What color is your skin? It’s not white or black or yellow or red. It is on the spectrum of brown, everyone, everywhere. Some darker, some lighter, but all part of the brown family. Family. I’m a peachy ecru I think. My husband is a sagey tan. My yoga teacher is a light mocha and my date to the sixth grade banquet was 72% cacao dark chocolate.
If you thought this was going to be about sagging skin, smooth skin, wrinkled skin or freckled skin, you are mistaken. We have much bigger issues to address than the natural process of aging. We have a world to change.
So much ado over something that can’t be changed, but oh, how we try. If you’re pale you want to be tan. If you’re dark you want to be lighter. If you’re somewhere in the middle you want to be different or just like…someone else.
It’s very difficult to hide the color of your skin. I had an epiphanous experience in India a couple of years ago. Our little group of 20 white Americans was walking through the streets of a very small town of Indians. Everyone came out onto their stoops and balconies, got out of their cars and rickshaws, stopped what they were doing, lined the streets and stared at us. They were smiling and excited to see us, but it was still unnerving and, for the first time, I got it. What it’s like to truly be a minority. It changes your behavior.
I can only imagine what it would have felt like if we had been greeted with hate and ignorance instead of joy.
From fourth grade on, I grew up as a middle class white girl with blond hair in a Virginia suburb of Washington, DC. I was surrounded by people who looked a lot like me, different hair colors and slight variations on skin tone, except in the winter, we were all pasty.
Before fourth grade we lived in Maryland also in a suburb of Washington. Here, I was bussed to a “black school” so that we could integrate. It was the 70s. I was 7 and so I just got on whatever bus they told me to and went to school. Half of each of my classes from kindergarten through third grade was on the pale end of the spectrum, the other half the darker end. But to each other we were just kids. I don’t recall really knowing the difference.
My best friend was Monica, she was dark. She came to my birthday parties and was the darkest girl there. I went to hers and was the lightest girl there. We played with each other’s hair, roller skated together and played Barbie’s – white Barbie’s – together. She lived in a neighborhood with people who looked more like her and I, the same. We wished we lived closer together. I did not realize what an anomaly each of us was in the other’s lives until I looked back at photos from my birthday parties.
When we moved to Fairfax County I could count on one hand how many people in my class looked like Monica. Still I didn’t really notice. When do you suppose the prejudice gene develops?
As I was considering what to write about for skin it occurred to me that we are all just a shade of earth. Dirt. From pale sand to rich loamy soil, we are born of the earth, and back into the earth we will go. Dust to dust. To say I am white is to conjure an opposite of me. There is no opposite of me. There is only different from me. But our human brains struggle to categorize and parse, it helps us to understand. Somehow, somewhere in endeavoring to understand we picked favorites. And in so doing, we created prejudices.
Judging a person by the shade of their skin is like judging flowers based on their height. It just doesn’t make sense.
Go out, find the soil that matches your skin color and plunge your hands and heart deep into it. Become grounded in your own skin. Then go find soil that is far from your color and do the same. Blend them together, marvel at the beauty in the combination, plant new seeds and grow great magic.
“It doesn’t matter how long my hair is or what colour my skin is or whether I’m a woman or a man.” – John Lennon
[Photo: My third grade class. Hint: Monica and I are both in the middle row. She is on the left, I am on the right. I look pissed or mysterious, probably has something to do with what I’m wearing.]