I should have chosen between my four kilometer walk and swimming, not both. So my chlorine infested eyes are trying to not give up on me and the monotonous sermon is not helping much. I like the Sunday evening mass for its succinctness, you get the message with minimal theatrics and you go home. You also don’t have to share a pew, I have never been very good at being forced to share. The priest is talking about light driving out darkness. The arrogantly light guy on the next pew is looking at me and smiling and looking at the door. The priest is emphasizing the point that we should keep to the light and not darkness. I am too tired to get mad at my neighbour, I’m even a little amused at his eyes oscilating between me and the door as the priest is repeating the message. In a much more spirited church then he would easily conjured up an excuse to throw me out.
I often tell one of my friends that after being dark in this country, I could survive racism as long as there was no violence attached to it. She thinks she could too but she believes racism is an excuse that people use when they are too lazy to deal with their shortcomings. Beauty is vain but vanity matters to me. I have almost always been the darkest person every room so I feel like I get some rights to have an opinion on this. I feel like if you are dark you better not be too dark and Lupita is a shade too dark. I have the same complexion as Lupita and if we were to use the term light skin very loosely then I would be one in South Sudan. People fear darkness, don’t you? I used to fear darkness when I was young. People feel the need to justify it when they like it.
” You are dark but beautiful…the darker the berry…”
No one has ever told me that I am dark and beautiful. There is always a butt in the mix, pun intended.
” You are dark but your body……”
I love my skin, would I want to be light? No, but I would want my kids to be two shades lighter or have my eight year old baby sister’s confidence. She has been top of her class a couple of times. The other day she scored 100% in Math and then concluded that no one else in class must have heard the teacher say that they should all get 100% otherwise they would not just choose not to get the questions right. I guess my confidence comes from a similar place, when it does not occur to me that things are not supposed to be the way I think they are. That is all I wish for all the dark-skinned girls not caring about the skin cancer risks in the process of attempting to be on the light side of life, as Trevor Noah puts it, in the shade. Keep calm, being dark is not the issue, it is how you flaunt it. It is a lot like short hair, how you feel in it matters in shaping how people see you.
I never ever thought that there was anything wrong with my skin tone until I was ten. I had this uber-cool Arab friend. Think of all the kids driving very cool cars and holidaying in those places where you go when you are tired of Mombasa, Dubai and Masai Mara. Now, think of them fifteen years ago, and call one of them Aisha. She was like a cool princess with a perfect British accent, okay, what I believed to be a British accent. Many things don’t add up now.
” Wendy you are very pretty but you are dark. Moses does not like dark girls, most people don’t”
That was the moment when it started to matter. I had a couple of crushes at that point. Moses who could ride his bike at thirty degrees downhill around the neighborhood. He was not paying much attention to me. Kamah on the other hand was real, cool and smart and playing footsie with me and straightening my collar. I have always liked them real. Aisha had a solution for Moses, we would lighten my skin. We would take cooking fat and mould it into tiny tablets then I would swallow them then I would apply Vaseline like thrice a day. Everyday she would convince me that there was a difference. I am relieved to say that my interest in Moses died before my calories and stupidity reached unmanageable levels. Kamau turned out to be such a gentleman.
For many years I would connect any romantic rejection to skin colour. It honestly did not make sense to me how someone would not see the beauty in my dark skin but then high school happened. I often got many questions relating to my skin colour. Why was I that dark? Did it feel weird about being dark? Was I jealous of light skins? Why had I not considered bleaching?
It was when I was in high school, not in the school but during the period that I was first called Blackie. It irritated me so much because I thought Blackie is what you call your dog. We used to have a dog so dark in school they called it lights off. I thought Blackie and lights off gave off the same vibe. Later in campus one of my Indian friends asked me why I was always wearing stockings. I am not that shade of dark though. We concluded she had special issues.
During my first day at my current firm some lady asked me if I was really Kenyan.
” Odhiambo is Luo but Kodhiambo? Are you from a different country?”
There is nothing wrong with asking about my identity but I am very alive to undertones and I speak up, maybe too quick for my own good. So I asked her if it mattered what nationality I was with regards to my work. I must say I felt that this deeply impacted on my assignments. I have since moved to a much friendlier department.
Do I think I have been disadvantaged by being dark? No, but beauty is rarely used in the same sentence as dark unless they call you black beauty. It is like being called street smart instead of just smart, sometimes you want to be both. Many people have called me black beauty and I live in the part of the world where many of my features are aligned to what beauty entails. When people call me black beauty or Lupita, especially since I cut my hair they mean well and it does not anger me, I am just perplexed at how they have to qualify the beauty, like it cannot just be simply beauty.
I once tried to join Stanford, a story for another day. My essay was about a black cat and it super freaked out this guy I gave to review for me. I should have known then that the crush would end up in something very disastrous. I grew up in a house where pets were allowed, as long as there were not reptiles. We had dogs, cats, rabbits, parrots and currently hamsters. We have or is it had a black cat called Hercules, which my mum pronounces as Achilliiisss. It used to love sleeping next to me before I moved my bed across town from my parents’ place in pursuit of freedom, adventure and independence. It would knock at my door if I locked it outside. I remember where we got it from. My mum’s workmate had these kittens she was so enthusiastic about disposing, like how one usually dishes out unwanted gifts. She wanted this pitch black one to go first and told my mother that it was calling out to her. My mum is a nice person who likes to see the good in people, me on the other hand, I think I can smell bullshit and not shut up about it. I was wondering why she didn’t just say something like, “See, you look alike, you’ll get along.” So my essay was about how everyone thought black cats had issues and were some sort of bad omen and how it amused me. That my friends is how I eventually ended up in USIU and later my online program instead of my dream business school.
My point is if you are dark, your high school part will be over. Hopefully you will not have gone for some crazy skin damaging creams or whatever else people use. You will try so hard to remember the name of the guy who had issues with your skin colour. Some people will like you exactly for the tone of your skin. You will meet a guy who will totally be into you and your skin. And no, he will not be a loser old white guy with ebony fetishes. He will be the successful, happy, caring and handsome kind of man that many ladies would want to be with. He will genuinely love you for everything about you. Even if it is only fair that you eventually go your separate ways you will always remember how he adored your skin, brain, laugh, walk and other things.
Soon you will realize that some people will actually hate your skin. You will walk like you like your skin and people will like your skin or live with it. And you will realize that you were right in not getting it when they told you there was something wrong with your skin. Some people like dark and many more prefer like light-skinned people but it is the same way some people like flat-assed girls while many more people like girls with a bit more flesh in this part of the world. Don’t just go expecting everyone to like your features. There are many light skins with low self-esteem and so many big butted girls crying themselves to sleep.
My point, if you are dark develop a thick skin, or keep it light. Someone somewhere will like exactly the type of person you are, someone other than yourself. Don’t hate light skins, love yourself and how different you are.