My skin is not my culture

Magnifying Glass

If my great, great grandfather, a man I didn’t know, knew that his great, great granddaughter’s skin would be a spectacle to the world, maybe he would have sort ways to smoothen the path for me. Maybe he would have written a manual for me – all his words of wisdom coming alive on pages that would act as my guide, saving me a little heartache.

But my great, great grandfather, a man I didn’t know, didn’t know that his great, great granddaughter would be a woman of the world – a lover of the earth & soil no matter where in the corner of the globe her little feet happen to step on it.

I tire of having to explain my intrinsic humanness – that it actually doesn’t reside in the shade of my skin. I die small, little deaths every single time I meet the question in the stares, the avoidance, the assumptions & the silent judgements.

I blame my parents.

For stitching together a soul that finds humanity in people. If they had told me the world is not ready for the likes of you dear daughter nor is it as lovely as the gardens you imagine in your head I would have better prepared; better prepared for the stares, the avoidance, the assumptions & the silent judgements; for the exhaustion that invades every sinew at the thought of having to explain again & again that my skin is not my culture.

But while I breathe out this blame, I breathe with it a gratitude that sits heavy into my bones. Because without my parents’ insistence that I afford every human being honour & respect, I wouldn’t be the beautiful human being I am today.

I accrued my own humanity by seeing it in other men. I am because you are. This is my culture. It’s got nothing to do with the wild jungles of Africa or the imaginary drums that beat all night or a small brain or ugliness. It’s got everything to do with lushness of spirit, beauty of the heart & character, family, friends, breathtaking connection.

There are no maps on my skin that will lead you to the land of inferiority. I don’t even know the way there. Those legacies are made up. There are no native inscriptions etched deep into my skin. The only etchings you’ll see are the scars I carry for being vulnerable & rolling in this thing called life.

I don’t wear big, coloured earrings because I’m from Africa. I wear big, coloured earrings because I like them. When I was a little girl I would rest my head atop my folded little hands & watch my Mom’s big earrings sashay from side to side as she talked. She was so beautiful. & I wanted to be just like her.

I am not intense & passionate because I am black. I just happen to be because I am. I watch eagles soar the sky. I hold my breath at a sight of a kiss. I cry for strangers. I pray for the broken hearted & lonely. I talk to butterflies. I feel the textures of the world between my fingers. I experience the world from a depth even I cannot name.

But you will not know all this if you don’t look past my skin. There is nothing in this chocolate shade of mine that will tell you how fiercely I love. You have to meet me heart to heart for that, human to human.

There is no mystery here. There never was.

There is no code to crack.

My skin is not my culture. I’m afraid it is as simple as that.

Maybe it is the simplicity that scares people, the disbelief that we could all be… just flesh & blood with the same flaws of a nature & the same fate awaiting each of us – an accounting for that which you did & not what you looked like.

It scares some people to think of the possibility that I, with this skin, could be your sister, your friend, your doctor, your teacher, your nurse, your lifeline, your lover, your wife.

It stretches the imagination that I could be…well, human & that most times when it matters the most that is the only thing that matters.

If my great, great grandfather could see me now, he would quietly lean in & gently kiss this skin. He would tell me exactly what I have come to know; my skin is not my culture.

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