The Darker the Berry the Sweeter the Juice
by Hafsa Guled
The first time I hated my skin color was in the ninth grade and it was just after biology class. We were in the brightly lit hallway, goofing off when we saw two of the upperclassmen leaving the bathroom while adjusting their make-up. The louder one, Mariam, whom I both admired and hated at the same time walked up to me, brandishing her lighter skin on her neck. Since she came back from summer break, her dark skin had mysteriously gotten five shades lighter.
Loudly, she gushed about how pretty her light skin was to anyone who would listen. It was interesting because I grew up with Mariam and just last year her skin was darker than mine. But thanks to the new girl, Z, who pressured the entire senior class to bleach themselves, things took a different turn. The same girls who didn’t think twice of their skin tone were now spending hours in front of the bathroom mirror glancing at their reflections, unsatisfied with what they saw.
Z, who herself had bleached her skin senseless, began comparing skin tones before gym class. The lighter you were, the nicer she treated you, but because I had a darker complexion, she did not like me much. “White hijabs would not look nice on you since you are too dark”, a direct quotation said by her that still sticks with me today.
She really put all her energy towards making me feel inferior because of my skin color.
I clearly remember standing in front of my locker pretending to reach for notebooks I did not need just to avoid Z. Her presence behind my back when she walked past every morning sent me on complete edge. My friends did not understand why I was so quiet and uneasy whenever I saw her. To me, she conjured up so many negative emotions and made me feel so small that it was hard to articulate. The amount of time I spent beside my locker attempting to look busy so as not to have to talk her was countless. Just the sound of her slithery snake like hiss of a voice was enough to make me shiver. She really put all her energy towards making me feel inferior because of my skin color. This was my firsthand experience with colorism in my life.
Soon, before my bus picked up in the morning for school I would stand in front of the mirror adjusting my hijab left and right trying to cover my face. I tossed all the white scares bought for me in the back of my closet. I didn’t feel like I was pretty or worth looking at. Another thing that confirmed that was none of the boys I liked liked me back. It was a never ending cycle. The effects of colorism were deeply rooted in me for many years to come but it first started in my own home.
For me, that was when I first started associating being dark with something gross and nasty.
My aunt and my mother both had lighting bleach creamers in their nightstands and would apply them religiously every night. My mom would say she was using it to ‘correct her uneven dark spots’ but I knew the truth. My aunt would say she needed to ‘return to her original skin tone’. For me, that was when I first started associating being dark with something gross and nasty.
Growing up as a kid I would overhear adults at the dinner table talking about certain divorces and family gossip. Occasionally I would hear things like, “[H]e can’t marry her skin is too dark, all the kids will be ugly” or “[M]y God you’ve gotten darker here’s a recipe for an all-natural lightening cream’. As an eleven year old, I never understood that way of thinking since my dad was dark as coal and my little sister was as well. But that was just the tip of iceberg unfortunately.
My own mother would tease my younger sister for her darker complexion by calling her “Sudani” or “darkie”. (Sudani meaning someone of Sudanese descent and darkie a shortened term for a darker skinned person). I remember one day when I walked in on my little sister crying, heeled over the toilet in the bathroom. With tears streaming down her face, she begged God that she just wanted to be light. Those were just the first few instances I had brushed with colorism but my journey with self- hatred did not start until late high school.
Self- loathing of my dark skin was all I knew for years. I spent countless hours of my life wishing I was as light as Sofia Vergara or Raven Symone. All around me light skinned women seemed to be making it far in life and had many doors opening for them. It got so bad that during my senior year of high school, I stopped showing my face to people. I desperately began covering my face with hoodies and beanies, pretty much anything to hide my self.
My self- esteem was at an all-time low all because I despised what my skin look like. Every night I would scrub my body until my fingertips would turn raw just at a shot of being one shade lighter. For me, being lighter represented things like youth, beauty, and likeability. All the light girls I knew were liked by everyone. I just wanted a piece of that. But over the years, my way of thinking slowly began to change for the better.
Accepting my skin tone has been a long, painful journey for me. Some days I wake up and feel a twinge of the hurt and self- hatred I carried for so long bubble up. But I am happy to say I no longer hesitate in wearing lighter colored hijabs. I mean of course it hasn’t been easy nor did it happen over-night. It was long nights of crying myself to self and sitting on the cold toilet seat not wanting to get up because it would mean catching my reflection in the mirror. Then slowly day by day not allowing my self to beat myself up over things I had no control over.
My one act of rebellion has been to wear bright, statement lip colors no matter how my skin looks. I have actually reached the point of self-acceptance where when I look into the mirror, I feel proud of my glistening melanin. I no longer see an ugly, blackened shell of a person but more of a darkskinned bombshell girl with an A+ personality.
I am able to say I love my blackness.
It hasn’t always been this way but thanks to several years spent on social media, internet friends, black pride, black self-love hashtags, and real life support groups, I am able to say I love my blackness. Spefically hashtags like #FlexinMyComplexion and #BlackOutDay taught my blackness is what makes me beautiful. Now, I love how my skin looks when the sun hits it, like shimmering bronze. I love how my eyelids twinkle and gleam when I blink. I love how my skin doesn’t age. I love how any lipstick color immediately pops because of my beautiful melanin. I love how white people gush and obsess about how clear my skin is considering their the ones that the media deems as most beautiful. I love how soft and sun-kissed my skin looks at all times, even in the winter. And best of all, I love every part of my blackness. Even the darker parts of it.