Readers of my essays may have established that I am in fact, a Black woman living in America with a passion for travel and an advocate for varied sexual identities. I have commented on the hue of my skin in other pieces as being a problem with police and waxed poetic over my personal body worship to combat the onslaught of media’s attempts to permeate my inner voice with hatred.
I gaze simultaneously upon my reflection and the new but old details of every murder victim of the police wear my shade of brown to black pigmentation. As my pigmentation of rich nut-brown that has hints of creamer in coffee on my undertones, my color of brown blends as a comfortable hue of browns that glow when polished in the sheen of shea butter moisture sessions. With the likeness of Oprah and Toni Morrison, one would not consider the tone of Black skin a problem in today’s society when Blackness is projected as the culprit.
So let’s talk about skin.
Skin tone remains a significant factor in who needs to fear for their life. As my body developed through puberty, I had to weed through this assumed gaze of the socially imposed version of fetishized sexuality and discover my own relationship with sensuality, pick out a cloak of sexuality when I wear/wore the labels of black, a woman, lesbian, a gamer and/or sapiosexual. That work included a comparison of my skin being specified as chocolate by my mother and dirt by my peer group. Never really looked into the food terms as being more than a nuance but the choice of the Oreo being the slight used, I did not know if it was the hue of the dark chocolate biscuit or the popularity since an ice cream cookie sandwich is the same thing but requires awareness of temperature to maintain its icy goodness.
The fact is, I don’t pass the brown paper bag test.
Since the first slaves from landed on the coasts of America, the shade of pigmentation has been the primary identifying factor to distinguish individuals of my race. I exceed the paper bag brown that would have allowed me access to the Cotton Club of the Roaring 20s and will darken to the field hand brown that protected me from burning but launches me into the realm of otherness in my own race’s divides. My mother’s weak joke of comparing herself to the national brand of milk chocolate would be met with a glitter in her eye as if she had a secret when you liked one but not the other. And it is true- why like brown on inanimate objects but not on people?
But her loose idea was weak as colorism was a part of her family dynamic and she blew it out proportion.
I had to revisit the colorism in my family recently as my quest for a new job reached an emotional impasse where I desire to search but can not be bothered to update my resume in some new design way. My skin has been a factor in my job security. Why I spent my 20s hunting for work instead of being employed for long stretches? Skin. I am hirable until you see me. To non-American employers, it looks like I job hopped. To the wise American employer, skin tone is the unspoken elephant in the room making sure I stayed un/underemployed. So when my family member who passes the paper bag test asks me why I am not employed, I should say it is obvious. But the paper baggers love my skin. They look at it and admire it. Why wouldn’t the world want that and my skill set reflecting their organization?