Growing up where everyone around me was mostly hispanic or white became very confusing when the questions started rolling in.
Why does your hair look like that?
Why are there beads on it?
Why is it so stiff?
These were all questions I was continuously bombarded with, and not able to answer or understand why they were being asked. Around third grade, I started getting relaxers, which meant I was prettier, and boys noticed me more often—and the cycle continued of me assimilating these beautiful coils into bland, straight damage.
Though I was singled out for my hair in grade school, I never really had issues with the lightness or darkness of my skin. It wasn't until one day in high school, in a classroom full of white students, that I looked down and realized, "Oh, my skin is dark." Immediately, I felt more and more uncomfortable not seeing anyone else that looked like me. I continued to feel this way all throughout high school. It wasn't until about sophomore year that I had more black friends, or was around other black people outside of my family. Yes, it was nice, but the moment my circle changed was the moment I became the "light skin girl." Wait, what? So, I'm light skin now? Okay.
Once again I was defined by something I could not control, and was even made to feel less black, or was assumed to be mixed, because I was "pretty and light-skinned"—but couldn't just be ME. I appreciated the fact that when I was around non-blacks I wasn't called light-skinned or dark-skinned, though my own mind went there and identified myself as the black girl. I wasn't made to feel like I wasn't black enough, though there were other issues of ignorance and stereotyping (which calls for another post).
I was made to feel labeled as something not acceptable, but at the same time very accepted—but only for my skin (and very envied for it as well). So I was either the black girl in a white pool, or the light-skinned girl in a black pool. All confusing as a young black girl, and made me very self conscious because I never felt like I fit in anywhere. I was too black for the white people and too white for the black people. There always had to be something that made me not enough of this or that.
For me, it never really mattered. I never saw my identity as the pigmentation of my skin. Yes as black, but not as a specified shade or name for it ("redbone" comes to mind). So when I was addressed that way, it truly did not feel like a word to describe myself. Why? Because it didn't matter! Though we've been made to believe it does, it really doesn't and it never should.
As MLK said, "they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character." I never wanted people to identify me based on any shade of my skin, but just to get to know me for me, not my hair or the way I talked, but what kind of friend I was or who I was as a person. It didn't matter to me what shade anyone else was, so why did it matter to them?
Colorism is so influential in the black community and it will only continue to run it's course. We should focus on identifying one another by things much more important than a color, and that starts within us.