Because Her Skin Has Not Yet Learned To Write
The first time Victoria fell in love she fell into it because his mind was a kaleidoscope. Every perception of the world that she had was fundamentally unrecognizable when seen through his technicolor lenses of passion and fervor. His thoughts existed in a spinning vortex while hers trickled by unnoticed — slow drip in a science sink.
While she never could forget the way his ideas stained everything they touched, he never quite succeeded in teaching her the lesson that something as subtle as tint could change the entire way a person interacts with their world. And though she spent many nights looking up with him, she never firmly grasped the startling truth that two people could stand together on the platform of life’s observatory, look into the same microscope, and see two skies filled with different stars.
But this is not a story about love. This is a story about being Black.
You see, Victoria was only Black for standardized tests, medical reports, and Clinique makeup counters. Her parents were African, complete with multiple college degrees, a language that sounded like stones plopping into water, and a disdain for all things Black. Years of private school had given her a plaster-encased accent. She was the chocolate drop of her friend group, the dinner guest at mahogany tables that had never touched wood-grained skin. It was her who reluctantly agreed to teach her friends how to Dougie, arms flailing frantically, trying to conjure up Black in the spaces in between. She felt nothing when doors got locked driving through “sketch” neighborhoods, nothing during the Black History Month programs at her school, nothing when pale hands slid through her braids unannounced. She and her skin never had a connection. Black and Victoria were always two separate things.
And though she had been to the cookouts (meticulously noting everything from the zesty wrist pop with which the burgers were flipped, to the elegant, graceful fall of each domino, to the home-grown prayer that impregnated every bite with flavor) she was not Black.
She could dap, coming in enthusiastically for the hug-handshake love child every single time. No hesitation held her back once she learned how to sling her hand neatly into position. Hand to hand. Black to Not.
But she was not Black.
She could throw in an “ain’t” when needed. She knew the appropriate response to “Where do you stay at?”, and she could even rap the latest hits with the best of them. She slang slang until the walls were strewn.
But she was not Black.
Black was a picture on a wall. She could explain every texture, the inspiration behind it, the artist choices. The historical background, the restoration processes. The brush strokes, the color scheme. The main points, the dimensions. Even what the frame added to the picture.
But she was not Black.
Thus, one can only imagine the shock Victoria felt when she moved to the beautiful city with the breathtaking cathedrals (and the drum circles and babbling phrases and steaming coffee, and decadent croissants and homeless men sleeping in banks), and found herself Black.
The transformation occurred somewhere among the ringing calls of “morena” and “morocha” from every street corner, the stares from the people who looked at her like they had lost something precious in her skin, and the kids who ran, journalistic, to their mothers to report about the abnormal sight they saw when she walked down the street. She did not know when it happened, and she surely did not know how. But boy did this beat midnight phone conversations with a baseball player.
Being Black was none of the things she thought it would be. There were no gyrating waists, no collard greens, no Diana Ross in this new world. No one was around to hold her hand there, to whisper “I think Victoria likes Black. Look how her eyes light up when she sees it”, to push her towards Black at the parties, encouraging her to make small talk with it. She was alone in this realm.
Being Black, Victoria realized, was nothing like being in love. To first her delight and subsequently to her horror, Victoria ascertained that her skin now played a role in the play of her life, without casting call, without audition, and without showing up for dress rehearsals. She was no longer the star of the show. Black was.
And there was no escape. There was no running outside, embarrassed that she had made a fool of herself in front of Black. There was no ignoring Black when she passed it on the sidewalk. She could not deny the connection she felt, the connection that she was forced into.
Black was not an outside entity. Black was Victoria. And, at times, there was no Victoria at all.
Being the ever-attentive life observer she was, Victoria quickly gathered her thoughts about this strange phenomenon and threw them down into an Odyssey article. For her readers that have never had the pleasure (or torture) of being flung feet-first into an alternate reality, here are some notes from the dimension Black.
(Being Black is not being able to forget about being Black.)
It is not wearing that crop top to avoid “NEGRRRRAAA” being screamed at you from across a park, causing every head within a block radius to turn your way. It is not wanting to wear shorts because you don’t want people to see more of you, limiting the exposure others get to your skin, having heard it is cancerous for both them and you. It is knowing when you walk into a room that you are the closest one to being a shadow, that your voice’s medium will be more important than its content, that sometimes your Black will strikeout every word you try to say.
(Being Black is having your skin speak louder than your humanity.)
It is not speaking on public transport to avoid attracting extra stares. Not because of your foreign accent, but because your skin is already screaming without you adding extra noise. It is an entire restaurant quieting just to hear you place your order.
(Being Black is having to summon the audacity to speak up.)
It is being told that you were just like the American movies depicted before he touches your hair and says it even feels how he imagined it would. It is being enthusiastically told by him that he loves American music in general, but, the blacker, the better. It is watching Black culture be used as a seasoning in a dish it created and not knowing if it is worth your time to show him the original recipe.
(Being Black is making people happy by fitting their stereotypes of you.)
It is watching African immigrants talked ill of, ignored, and/or harassed by the same police officers that whistle at you when you walk by. When you look the exact same as them. When you can also speak words that sounds like stones plopping into water. When you are just as dark, just as foreign, and just as apparent.
(Being Black is about being idolized and discriminated against at the same time.)
Victoria would like to thank her first love for giving her her first glimpse into wonderland, and her skin for giving her her second one.