Lupita Nyong’o accepts the award for best actress in a supporting role for "12 Years a Slave" during the Oscars at the Dolby Theatre on Sunday, March 2, 2014, in Los Angeles.  (Photo by John Shearer/Invision/AP)

Light skin vs dark skin

ONE DAY while walking with some family members on Philadelphia’s South St., I said, “I love those light skin girls with that long hair. They look beautiful.”

It bounced off my 15-year-old tongue effortlessly, landing in the eardrums of my aunt.

She quickly responded, “Oh you like those light girls. You one of those House Niggas. That’s what your name is. House Nigga.”

My jaw dropped as I tried to win my Black Card back. “I didn’t mean in like that.”

I was young and already walking the streets with a color complex constructing my attraction to girls based on the shade of their skin. My aunt called me “House Nigga” for the next 10 years, constantly helping me relive that moment. I was influenced by the images in my environment, mainly from television screens and magazines.

I thought back to that moment on South Street last week while I was reading the Willie Lynch letter to a group of students in a classroom.  The conversation was intense.

“Have you all seen the stuff on social media where people are posting ‘Team Dark Skin’ and ‘Team Light Skin?’

Nearly all of the students said yes.

“Ok. I got it,” I said. “Y’all know about it. How do y’all feel about it?”

“I don’t like being dark skin,” one of them said. “I know I’m black. I just feel so heavy with blackness. I just don’t like being black. In the summer it’s the worst. I turn into the Grim Reaper.”

His words turned the room into a quiet asylum. There was no refuge from the words he had just shared. After years of teaching I am sad to say his words did not shock me, but the boldness with which he spoke them did. With his face wrinkled in disgust he pointed to his skin, barely wanting to touch his arms while expressing his disdain for his tone. We watched him as his self-esteem was being placed in a coffin of hatred.

Another student said, “I don’t like light skin people because they are stuck up and conceited. They think they better than us. When I was pregnant I said to my stomach don’t let this baby come out light skin. Don’t you know that baby came out light skin? I was mad!! Until the baby got a lil’ chocolate a couple months later.”

The students’ laughter bellowed against the walls. I whispered a muted anger blended with frustration inside.

I then read Lupita Nyong’o’s words: “I tried to negotiate with God. I told him I would stop steeling sugar cubes at night if he gave me what I wanted. I would listen to my mother’s every word and never lose my school sweater again if he just made me a little lighter. But, I guess God was unimpressed with my bargaining chips because I never woke up lighter.”

The classroom fell silent again like an atomic bomb of reality had just mushroomed, destroying all we knew. We sat staring at one another with a new beginning. All of us. It was an unexpected moment of silence. A moment where I could no longer hear the term, “House Nigga.” Just the wheels of learning turning.

We have to teach these young people how to love, how to dream, how to plan, how to archive before it is all lost. We even have to teach them to love themselves.

The discredited value of blackness is deeply engrained in these young people, and as we strive to hold on to the heritage, culture and self-love we have left, it’s imperative we show our children that the value of their person should not be determined by the shade of their skin. That value comes when you discover you personal power and cherish every breath you have….


corbin thumbnailGreg Corbin is a poet and teacher. He pens the Real Talk feature for Solomonjones.com

 

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writelaughdream

Ok … so clearly this is a passion for me. I think that many of us are unclear in how we are affected by early life events regarding color. I can definitely identify with being pre-judged based on the fact that I am light skin. Always heard that I was conceited and it couldn’t have been farther from the truth. In the conversation of loving ourselves I think it is important for us to emphasize that one person’s beauty does not negate the other. There are beautiful women light and dark and in between and we have to learn that all of our beauty can exist in the same place. We are all brown and dealing with our own issues. Let’s continue to band together in building the self esteem of our children. Great article Greg. Thanks for being open enough to share.

A.K. Hasan

What was shocking to me is when I first learned other cultures around the world (non-African linage) spend millions of dollars a year on skin whitening products as they were being judged based on the color of their skin. At the time I had always thought it was an African American delimia. Very eye opening.

MissRiss

Great article Mr Corbin

Tosh

This article right here just confirmed I will take the BC this weekend. The sooner I can return to team How I was created the better off I will be. Over 400 years if brainwashing shouldn’t come as a surprise as to why we find it difficult to accept our beautiful skin color and coarse cotton-feeling like hair!

Kevin Ghee

Great piece. I was actually in attendance at the awards when she gave that speech. I was frozen because it came on the heels of me going over to Spike Lee and expressing to him that School Daze 2 will be his most important movie since Do The Right Thing, which he quickly checked me on stating since Malcolm X, as his first film addressed this very issue. I was so in awe of the speech that I immediately texted two friends back in Philly to tell them what I just heard.

Then one of the sponsors approached the podium to give an award and told her story. Wow, she was light skinned and was picked on, hair pulled, and just bullied because of her complexion. She too prayed to be darker to no avail.

It is so important to have images of all complexions seen as beautiful in which kids could be proud of. As Lupita said her esteem didn’t change until she saw the, African super model, Alex Wek. Someone who she could resonate with. It’s imperative that they see this to build esteem.

Great piece!