My daughter is growing up, before my eyes. She is an honor student, active in clubs and is a great singer and performer, not to mention a great big sister. I give all the glory to God on my abilities to raise such a great young lady. Don’t get me wrong, she isn’t perfect… AT ALL, but for the most part she learns from her mistakes and keeps pushing forward.
I began to notice a trend when she would comment on the boys that she thought were “cute” or handsome (we don’t use the term “hot” in this house because what would be hot is her butt… my bad… I digress). Most of the boys were either white or extremely light skin black young men with curly hair. After about the 3rd little boy that she made mention of, I asked her “Are there any darker complexioned boy that you think are cute?” Her answer: “Um, no not really”. At this moment my heart begins to flutter… FAST. Me: “Oh ok, well why not?” She ponders for a moment… “Well I just haven’t seen any darker skin boys that are cute”. My heart sinks. I didn’t raise a colorist child who adheres to the brown paper bag test did I?!?!?!
This test was used in the early 1900’s by upper class Black people to determine if a Black person was light enough or white enough to be admitted into certain organizations. If you were lighter than a paper bag you received certain “advantages” and typically were accepted more easily. After all, if you can pass for white, that’s right… right?
Colorism is something that has plagued our society for years dating back to slavery. Slave owners would typically give preferential treatment to slaves with fairer complexions (house jobs, working more closely with the family, things like that) while the darker skinned black people were often in the fields or doing an array of other grueling work. It is becoming increasingly better but it still is a known issue in our culture. For example, here is a flyer from a few years ago:
This was on Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday weekend to boot. This was NOT the dream he had in mind.
Tori hadn’t even heard of the brown paper bag test. This was me, putting onto her the hang-ups I had and the things I saw growing up. Let’s be clear for a moment, I am dark skinned. Fight me about this. It’s so funny because I say this to my close girlfriends all the time and they always side eye me like… Heffa you aren’t dark skinned! Growing up, I ALWAYS thought dark skin was beautiful. I always wanted it so I’ve always claimed it, even in my milk chocolaty hue. (At least give me that)
The hardest thing, for me, is to parent a situation that you have no familiarity with. I had no idea how to broach this topic with her in depth without making her feel like her preference was wrong. It is NOT wrong to like a white boy or a light skinned black boy. My issue with it all, is being resolute in NOT thinking darker skinned boys are cute. Confused yet?
Listen, I have always made it a point to be accessible to my girls. I have 2 teenage girls so for me to sit here and think that they don’t find boys cute, would be asinine. My place as their mother, in my opinion, is not to ever make them feel scared to talk to me about the millions of feelings and emotions they will encounter during their journey to adulthood. If not me, then who? The kids at school? A teacher? Nope, I want their mother to always be their source of information.
So yes, she came and told me that a boy, asked her out. Of course, my first question was, “Where y’all going? Cause you aren’t allowed to “go out” with any boys?” That was answered with a “MOOOOOMMM”. When I first saw him, I knew who he was. Tall, light skin, curly hair. If I’m honest, a part of me was disappointed. I was hoping that he was a dark-skinned young man. Then I had to check myself and say, THAT is a problem Trese. Was I a colorist?
After days of us unpacking this topic I learned a few things about my daughter and myself:
- She isn’t a colorist she just has a preference and preferences are alright as long as they aren’t exclusionary because of some demeaning thought. I also know and realize that she is only (almost) 13. Her views on everything will most likely change in the next 5 years.
- Her scope of “cute” is limited to what she sees around her. Having traveled a little, we’ve always almost put a lid on her looking at or “talking” to boys. So, sis doesn’t even really know what she really wants. (Even typing that felt so unnatural…. I can’t believe my baby is even having crushes. Bleh). I didn’t need to jump the gun and generalize her statements to ALL darker skinned black boys.
- Having a darker skin tone doesn’t make you any more “black” than someone having a lighter skin tone. (That part I already knew) What I am realizing is that I still harbor a lot of the weight of my grandparents, parents and even things I went through as a child based off the color of our skin, and as my friends like to point out (I’m not even dark skinned *insert eye roll) Therapy is a good place to unpack all of that.
- We have to continue to talk to/with our children about EVERYTHING! The conversation I had with Tori was so enlightening and it proved to me that she is listening to me after all because she wasn’t trying to demean darker skin people she was like “Mom, I just haven’t seen a dark-skinned boy I thought was cute. If I saw one, I wouldn’t be like “Ew, he’s dark skinned” (Now read that with extreme “Duh Mom” tone)
- Love is love and while Tori is not anywhere close to an age where we should be talking about love, whenever she does fall in love, with WHOMEVER she may love (as long as they are treating her right); I will always love and support her choice!
It’s insane to watch your children grow up right before your eyes. Sometimes they will make choices that align with your core values, thoughts and/or teachings. Other times, they will exercise their choice of being an individual and that’s OK too. In the end, we must continue to pour good things into them so that our return on investment is great. We need more open minded children in the world because this next generation will be the change we so greatly need!
Love & Light,
Mommi Trese, Unapologetically