The Skin I’m In

Sharon’s girl had this skin…

An epidermis like the night sky
with just enough Vaseline from momma’s hands
to make her star shine
and grandma’s needles stitched insecurities onto her chest.
She was what most people called blue black.

Ole tar baby,
Too dark to be seen past streetlights.
Too dark to be liked by that light skinned boy with the pretty eyes.
Too dark to be…
To be.
And she could be the smartest girl in second
or the fastest girl in seventh,
but I’d never forget in fifth grade
how the Lebanese boy said that he’d just rather not…
although I was cute for an African American.
Made me regret the confidence I’d just slid on with my new shoes that morning.
How dare she
Be
Black,
Be Brown,
And Bold.

But this teacher was bold!
They made fun of her at every chance they got
and if she heard them,
she never let it be known.
Look like someone done beat her with the ugly stick
more times than Shay said I been hit.
Her skin was a collage.
An abstract painting of lights and darks,
meeting like the ocean meets the shore,
like the sky meets land at the horizon.
Like branches meet roots at the tree trunks.
Like my mother met my father
and when they see her,
they are sure to tell me that ain’t no way she made such a dark baby.

At first I laughed with them.
I had already lost the war
so I became allies with the opponents pointing fingers,
asking questions that needed no answers,
making animal sounds in the back of the classroom.
When she asked,
I told her leopards were my favorite,
their pattern reminded me of her left arm.

I envied her.
All it would take was a bit of foundation to cover up her roots
to conceal her ancestry,
to pretend that she was in another chapter of the African Diaspora.
I envied her malleability.
In my mind,
This two-toned skin allowed for her to change time zones.
She did not have to be midnight.
She could be two p.m. tea or a breakfast date.

She never explained that she had vitiligo.
She was not attempting to change birthday suits.
She had no choice but to wear both.
I just knew that if I was in a war with my melanin,
I would never fight back
I would never fight for it
I had prayed for ways to rid my skin of this
and she should be rejoicing!
She finally found solutions that
one-third bleach and two-thirds water
plus Ajax pads on elbows
and relaxed hair could not solve.

She told me that ain’t nothin’ I can do about it
So I gotta just love The Skin I’m In
as if 75% of her face wasn’t already considered the right shade of pretty
That if his green eyes fixate on this coal colored skin that Sharon’s girl has
she’ll see the value in a diamond
I found the value in crystals,
collectin’ compliments I’d authored like precious stones
on an archaeological dig.
I found out that my great aunt’s skin was this way too,
found matriarchs with my sandy brown hair
my plain brown eyes
and they too were beautiful
How dare I
Be Black,
Be Brown,
Be Bold,
And not Beautiful!?!

Krystal Nikol  (2015)