I’m Lighter than You

It’s summer time, which means the little caramels in my life are turning into the sticky, summer versions of themselves. It means day camp in the morning and the water hose snaking down the driveway and deep into the yard. It means chasing chickens half-naked (as opposed to chasing chickens in bubble jackets). And it means a melanin boost that can only be described as delicious, and that I find myself wishing they could keep all year long — not only because it looks great, but because life on Maple Street feels just a little sweeter, a little less complicated, when I look more like my kids’ mommy and less like their nanny.





Generations pass. My grandmother on my father’s side lived in Haiti, where my parents were born and raised. As kids, we would go there to visit relatives and when we did, my grandmother would urge me to stay out of the sun. She understood well the laws of our colorstruck world: lighter is better. White is better than black; and among blacks, light has always been better than dark. What my grandmother wanted was to make sure I didn’t get any darker than I already was. Every day, thousands of black girls are born to mothers and grandmothers who want the same thing — to be something other than what they are.

Despite everything we’ve done to shield our kids from this scarring logic, it is seeping through. In the car a few days ago, Rose decided to pick on Sky with these words: “I’m lighter than you!” Upon hearing that, I could barely maintain my lane.  And then before I could even react: “No you’re not! I’m medium and you’re medium! We’re both the same!” I wish I could say that I have no idea how a 3-year-old could absorb colorism at such a young age, but the truth is I have a very good idea: She lives in the world.

Amazingly, there is a documentary film coming that will address this very legacy head on. The film is called Dark Girls, and it is a labor of love brought to us by the black film director Bill Duke. If the trailer is any indication, it’s going to be a searing mix of cultural history and personal revelation, of families passing down untold pain and girls going to bed with eyes squeezed shut  — hoping, praying that they might be lighter when those eyes open.

The sun was spectacular today. Let summer begin.





  1. Posted – Jun 20 at   | Permalink | Reply

    Nice post. Interesting blog. Thanks for sharing.
    Elaine Ray

  2. KR
    Posted – Jun 23 at   | Permalink | Reply

    I enjoy reading your blog and find many of your stories, anecdotes mirror those in my own family. We are also a black/white mixed race family with two children. I’m also dismayed that society still values light over dark. In our house we say “your a little bit mommy and a little bit daddy – you have the best of both; but are unique in your own way”. I think all we can do is to raise kids who are comfortable in their skin, no matter what color it is.

  3. Posted – Jun 24 at   | Permalink | Reply

    So glad you managed to stay in your lane. 🙂

    Your story reminds me of something one of my younger brothers said to my mom when he was little. They were riding on the bus and he pointed to a guy sitting across from them and said “I wish I had green eyes and white skin like him.” You could have knocked my mother over with a feather.

    Unless they live in an impenetrable bubble, kids will be exposed to issues of race. I’m not a parent, but I feel safe in saying that parents significantly impact how their kids internalize racial messages.

    I guess you do the best you can with what you know.

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