Encouraging My Three Black Students to Love Their Dark Skin

Thursday, February 2, 2017

  "I don't like being dark skinned" a child once confessed to me as I was observing their table to make sure that everyone was completing the assignment. I told him to never say that and I attempted to inform him that his skin was beautiful. I insisted that I do not want to ever hear him speak negatively about his complexion. I remember saying that very firmly to hopefully convince him that he had nothing to be ashamed of. He looked at me briefly but then turned his head away as if he just didn't believe me.

       I knew I hadn't gotten through to him but I do my best to always turn talk of skin color around and try to place a positive spin on having dark skin. The class this child is in is mainly populated by Latina females with long, pin straight hair. He has dark skin and tightly curled hair. Sometimes I've noticed him coming into class with a shirt around his head pretending that he has long hair. He's already dreaming of having children one day that won't share his mahogany complexion. He's also struggling with his sexuality but most importantly, I see a 13-year old boy that hates that way he was born.

    The three Black boys in my class love to shout back and forth teasing the other one about their darker complexion. Although all three have very similar skin tones, they still manage to find subtle differences and announce that they are not the darkest. No one wants to be considered the darkest child in the class. Those three boys try their hardest to evade the potential shame of having the darkest skin tone. To these 13-year old boys, dark skin is unattractive and unkind. Dark skin doesn't make them handsome or smart. They believe that it is a mark of inferiority that they cannot change so they tear each other down in a humorous attempt at accepting their realities.

    "You know our ancestors are from West Africa and that is a beautiful thing" I once told one of my Black boys as we started to touch upon the topic of slavery. When I told them that I took a DNA test and found my roots in Cameroon, The Congo and Nigeria, they were suddenly intrigued and inquired about how they could also take a DNA test to learn more about their backgrounds.

       These Black children come to school every day blending in with the dominant Hispanic/Latino culture emulating them not knowing that they have an incredible cultural background as well. They are first Americans but they are also African. They are strong, intelligent and courageous young Black boys who are not in gangs, polite to adults and love to dance. They could be carefree Black boys but they endure this massive burden of shame for their dark skin. The "N" word is now a conversational term used in the vocabularies of both Black and Latino students. The Black boys don't even bother to correct non-Black students using the word. A word originally invented to categorize and shame them is now a term of endearment.

   My three Black boys avoid dark skin even on Black girls. Light skinned Latinas are beautiful to them. They give them the chance to identify with someone that they feel have some privilege and will give them "pretty babies".

   My Black boys dislike the kinkiness of their hair and deny the natural shrinkage of their tight curls by saying that they keep cutting their hair and that's why it isn't long. When one of them asks me to stretch out one of my very tight curls to show its length, it stretched down to the middle of my chest. One of my boys looks in awe and wishes that his hair could do the same thing. When I tell them that their hair is fine just the way it is they refute me, call their hair hair "nappy", and continue wearing their hood attached to their jacket to hide the beautiful afro God blessed them with.

    My Black boys are beautiful and they are innocent. Although I'm not their mother, I talk to them to keep them encouraged as if they were my own. Their confidence may just affect their academic progress and their personal lives beyond 12th grade. I promise to uplift Black history and Black people in their presence so they know that they are descendants of a proud people. They are dark skinned and I acknowledge the consequences that colorism has on their self-esteem. They are important, they are understood and they are incredible young, dark skinned Black boys.

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