Colorism & Summer: To Black Girls Who Hide From The Sun
To black girls who
hide from the sun.
Written + Photographed by Sola Onitiri
Model: Essence Renata
Summering while black
The summers of my adolescence took place in the shade of strip mall awnings and those big trees you move to the suburbs for. These shady places existed in my hurried commute from air-conditioned library, to the car, then back home. Lathered to the gills with the highest grade of SPF and a hat, I fled from every ray of sunshine that came my way. But I wasn't alone. Under several coats of SPF 100, and under my hat, and under those big awnings and suburban trees were black girls of every color who also chose to be fugitives of the sun.
"I'm not trying to get darker"
Every six months, there is this huge outrage about the latest skin bleaching headline. Take, for example, Vice's "deep dive" into Skin Bleaching In Jamaica as part of their Fashion Week Internationale series. With close to 100 million views on Facebook, Vice promises to explore the "-worrying trend of skin bleaching in the Carribean."
Is white Vice reporter Charlet Duboc the best-equipped person to bring this age-old (not trend) story to light (no pun intended)? Probably not, but that's not the point...exactly. My point is the outrage. My point is the cognitive dissonance that allows venomous judgment of skin bleaching to exist with the knowledge of not only how dark skin is avoided at all costs, but how dark skin people are treated.
Colorism exists and its way more pervasive than arguing with people about their "light-skinned" romantic preference. It's historic, it's systematic, and above all else it personal. It's the "flaw" black girls who become black women see when they look in the mirror. It's summers wasted, and missed opportunities and life experiences. It's fear.
Those hiding spots are filled with black girls comparing hues and sharing war stories of "being pretty for a dark skinned girl" or worse "being dark as a roach." That's where fear grows, matures, and blossoms into a whole host of issues - skin bleaching, incidentally, being only the tip of the iceberg. And as easy as it is to tell women not to care about those comments, it is no where near as easy to apply that advice. Especially the older you get.
The Bravest Thing You Can Do
Undoing the emotional damage of our toxic colorist culture takes a leap of faith, and no one is there to catch you but yourself. But the bravest thing you will ever do is take that step into the sun. You might shake and waver but trust me, that step will change your life. Throwing that caution to the wind is the deepest form of self-care and self-love.
After that step, take another, then another. Then stay out in the sun no matter how many likes you get on Instagram. Bask in the sun whether or not #melanin is still trendy and trending on Twitter. If you have to cry, do it in the sun. When you need to laugh, throw your head back and catch a few rays. Then only avoid the sun because it's 98 degrees with 78 percent humidity.
So, dear black girls who hide from the sun, leave that awning and tree in your past where it belongs. We are spun with gold and dipped with ancient magic that rivals the sun itself. Don't dim that light for anyone.