“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
It’s just the amount of ‘melanin’ (skin pigmentation) in your skin…Yet, it has come to denote an entire culture, mindset and way of life….Does it matter how black or brown you are? And if it doesn’t then where lies the problem? Or was there even a problem to begin with?
We’ve all seen people trying out different ways to lighten their skin tone; from fairness creams crowding locals’ dressing tables in South Asia down to coloured people in different parts of the world being colour-struck and hating their own skin tone. But how many of us have ever wanted to be darker? Not the medium brown tan that so much of Hollywood seems to glamorize …but just dark, without adding any shades or degrees to it… You know how we say “She’s fair” or “I want to be fair”? Can we begin to use the word ‘darkness’ with the same fearlessness?
A couple of day back sitting in my mother’s bedroom, I saw a scene from an old film on television. I wasn’t able to catch the name of the film but the image that so struck me was that of a young black boy, 8 years or so of age, standing in front of a mirror with a wide brush in hand. And before I knew it, in what seemed to be a fit of rage, he applies soap to the brush and starts to violently scrub his face with it. He continues to scrub forcefully for 2-3 minutes. …. 2-3 minutes of anguish…
Now, I for one have never experienced such a moment in my life. I have never felt the urge to do anything that would enable me to change, let alone harm my own skin. I hope I never have to either but as dark as it may sound, in that fleeting moment, I could fully relate to that young boy.
I am a coloured woman. I have never consciously felt the urge to change my skin colour. But in that moment, I was that black boy; brush in hand, eagerly trying to rid myself of all that makes me black. Now, I am sure, like myself most of you all would also never have considered yourselves to be serious victims of colourism. Most of us, despite being people of colour, are working , functioning individuals, and we seem to have our matters under control. But pause and think for a second, could you imagine yourself in the place of that young boy? Frenzied and ready to rid yourselves of your blackness and all that it entails…?
Fact of the matter is, even today being black alludes to much more than just your skin pigmentation. It bears the stories and histories of our ancestors. Sadly, this history is not a happy one. It is one that is marked with oppression and humiliation. It carries the burden of the challenges we are now confronted with, and have to face on a day-to-day basis. It carries with itself categories and classifications of class, morality, self-worth and value, and all that is considered to be beautiful and worthwhile in this world.
Truth is, we are all that black boy, with a brush in our hands. But what we chose to do with that brush depends on us. Whether we chose to rub out our own skin colour, or whether we chose to paint our reality , loud and clear, for the entire world to see, is still in our control. And before we make our decisions, let’s take a moment to remember:
“A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song”Maya Angelou