I want to be darker

She had skin that looked like the sun had revealed the most sacred of the universe’s secrets onto her pigment. The lighter hue of her eyes was highlighted by the deep brown skin that enveloped her exterior. She smiled with her high cheekbones and laughed from her soul. And her bald head exposed her elongated neck. She was the most beautiful girl I had ever seen. We became quick best friends through our bond with books and quirky jokes. She caught on to concepts like she had already known them before they were explained, took to track athletics like Maria Mutola at the World Champs, had the courage to speak out against what she didn’t like, and faced realities that granted her great wisdom beyond her years. From the age of eight, my friend was the greatest thing about my life.

And it stunned me that spectators looking from the outside into our perfect bubble didn’t see what I saw. They could only see her darker shade tainting her entire character. They saw her rich melanin as a smear of her beauty, a cancellation of her intelligence, a reduction of her regal nature. She would stop our conversations and ask me if I had heard what someone had whispered about her as they passed by, whether I saw a group of people giggling and pointing in our direction, or relay how a boy told her she was beautiful for a girl her tone.

I ostensibly thought I connected with her pain and that I could completely identify with her experience because I had also been teased about my peculiar nature and had been told that I too was pretty, but had a big forehead and nose which distracted from it.

That’s why it hurt when an unwarranted cat call awakened me to how deeply my best friend’s confidence was affected by an exterior I wished I could inherit from a simple touch of her. While crossing to the other side of a road in the centre of our small town in uniform and carrying the heavy bags that carted every single one of our grade 9 syllabus books on our backs, a perverted man called for our attention.

I made a remark to signal my disgust, and my friend nonchalantly responded, “It probably wasn’t for me. You’re the light one, so he was looking at you.”

“I’m not walking alone,” I retorted.

“You never have to prove your beauty. Everyone will always think you’re beautiful because you’re lighter,” she shot back calmly.

I tried to comfort her by seeking to draw parallels between our experiences of being judged simply through our appearance — “I have a big nose and forehead, remember? I don’t have perfect teeth like yours. I’ll never be as pretty as you.”

I grasped at anything ugly about myself because I wanted to draw any kind of pain of my own to show her that the world had something against both of us. I tried to defend her beauty so she could realise that the world and its vanity meant absolutely nothing. But it meant everything because vanity was all the world measured and still measures us by. Nothing I could say would make the harsh treatment she received from others any different.

So whenever I told her she was beautiful, her own experiences slapped my words out of her head to remind her that one girl’s opinion wasn’t the view from which her reality existed.

There’s a deep-seated misconception within the black community that our darker-skinned brothers and sisters will never measure up to any kind of standard of beauty, any sort of superior intellectual capability or anything that would grant them any kind of favourable status in society. The darker one is, the less celebrated they are and the less people expect anything great from them. Melanin is considered to be disgusting and dirty, a curse of some sort. We hate our own because they epitomise us in our most untainted form. It’s senseless!

Because of black society’s ludicrous hate towards their own, my friend was teased, laughed at, ogled upon. Constantly. A pain I couldn’t and wouldn’t ever be able to understand.

And what I still struggle to come to terms with is how the smartest, bravest and kindest person I had ever known was diminished to the most negative of connotations simply because she was darker in complexion.

From my deep friendship with her, I wanted nothing more than to be as dark as her. I craved it because for me, her rich tone made her better than me in every way imaginable — her beauty was magnified by it, her intelligence was marked by it, her bravery stemmed from it, and her loving nature was inextricably bound to it.

So how dare the black world find this magnanimity to be repulsive?