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MY Black History: Seeing the Difference

February 3, 2011

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At four, lodged near Halifax with my parents and two brothers, I lived heart-pure. One April day, three young white boys, passing our home, pitched rocks and yelled “niggers” at I and I. Unstung by the word, I hurled it back — with choice stones– at their surprised eyes. Alerted by the commotion, my father shooed the white children away, ushered us sons indoors. Before a stunned mirror he sat us, uncupboarded two bowls of sugar — one white, the other brown– and preached, gently, that “some white-sugar folk don’t like brown-sugar folk.” I can still see that history-long mirror, still taste that bitter sugar.

George Elliot Clarke “Une Raison D’etre” from Eyeing the North Star



Image from Amazon

My mother preached a similar lesson a difference but with crayons instead of sugar:
(This poem can also be seen on the WomenzWordz blog)

I used to think that
my skin
was too light
when I was younger
I’d fish
for a crayon
that matched my face
and I was left grappling two colours:
and orange

I was 6 years old and couldn’t pronounce
so I decided to announce
to my mother that
“I n’orange Momma!” She yelled at me
I got the wrong answer
“You’re black
my black child”
but she wasn’t
only rough and upset
by my confusions

I went back to the crayon box
and lined up the
crayon to my arm
It looked wrong
I held it up
against my hair
it seemed to match
and my friend Sarah her hands were
but mom called her
White is the colour of the inside of her eyes
“She peach and I n’orange”
but mom
didn’t want to hear any of it.

For more about George Elliott Clarke: click here


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