Shades of Blackness: No (Dark-Skinned) Blacks Allowed, Part I
Though I decided to actively discriminate against African American males in regards to dating when I reached adulthood, I found myself rethinking that decision in my early twenties. Sure, I’d been cruelly harassed and rejected by them for being too dark in my adolescence. Sure, African American males continued to admire and lust after the one dimensional image of black beauty portrayed in the media. But with that said, was I justified in living my life under the assumption that men of my ethnic group would always dislike me? I came to the conclusion that I should challenge myself and at least attempt to move beyond this fear. So when an African American brother I’d become acquainted with expressed his interest in me I responded positively. Gerald was a lanky, walnut-colored young man from North Carolina, as Southern as he could be. Our relationship was a long distance one and I would eventually move to North Carolina to be with him.
North Carolina was quite different from the Pacific Northwest. I still remember the wall of humidity that hit me as I walked through the doors of the airport in Charlotte, how my skin immediately felt sticky. People in Seattle are not friendly and are passive-aggressive in social interactions. North Carolinians, on the other hand, were saccharine sweet. I had to adjust, as I was not used to strangers making eye contact with me, smiling warmly and actually saying hello. I grew to enjoy this Southern hospitality, as well as the fact that the restaurants gave you sweetened iced tea automatically (sweet iced tea is my favorite beverage; I’m a fanatic about it). Within weeks of arriving in North Carolina, however, Colorism would rise up and welcome me to the South.
“Baby, can you please pick that up?”, I asked Gerald, pointing to the dishes he’d left on the coffee table. It was a Sunday, and two of his closest friends were coming over to meet me. Gerald had been telling them about me for months, and they’d expressed strong interest in meeting the woman that was having such an effect on their boy. I buzzed around the apartment, straightening up in preparation for their arrival.
“Yeah, I got that”, Gerald replied as he helped me. Within twenty minutes they arrived, and as Gerald answered the door I could hear the sounds of his boys greeting him and giving him dap.
“Ya’ll come on in”, Gerald bellowed out, “I want you to meet my lady D”.
“Hello, nice to meet you”, I said, extending my hand to his friend William. William grimaced before shaking my hand but quickly caught himself.
“Nice to meet you too”, William responded flatly. I couldn’t help but notice that William was devoid of the warmth and charm that Southerners generally exuded when meeting someone. Gerald’s other friend, Anthony, responded to me the same way. William and Anthony ignored me, making small talk with Gerald and then leaving ten minutes later.
“That’s strange, why did they leave so soon?” I asked Gerald as I shut and locked the door.
“They claim they had an errand to run. It’s all good though, we’ll see them soon. Anthony’s gonna cook dinner at his place on Saturday.”
We went to Anthony’s apartment that Saturday as planned, but socially it was no different. Gerald’s friends continued to be cold to me. After experiencing this a third time, I finally confronted Gerald about it.
“I don’t want to cause problems”, I began cautiously began one night as we prepared for bed, “but I’m really wondering why your boys are borderline hostile to me Gerald. What did I do to offend them to such a degree that they treat me like this?”
“You didn’t do anything”, Gerald replied in an exasperated tone. “They don’t like you because you’re dark, and they keep talking about you because of it. Anthony keeps asking me why I had to go and wife up a woman that’s as black as a tar.”
I sucked my teeth long and hard. “I’m going to go outside for a few minutes”, I said, slipping on a pair of flats.
“D I’m sorry, you know I don’t think like them. Let me come wi-”
“NO, I’d rather be by myself for now”, I spat out, walking to the kitchen. I opened the back door and stood on the porch, looking up at a shy whose rich and dark tone reminded me of myself. Ain’t this a trip, I thought. My mind wandered back over the years. I thought of the Senegalese man I’d dated, how I sat on the floor with him and his friends, digging my hands into a heaping platter of jollof rice and fitting right in. I thought of my Haitian ex-fiancee, of the way I literally danced all night with him and his people on Haitian Independence Day, then woke up the next afternoon and ate pumpkin soup with his family. When around those belonging to my own ethnic group,however, I was persona non grata due to my color. I smiled through my tears at the irony of it all. The Blacks that I met from abroad cultures could open up their arms and embrace me in spite of our cultural differences. Blacks from my own culture would reject me for being too black in color. The world I inhabited was not the wonderful one that Louis Armstrong sang about; it was a backwards and confusing one. I shook my head and walked back in, realizing that the words of Zora Neale Hurston were still on point: “all my skinfolk AIN’T my kinfolk!”