This I Believe: I Believe in Melanin

“You’re so smart for a black girl” is something I have heard repeatedly in my eighteen years. When I was little, I would greet these words with a small smile and a timid “Thank you.”

These days, I have a sassy remark and eye roll on hand to deal with statements such as these. I didn’t think to defend myself in my younger years because I never realized how ashamed of my blackness I was until I got to high school. All the jokes about the shade of my dark skin were brushed off with a laugh at school, but at home I would subconsciously try to catch the light in selfies and pick the filter that lightened my skin the most. There was a point when I wouldn’t even go outside in the summer out of fear of getting darker. Dark was ugly; dark was humorous, and I was tired of pretending to think racially fueled jokes were funny.  

Looking back, I am awestruck by how far I would go to distance myself from my complexion. Eventually the sting behind every underhanded “You talk so white” faded and I began to wonder why those around me acted like white people were the only ones capable of forming cohesive thoughts and expressing them verbally. The subtle racism present in microaggressions is a part of the lives of the minority youths often goes undiscussed because it is common. But, common will never equate to acceptable. These statements made me think that my skin color was unacceptable, and I tried so hard to conform to what society thought I should be, which seemed to be as close to being white as possible. This need for acceptance plagued my whole childhood, and it can still creep its way into my head from time to time, but I make the conscious decision every day to be okay with who I am. I believe it is important for little girls and boys, no matter their ethnicity, to understand that who they are is perfectly fine. I know I was scared to raise my hand in class because I didn’t want to be the “smart black girl,” I wanted to be me. I realized it is okay to just be me.  

It took me eighteen years to embrace my deep brown complexion, to wear my natural kinky hair with pride, and to lay on the beach in California and absorb the sun fearlessly. So no, I am not #TeamLightSkinned, I never will be. I don’t have a lovely caramel undertone to my skin, though I never really liked the idea of being referred to in reference to food. Yes, I will always disappear when the lights go off, but now when this joke arises, I can laugh because I have accepted that to have melanin in abundance is a blessing. This I believe.