This Is Us

Illustration: Niege Borges

i hate those stories

the ones
where women recall
how they once hated
the shade
of their deep dark skin

the same stories
that appear in
Oprah’s documentaries
and characterize
the dark-skinned women
across her network

whenever i hear them
i never understand
how ugly words
can form on the lips
of such beautiful women

i hate hearing them

because
they dig up
old memories
i buried

memories
of when
i wanted to
live outside
of my own skin

it wasn’t my choice
it was
the narrow
beauty perceptions
that are placed
on young Black girls

Black
African
booty
scratcher
girls like me

why you so dark? he asked me

he compared
my skin
to the Black Air Force Ones
inside my gym bag

he knew
his words
were ugly
but i don’t think
he knew
they weren’t his

they’d been
passed down
from the mouths
of former owners of Black bodies

i later vomited up his words
along with the ones
i fed myself

and i finally saw
the richness
the beauty
of my skin

a few years later

i opened an email from my principal
asking which novel
i planned to teach
my 6th graders

i remembered one student

the girl
whose skin
was a deep, dark mahogany
and how she’d begun digesting
those same ugly words
about her skin

i emailed her back
48 copies of The Skin I’m In
by Sharon G. Flake
for both classes, please

we read that book
and when we reached
the last page
my beautiful student cried

perhaps she’d
begun vomiting up
the ugly words
fed to her, too

she’s a young adult now

and maybe
just maybe
she didn’t go on to
tell those stories

the ones
where women recall
how they once hated
the shade
of their deep dark skin

Storyteller & Ph.D. Candidate @ The University of Texas at Austin. Writing about society, culture, women, and identity. http://www.lakeyaomogun.com/

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