Monday, December 8, 2008


My mother still uses the terms "light-skinned" and "beautiful" interchangeably. Even in spite of numerous discussions, arguments, and debates with me about how problematic this is, especially when she's talking to her darker-skinned daughter (me) :D. She did this just last week, in fact.

I think about this -- my mother's deep seated belief that light skin equals beauty, and at how strongly she clings to this belief. How important it is for her to hang on to this. And I think about how, when I was growing up, she was of course the most beautiful woman in the world to me. And that, then, I never understood where her light skin might have factored into my beauty equation.

It took me years to undo that equation. All the while, she stood solidly by me when my uncles and father thought I should be "handled" more firmly, else I might get a taste of freedom and be "hard to control." It was because of her that I became outspoken, feisty, challenging . . . proving in a way, that my uncles and my father were right.

And maybe because of this support, I was able to rescue myself from the demolition of the "beauty myth" that was so much a part of my growing up years.

Now when I visit home, I watch my mom do my father's and grown brother's laundry. She cooks for them, sweeps up behind them. All with her arthritic knees freezing in place when she stands in one place for too long. While her hands and fingers go numb from years of working on assembly lines. I tell her they're grown men -- I'm pretty sure they can figure out the art of Operating the Washing Machine. She sighs, agrees with me, then goes to turn on the stove for their dinner.

I read somewhere recently that part of our job in our own personal evolution is to birth our own savior. Metaphorically, of course. That we are the only ones who can "birth" the part of ourselves that can save us from ourselves.

My wish is that in 2009, we all birth our own saviors.


Anonymous said...

i didn't grow up around a lot of other black people, so i was never privy to the light skin/dark skin school yard taunts and debates. now, as an adult, it's truly astounding to me to see how many people were affected by this as children. i just remember being fascinated that me, my mother, father, and brother were all four different shades of brown.

while complexion was never an outward issue with my mom, she can't stand my nappy hair. she doesn't say it out loud, but i know she thinks my dreads are dreadful, even though they're clean, healthy, and growing like weeds.

i try not to resent her for teaching me as a little girl that straight hair was better and that i should use chemical relaxers and scary curling irons to get it that way. maybe one day she'll come around. :)

Anonymous said...

it's a very strange thing, the idea of beautiy equating to skin color.

After all, its very common in many cultures for lighter skin to be considered more attractive. In Japan, that's why the geisha's where all powdered up. And Shakespeare frequently used light and dark to compare beauty and ugliness (see Midsummer's Night Dream and the argument between Helena and Hermia and for one of the less troublesome examples. See nearly all of Othello or Titus Andronicus for more distressing examples).

But at the same time, in the US, tanned skin is generally considered more attractive than pale and pasty.

And yes, I totally agree with your suggestion that we create our own saviors. We become what we need to be. Or what we want to be. It's our choice.

Anonymous said...

@ beedeecee: that beauty myth gets you even when you think you've managed to escape, doesn't it? If it's not the skin, it's the hair! And don't get me started on the hair... ;)

@ skov: "But at the same time, in the US, tanned skin is generally considered more attractive than pale and pasty." *shakes head* It's a no-win, man.

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