By Andrea Lawful Sanders
The other day, I was in the back of an Uber being driven by a brother with skin smooth like melted butter in rich chocolate and a beautiful mane of hair to match. He was so striking that I incorrectly assumed that he was a modern day transplant from the continent of Africa.
We got to chatting, and as he inquired about what my profession was, our conversation got to the place where I could ask him where he was born.
He answered, “Philadelphia.” I asked him in disbelief to repeat what he said and explained why. He replied it was not the first time that he had heard such a declaration, and said in a soft voice that up until a year ago, he despised his beautiful skin. Everything he was told as a child lead him to believe that he was ugly and that his Black skin was ugly as well. He went on further to not only try bleaching potions on his skin for years, but he deliberately chose women who were much lighter than he was to bear his children.
He just did not want his offspring to suffer the way he had. It was only in the last year as he began being complimented about his skin consistently that he started to change how he saw himself.
He then wanted to know how I was able to carry myself with confidence and seemed to have no issues with my own hue, which was similar to his.
It was my turn to shock him when I replied that while bleaching was prevalent when I grew up, my father combatted it all by comparing my siblings and I to the barks of majestic trees. Cedar, walnut, oak — and as he described, in great detail, we marveled and were happy to be the shades of such beautiful trees! Not once as we grew from girls into women did we ever think about bleaching. We carried ourselves with dignity and grace as we were taught to. Our mother would have a conniption fit if she even thought anyone was thinking, much less voicing, such a thing around her children!
I explained to him that we were so shielded from the bleaching conversations, and, in retrospect, were beyond grateful for parents who loved and protected our hearts so we would not grow up damaged.
So many more in untold numbers were not so fortunate. Colorism has caused such a deep division in so many families and with devastating effects. The destruction caused from slavery — when the first ship was brought to these shores in 1619 — continues to cut deeply 400yearslater. The stories are heartbreaking, but change can only come from the choices we personally make to be less judgmental of those within our sphere of influence.
I challenge us all to meet people at the intersection of their hearts and not at their skin tone, which is easier said than done. However, we are at a time and space in this country where we better get it together, because at the 400yearmark, it is time to address and heal those festering wounds and take back our power from those who would keep us divided.
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