By Mystique Harmon
The darker the berry, the sweeter the juice. It’s a mentality that I’ve embedded in my mind over the past few years, a phrase that gets tossed around with a smirk and a smile after late night antics with an ignorant guy. I dumped the last one for saying that. And the last one. And the last one.
Being a dark-skinned woman can really be like driving a struggle bus at times. The things people will say. The things people will do. I remember those times back in middle school when people told me they “couldn’t see me in the dark” and when I banned white from my wardrobe for years because of its unflattering appearance on me. I was a beast at mathematics. A talented violinist. A caring babysitter to my many siblings. But I never felt pretty enough. Society brought me to my lowest points at time. I remember doing constant Google searches for products that would help me lighten my skin. Rubbing Black Opal soap during my nightly showers, praying that the darkness would scrub away. And after realizing that it would take tons of money and a Michael Jackson demeanor to pull it off, I’d give up, feeling my self-esteem sink to the bottom of my stomach.
There’s something annoying about that phrase that I can’t quite shake off sometimes. I found myself feeling less and less valuable every time someone used it—and in most cases it has been a man of lustful interest. Its sexual implications are ripe. You really don’t have to read between the lines. But every time those words parted from the lips of a man, and unbelievably it has been quite a few times, I could see him choking on his own words behind his forced smile, taking a sip of his drink to mask his true façade, choking as if he were trying to swallow a large Nyquil pill.
And I could see it on the face of women, who would smile at me and say, “she dresses nice”, “she’s so smart”, “how talented she is!” but never did I hear the words: “she’s beautiful”.
But I have gotten: “she’s pretty…for a dark-skinned girl”. Plenty of times.
I know. The worse.
I didn’t get over my low confidence rut until my senior year of high school. Maybe it was that impending feeling of being able to run away and create a new world for myself that gave me that much needed sense of confidence recovery. That feeling of aestheticism for high school known as senioritis, based on the strong yearning to flee from it all and my ugly past.
But I got into reading a bunch of Black history books my senior year of high school and fell into this super black power phase that still holds on to me as a black feminist today. But one book, Let It Shine: Stories of Black Women Freedom Fighters, got me thinking about black women and the leaders that have built and done so much for our country. I began to see what truly makes my black sisters beautiful, what makes us more than a pretty face. It’s the determinism, relentlessness, and passion to bring forth social change that makes black women beautiful. It’s that diligence, that sassiness, that go-getter attitude that makes black women sexy. It’s the talent, the intellect, and the drive within that make black women admirable.
And it doesn’t matter whether your black or white in our color spectrum.
I found that our freedom fighters and our beautiful black sisters are all different colors. Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Marian Wright Edelman, Coretta Scott King, Maya Angelou, Shirley Chisholm, Josephine Baker, Lena Horne and the list goes on. Black women fighting for what they believed in, using all mediums to send uplifting and inspiring messages. To youth like me. To the young, weak girl that I used to be.
When I read their stories I began to see that I had many of those skills that those same women that I thought were beautiful had too. I began to realize that I was beautiful. Just the way that I was made.
As much as I can’t shake it off, I’ve come to embrace that crazy phrase in a way. It’s sort of like my self-empowerment mantra now, every time I hear it. Because I know that my berry is sweet. (I ix-nay the “er” because there’s no need to compete against my other beautiful sistahs). It’s sweet, mixed with my passions, dreams, and motivation. And instead of allowing those silly “divide and conquer” antics like #teamlightskin versus #teamdarkskin to push me into that blackhole social destruction in the African-American community, I have recognized that I can go beyond that and be color-blind to beauty. Because beauty comes in many shapes and sizes, widths and heights, shades and colors. And nobody should need a mirror to prove to themselves that their beautiful.
The darker the berry, the sweeter the juice. Mhmm. You damn right.