I recently heard a question that has stuck with me, and had me wondering if every black person has experienced that moment. The question is, do I remember the exact moment when I realised I was black?
Growing up black in the Caribbean, like I did, is much different from growing up black in the USA, and it didn’t take long for me to notice that difference. Thankfully, I came up in a pro-black environment, so I’ve always been conscious of the beauty behind my skin tone. Unlike in the US, it was black everything. Black family. Black friends. Black teachers. Black people holding political office. That was my norm, so when I heard about racism growing up, it was via history books, not as a personal experience of mine. Of course, Caribbean history, like that of every other country, is far from perfect, including the Christopher Columbus sham, but I did learn of some great men and women throughout Caribbean history, and it wasn’t one designated month of the year.
I’m dark skinned, which I quickly learnt in this society isn’t always as welcoming as the lighter shade of black. You learn that your first day at school. Children are the most honest people in the world, and the most curious as well. What do you say when you’re asked why your skin is so dark? Not in a malicious way, but complete curiosity. You also have to put up with the jokes from the children that’s trying to fit in.
Thanks to my family, my confidence was never shaken. I was constantly reminded how beautiful my dark skin is. Looking back at it, they were preparing me for the road ahead.
That confidence was at an all time high when girls started saying That my dark skin was one of the first things about me that they were attracted to. Life in the Caribbean was good. I’ve always realised that I mattered.
In the US, dark skin is not always as welcoming, at least from my experience in the Southern part of the country. Sad to say, but even some African Americans aren’t as welcoming. I was speechless when a woman that I was interested in, a Black woman, told me that I would look better if I wasn’t as dark. The confidence took a hit for a second, but that feeling was quickly replaced by disappointment.
I didn’t think that it could get any worse than that, but this is the experience that made me wonder if there’s levels to blackness. When another Black person told me I should go back to Africa, that did it. No way was I going to be speechless. In reality, this person and I could easily be related. The only difference is that my ancestors were unloaded in the Caribbean, while his were probably unloaded in the state of South Carolina. I probably didn’t say it in such a calm tone, but that was the gist of my response.
So, even though I always realised that I am black, I’m often reminded. Similar to when white people would lock their doors when I walked past their car in parking lots, cross the road to avoid walking next to me, or clutch their purses tighter if they couldn’t aoid walking next to me. Little things like that, they somehow think that we don’t notice.
In the US, I find myself making a mental checklist to not be a stereotype, and still be the confident Black man that I know I am.