When Michelle Britto, a black writer from New York, went online to search for examples of a brown-skinned model to show the tone and texture of African American skin complexions to her children’s book illustrator, she discovered something that caught her attention.
Just as she struck the Google image search icon, a skin color index with illustrations of varying skin tones appeared on her computer screen. It did not take long for Britto to realize that the easily found Google image was more than a chance discovery; it was the encouragement she needed to address the negative stereotypes and systemic colorism that has hindered women of color for centuries.
The skin color index, which showed one image of a woman in six different skin tones ranging from light (or Caucasian) to dark (or African/black), described the lighter skin tone as “normal.”
This presumption is not uncommon to black women who have existed in a society that subliminally implies that a woman’s beauty and desirability is based on the color of her skin, the hue of her eyes and the length and texture of her hair. Societal norms are filled with images of white women as examples of true beauty and black women, particularly those with darker skin, are seen as exemplars of the aesthetically unattractive.
Historically, black women were represented as maids or ‘mammies’ — black maid-servants — during slavery who looked and acted in ways to satisfy their male-masters while deemphasizing their beauty to appease white female slave masters and make them feel beautiful in their presence. Even as more women of color emerge as dominant figures in business, movies, music, and sports, there remains an unconscionable belief that women of color are less appealing in comparison to women with lighter skin.
Britto, with a new-found urgency to correct the unfair and stereotypical skin color index and redefine what “normal” means, decided to enlist a few of her writing colleagues to help demystify the beauty all women of color embody. They call their work, The Skin I’m In: A black women writer’s protest to the negative images of dark skin and the cultural upliftment of all women of color. This work is a living document to be continued by women writers with strong voices and an unwavering belief that skin is beautiful no matter the color, tone, or texture.
The Skin I’m In by Women Writers of Color
Almond Toasted by Michelle R. Britto
Almond toasted brown is my skin tone by birth.
When I look in the mirror there is nothing that makes me irk.
In the summer is when my DNA is put through an undeniable test.
It’s when my skin is at its absolute best.
It turns copper once the sun sets in.
The skin I’m in reminds me that my Afro-Caribbean is not just a part of my past, but a part of my now.
The sun treasures my skin.
It’s so “NORMAL” the way it colors in.
No sunscreen of 101.
My skin embraces the light because we are one.
Shea butter nourishes my skin,
And I can feel a glow from within.
My skin is EVERYTHING to me.
It tells the story of plantations and cotton fields.
My light brown skin was considered a plus,
In a house full of sin my ancestors could not fuss.
Had I’d been there; I’d say leave me to the corn rows and cotton fields.
So much pride, no longer in those years.
Melanin is beauty, yet it’s what many fears.
Thomas Jefferson had his share of my skin tones.
The number of his kin is still unknown.
To call my skin not “NORMAL” is the biggest mockery of all.
Today I celebrate my skin as the diaspora of a history that doesn’t break me.
Imagine Google in 2020 trying to berate me.
The day I googled skin tones and a white image appeared, it was called “NORMAL,” I see no “NORMAL” here.
Caramel Brown by Michelle D. Jackson
My complexion is not what the world would call “NORMAL.” Normal is too safe for the life I was made for. It is a blank canvas with no brilliancy or light; it is a monochrome palette, with no creativity or imagination. Normal is a predictable stream of consciousness that lacks thrill and luster. No! I am not NORMAL — God did not make me that way. Instead, He broke the mold when He birthed me in the swell of an Alabama sun. Blessed me in the belly of a light skin queen and in the loins of a russet-skinned king, both only a few generations removed from the cotton fields.
God crafted a beauty only majesties could comprehend. He spared no grace, mercy, miracles, or mystery when he buried my warring soul in copper-tone mink and covered my body in buttery sweet caramel brown skin. I do not care to be “normal” or to fulfill an earthly man’s desire. My skin is a reminder of the strength that flows in my bloodline. It screams to the world what my brave ancestors whispered daily to the wind — I am something wonderful. I am something real. I am something desired. My power lies in the beautiful brown skin I’m in.
Espresso Almond Butter by Jacquelyn Randle
Complex yet beautiful none the less. A shade that changes throughout the seasons glowing whenever the sun hits it. An illuminating radiance, reminiscent of a mother’s pregnancy glow. A shade often overlooked in the debate of dark skin versus light skin in my youth; outside confusion saying, “you’re so bright” while others saying the classic “you’re getting dark.” Stuck in the middle of the color spectrum. Memories of being young and arguing that “I’M BROWN, NOT BLACK,” not realizing BLACK IS BEAUTIFUL NO MATTER THE SHADE. Stuck in the middle admiring the blue-black shades fresh from The Motherland or the rare red hair and freckles the lighter end sometimes gained from their DNA. Espresso almond butter is me. My children offshoots of its variance, soaking in the knowledge that our skin is not only unique but the curls on our heads that shrink then extend down pass our backs. Picking up the quick wit to answer “melanin,” when asked what are we mixed with or the knowledge to know that Crayola has yet to perfect our shade of Espresso Almond Butter but we can mix up a few and get it just right.
Espresso Brown Skin by Tam Yvonne
Silky smooth, so creamy, a shiny skin tone that overflows with warmth and luminosity effortlessly… dark in color, chocolate like a Hershey bar, who be that woman? That woman be ME! But, “ME” is not considered “NORMAL” in a world that tells you light is beautiful and publicly demonize anything dark in color. Even in my black community we have been brain washed, courtesy of the Willie Lynch Letter 1712, where this British slave owner taught his methods to other slave owners on how to control your black slaves. Several methods were shared, but the one that has always stood out in my mind, ever since I read that letter in my pre-teen years was the way he suggested using dark skin slaves vs. light skin slaves, and the light skin slaves vs. the dark skin slaves; and this method was evident back in 1712 with the dark slaves in the fields; and the light slaves in the house pampering babies and being play mates to the masters kids. Fast forward 2020; and I am still hearing from people in my own race, “you are beautiful for a dark skin woman.” Wow!! This is 2020, right? Why can’t I just be a beautiful woman? It still saddens me at times to see my own race of people; and the world in which we live not consider dark girls and dark women beautiful, dark skin has never been and still is not considered good enough. But, I am here to tell you, I have ALWAYS been PROUD and always will be of my skin complexion and how beautiful we are as a people in our various shades of brown that comes with a diverse and radiant nature that glows and is often times highly sought after from those with less melanin in their skin. GOD did a good thing when HE put me in the skin, I am in.
Dark Chocolate by Tendai Magidi
Fearfully and wonderfully made.
Unworthy of unprovoked attacks.
I hold an unquestioned right to be recognized as a respectable individual.
This black skin I`m in,
A distinguishing feature that facilitates my identification.
A part of me that never fades with age.
Resembles the uniqueness of my racial origins.
In this dark skin I am,
Which I wear proud and unshaken by racist taunts,
I bear a striking resemblance of true beauty.
In a storm of protest, I don’t wish to scramble for superiority but,
I raise a voice against the wrong and unfair resent of my black skin,
To solemnly express my concern for racial equality,
Tolerance and for all races to build unity
And maintain racial relations.
Colour difference does not make us different species.
Let not our difference in colour turn rejection into a norm.
Because of my black skin,
Turn me not into a victim of racial discrimination,
Shunned by society.
I`m not an epitome of misfortune.
My skin does not make me hideous.
Rather my black skin is my pride,
The reflection of my beauty.
I reflect no regrets of the colour I wear,
My black skin, My pride.
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