Brown Skin Girl: Colorism and Trauma.
Unfinished essay TW: Abuse
I never wear brown. I don’t own any brown tops or pants. Especially not pants, for fear of looking like Donald Duck in public.
Brown shoes are fine of course, but never with a black belt. I’ve saved so many of these little fashion rules. Many of them are arbitrary like no white after Labor Day or don’t clash patterns. So many of these are based on how you look, and usually for a thinner, whiter body.
“If you’re a winter, stay away from icy blues so as to not wash yourself out.”
I wondered about how to apply Seventeen’s rules to my brown skin. The women in the magazines were overwhelmingly white or racially ambiguous. I thought my sisters were so lucky to look closer to the models. To be closer to an ideal. I’m medium brown. Bark brown. Coffee with one cream brown.
I am the wrong brown.
Which is a really privileged thing to say. I still have light-skinned privilege in my community. I am not a deep, gorgeous ebony brown, and as such, I’ve internalized my own “betterness” that has been echoed through my community. By being toward the middle of the spectrum of what melanin can do to skin, I’m at both closer to the “in crowd” of Blackness, and still receiving those privileges, but also still not quite good enough.
My skin was like a beacon to my ex-boyfriend’s mother and sister. It was a beacon to the father of his sister’s children.
When I was 19, I “ran away” to Georgia to live with my boyfriend and his family. 19-year-olds can’t actually run away in the legal sense. I was a legal adult living with my mother, but I ran away as a child would: in the middle of the night, to the Greyhound station, with barely any money, and convinced above all else that I was in love.
Like most things, my time in Georgia began sweetly. I searched for jobs while my boyfriend worked.
I helped around the house, I babysat.
I made myself as small as possible. You had to be in that place. Those shitty, carpet-covered floors had to have been made of thin ice instead.
His mother’s rage was all-consuming. It was my first time being around a family that yelled. They yelled more often than they talked, whereas my family tended to withdraw, to enclose ourselves to the world of conflict outside of us.
Money was the main issue. As it usually is.That, and the “Lightskinned bitch up in my house.” I’m not sure what I represented for his mother, but it wasn’t good. “T” got regular money from a settlement, as well as from work. His mother didn't have any source of income and felt, as a parent, entitled to that money.
There are memes about this kind of thing. Parents offering to “hold” their children's money for them. Reminding them that they don’t pay bills, etc. I had never seen it done in practice before.
“You and this high yellow heifer can get out of my house.”
In a sick way, I was a little flattered. His sister would often join in the refrain, spouting that I thought I was “better” than them. That I talked funny. That I was trying to steal her man, who flirted shamelessly whenever I babysat their children.
That I was weak.
Their abuse had to mean that I was doing something right. That my skin could cause such destruction in someone's life felt intoxicating. My sisters have lighter complexions than I do and I wondered if they ever felt this sense of power.
But, it was still the wrong brown.
“My ex was an asshole.” is what I tell people when I don’t feel like divulging my trauma. He covered the full list of ways to be abusive, and I stayed because I thought I could love him out of it. I had something to prove. He liked to remind me that I wasn’t worth much because “I was just Black. Not mixed.”
T was half Native American and liked to remind me as often as he could. They say that there is no wrong way to be Black but apparently there was.
When I look back at that time, I wonder if there is much that I have internalized from this. If I learned to either internalize self-hate for myself or my skin. I think that talking about it is the first step, acknowledging the hurts before you can move on from them.