Ever since I figured out there was a difference in color, I wanted to be the lightest, to be a pastel in a sea of primaries. I wanted to be the color of the clouds.
I wanted to strip the brown from every inch of my body. Peel it off in sheets, scrub it away with wool brushes, break it down with bleach.
The girl in the mirror asked what would happen if I hid my skin from the sun?
Would the color melt away? Could I be colorless?
I wanted to cut myself off at the roots from the melanin passed through millennia.
I wanted to be default. For my hair to fall past my shoulders, straight.
I did not want my mother, who saw my coils as unattractive, unkept, a wild thing to be tamed, to touch my hair. I did not want anyone to touch it except the strange women in hair salons who burnt my scalp and questioned my Blackness.
But I was Black enough to be fetishized, Black enough to be picked first in gym.
Black enough to be followed in stores, Black enough to be groped in bars
by men who expected me to dance for them, or be the help, or be a mother.
Black enough to be denied interviews, Black enough to be pulled over for driving the speed
limit. Black enough to be stood up by someone who said I was too dark, Black enough to
assume I did not have a father who loved me enough to stay.
Black enough to not want to be me. I did not want to be in my skin.
I did not want to loathe the brown so much that I deprecated everyone who looked like me.
I did not want people to think I was into collard greens and WuTang.
I want to be less than a color. I no longer want to be asked what am I,
and to not be mistaken for some other girl because
we are both made of colors and afros. I wanted to be my own individual,
beautiful to the eye, my heritage unquestioned and unbothered.
I want my mane to grow and glow and speak about my resilience instead
of my constant battle to suppress creative expression.
I want to be called a masterpiece, not a mutt.
I want to be spoken to, not spoken for.
I want to pave a way for my unborn children, their identity embedded in their own minds instead of an elderly know-it-all.
I want to unlearn the lesson that my skin, my hair, my nose,
my body are to be glanced at, and never followed up upon.
I organized the hate into folders and wrote a bible of how to be less me.
I followed each psalm, worshipping the verses every time I stared at my reflection.
I embossed insults onto my forearm, to remind myself why being me is not enough. Looking this way, is psychological warfare between me, myself, and I.
Erin Powell is a data analyst by day, and dancing queen at night. She is based in Chicago, working toward an MFA in Creative Writing from Lesley University. Her ultimate goal is to help people internalize the power of writing as a mental escape, while also finding cathartic release in speaking their truth. When she is not writing, she runs a small photography business in her apartment. Find her on IG @eskypowell.