-black people (especially whites and Asians), I was automatically dark-skinned to them just like most black people but it gets complicated when the person judging your skin color is of the same race. In Kenya, people are split into three groups: yellow, brown, and black. In Kenya, I knew I wasn’t yellow or black; my mom still refers to me as brown.
What has actually helped me understand my skin tone better is make-up. In the world of makeup for people of color, there is one key term called undertone. You can be of the same skin color with someone but have different undertones. Usually the main undertones are red or yellow. I have worn makeup with yellow undertones that make me too light and makeup with red undertones that make me too dark. I recently solved this dilemma thanks to the Fenty Beauty foundation which won an award for “invention of the year” by Time Magazine. I wear the number 410 or 420 in Rihanna’s makeup line and these numbers correlate to a neutral undertone. So there you have it, I am neither light nor dark. I am neutral; somewhere in between my mother and my father. And I hope we may all be neutral in judging people by the color of their skin. And please don’t be one of those people who says “I don’t see color” unless you’re blind. Most of us have been blessed with sight so use it to see someone for who they are rather than to discriminate against them.
Thank you for reading. 🙂 ❤