There are days when I look in the mirror and I am troubled by what I see, or, rather, by what I feel at what I see. My skin is the color of Cadbury’s milk chocolate where the sun hits it regularly; the skin hidden under my clothing is more caramel, though it looks like cafe au lait next to my arm. My daughter, when she was little, would pretend that I was chocolate and she was going to gobble me up. It has hit home for me, though–harder in recent years–that I have never felt “black enough”.
When I was little, I was teased by kids at school for my celebrity crushes: boys like Jonathan Taylor Thomas (“Home Improvement”) and Nick Carter (Backstreet Boys). I was told that I wished I were white, the idea voiced for me as though it were a pronouncement handed down from the mount. I was thin as a rail growing up; I didn’t have a body built for curves until almost 30 years later. I have been relaxing my hair since I was twelve and have worn it this way for now twice as long as I had it natural. I like it, but, sometimes, I can keenly feel the lack of my “blackness” because I don’t proudly wear my hair natural and free or intricately, traditionally, or boldly styled. In my first classroom as a full-time teacher, I had several black students who were, as I overheard, quite excited to have a black teacher. The disappointment and even confusion on their face when I opened my mouth and started speaking, was starkly visible to me even though they may not have realized it. I can only hope it didn’t stick.
When “Black Panther” first came out, I scrolled through the joyous pictures of people attending screenings and premiers in all their traditional African finery. It was amazing and beautiful and triumphant. But, somewhere in the midst of it all, I beheld their glory and felt the worm in my heart that whispered, “This is not for me. I have no place here.”
I am a brown-skinned, American-born, full-blooded Caribbean woman from a melting-pot island where I never felt black enough for many of the people around me. Now I live in a place that demands the necessary acknowledgement that black lives matter. (Spoiler alert: we do!) But, again, that worm in the apple in there:
“None of this is for me, or maybe I am not for it. I’m not black enough for this to be for me.”
My curves don’t shine like midnight or my skin glow like dawn. My hair doesn’t surround me in a crown of ombre curls or fall like watered black silk over my shoulders. I haven’t had to power through discrimination and prejudice in my higher education or workplace world (at least not consciously or overtly) in order to be successful. I have lived the most privileged of lives of color, for which I am immensely grateful. In other words, however, I haven’t had to fight for every inch like so many have been forced to do.
There are days when I half-wish that I had no color to feel less than, days that I just don’t feel black enough for any of this black girl magic to belong to me.
But then my daughter says, upon hearing the book Brown Boy Joy read on Netflix’s Bookmarks series, “I wish there was a brown girl joy.”
And so I put my queen-mom heels on and trot out Black Girl Magic Sprinkles (Chaunetta Anderson and Trinity L. Anderson), Honeysmoke (Monique Fields), and Sulwe (Lupita Nyong’o) for my little mixed beauty. My little girl who calls her summery skin “tan”. My little girl who needs to know that all the magic is hers, all the dreams are hers for the taking. She wants to build robots and go to Mars. I want her to build the robots and rockets that will go and then accompany them to Mars.
I want my girl to work and strive and do her best and achieve all the amazing dreams she has. I am doing my best to teach her openness and love, that hard work is nothing to be feared, and that there is always something to be learned, ways in which we can be better. As Princess Shuri (the officially most brilliant mind in the Marvel Cinematic Universe) admonished her kingly brother T’Challa, “How many times do I have to teach you? Just because something works, that does not mean it cannot be improved.”
I want my daughter to tap into her magic every day, to feel it in every way! I will nurture and defend her black girl magic and her right to it until my dying breath.
I may not feel black enough for my own magic, but I damn sure have enough for my daughter and any other black, brown, or mixed kiddo who may walk through my door. I will fight tooth and nail for their magic even though and while I may be iffy about my own. It’s complicated and called being human, I guess.