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MY Black History: Black is Beautiful

February 5, 2011

Soon as I walk in, I know I’m in trouble. Everyone’s got their head down and they’re writing. Miss Saunders nods for me to take out paper and get to my seat. “What does your face say to the world?” is written on the blackboard. I laugh, only it comes out like a sneeze through my nose.
Miss Saunders is collecting papers before I even got three sentences down on my paper. She knows I just slipped in. That don’t stop her from asking me to answer the question, though.
“My face?” I point to myself.
“Maleeka’s face says she need to stay out of the sun,” Larry Baker says, covering his face with a book.
“Naw, man,” Gregory Williams says. “Maleeka’s face says, Black is beautiful.”
Miss Saunders don’t say nothing. She just crosses her arms and gets real quiet. She don’t care if she done embarrassed me again.
“Maleeka?” she says.
I don’t answer her question or look her way. I eye the ceiling and count the blobs of gum hanging there like pretty colored snot.
“Can anybody else tell me what their face says to the world?” Miss Saunders asks. Malcolm Moore raises his hand. Malcolm is fine. He’s got long, straight hair. Skin the color of a butterscotch milkshake. Gray, sad eyes. He’s half and half — got a white dad and a black momma. He’s lucky. He looks more like his dad than his mom.

From “The Skin I’m In”

Image from PBS Scholastic

Sharon G. Flake’s “The Skin I’m In” was the first novel I’ve ever read with a black female protagonist. I got the book when I was 11 maybe 12. Back then I always fantasized about growing up in an all black neighbourhood, going to a school full of black kids that looked like me. But as I read Flake’s young adult novel, I realized that Maleeka was made fun of, not for being black, but for being too black, too dark. That was my first introduction to internalized racism, discrimination among black people. People like ‘Butterscotch-Malcolm’ is the ideal in that world and my ‘n’orange‘ skin would be envied in that environment but scorned in my own. I soon realized racism was more complex than I originally thought.


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