Have you listened to the most recent interview with Toni Morrison on NPR? If not, PLEASE look. The link is at the bottom of this post.
Toni Morrison is one of my favorite authors, and I’ve only read one novel of hers, Beloved. She is a woman that is EXTREMELY important, not only in literature, but for African-American women everywhere. Her new book, God Help the Child, is a topic that I have only recently delved into but has left me drowning.
Growing up, I lived with my grandparents, my sister, and my dog, in Conifer, Colorado, a small little town up in the mountains. I later moved to Lakewood, a larger suburb about 15 minutes from Denver. My grandmother is mixed, and my grandpa (not biologically), is white.
We are a happy little mixed family, and just like Toni Morrison, I felt like the whole world was like my world: a world where race didn’t seem to matter, everyone was nice, and all families were as diverse as mine. My great grandmother made greens and enchiladas for every holiday; we had cookouts with ribs and bbq.
Sure, I had some race encounters in high school, but they were easily squashed by my grandma’s kind words and my grandpa’s defiant tone, telling me that those people never mattered in the first place if they feel the need to comment on who you are.
When I arrived at Loyola University Chicago in the fall of 2013, I was so excited to sign up for our Black Cultural Center (our student union) and meet other African-Americans who shared the same passion as I did. The first day, after speaking my mind at a meeting (about something that felt so insignificant), a person turned to me and said, “You are so lightskinned.”
I can honestly say that I had no clue what they were talking about. I had never been called “light-skinned” in my life, but I had heard the term before: my grandma would often tell my sister and I stories of not feeling black or white enough for any aspect of society, and the lack of acceptance she often felt. She strived to remove any feeling of that sort in my childhood.
After the meeting, I remember calling my grandma crying, not understanding why I didn’t fit in with a group of students I identified with. As a kid, I wasn’t black enough – I didn’t know stereotypical racist elements like gang signs, the newest rap music – and now I’m too light-skinned, not light enough, talk white.
And though I felt objectified for the color of my skin, I know that this is a rare moment, that most often, the target of abuse is directed toward my beautiful, darker-skinned sisters. My mixed-race identity has given me an automatic pass in life at times: I am immediately considered attractive, exotic, etc. As a kid, I had family members that were darker and lighter, and I admired the beauty in every single one of them. But, as in the case with most things, society does not see them in that way.
Colorism is a problem in our society that is often never mentioned. Racism is discussed in the traditional sense, but the nuances are not there to tell the real story.
Toni Morrison’s new book provides a deep reflection of what it means to be ostracized because you are darker. It provides another layer to the problem of being black itself, and it is a continual problem that we must address.