My mother always told me I was beautiful, a beautiful dark skinned girl. She never failed to add that small detail in, "dark skinned". I noticed when she did, but I was young, I didn't think much of it. Hell, I didn't care, as long as she thought I was beautiful I was cool with it. I played with everyone and everyone played with me, Monday through Friday and weekends too. I played with boys, girls, tall, short, skinny, fat, everyone! Now I myself was average height, very petite lil' thang. But I was a child, none of that ever crossed my mind, none of that light skin dark skin, pretty long hair foolishness. And might I add that my hair was very thick and very long, halfway down my back. Oh yes! If you ever hear someone say a black girl can't have long hair, you better tell them they a damn lie and they had better get educated real quick! Tell em' I said it, Dalila said it, that's my name.
Ok, back to the story. There was this real tall boy in my neighborhood, real fine lookin'. He was slim, but still had a lil' muscle on em'. I guess I have to add that he was...uhhh... tan. Not light skinned, but tan. Like a pair of khaki pants. Once again, I didn't think about color at all, I was a child, I didn't see color. So one day, I was playing with my friends and saw him across the street playing with his friends. I never felt so anxious in my life. It's like my belly was hosting a butterfly party and my hands were doing the harlem shake! Laawwdd have mercy. Oh hell! "Dalila just go talk to the boy." I thought to myself. I never done this before, where I come from the boys chase the girls and we just sit and wait for the games to begin. To hell with that, I wanted to be different, I wanted to be brave. So I walked on over. Very slowly, very cautiously. My friends were giggling and whispering each time I looked back. I got closer... and closer... and closer. My heart beat more rapidly with every inch I took. FINALLY! I'm in his presence! His back was facing me. I tapped him lightly on his shoulder. "Excuse me Darren?" I said with the softest voice I ever used in my life. He turned around and gave me a slight smile. He said "hi". OMMGGG OMMMGG OMMMGGG he said hi to me! I told him that I had a crush on him and how I thought he was a nice boy. His friends just smiled and giggled in the back ground. I was a little shy, but I didn't care. Darren replied with: "Dalila, I've always thought you were pretty for a dark skinned girl, but I don't like you in that way." Beyond the fact that he turned me down, beyond the fact that I had done this in front of all his friends... I couldn't get over those words: "pretty for a dark skinned girl." What does that mean? My nine-year-old brain could not wrap itself around that confusion. I tried desperately to decode the meaning of that message, but I just couldn't. I thought about when Darren said it, I thought about when my mother said it. They both were smiling, they both had an innocent intent behind it. I don't think they were aware of the frustration they caused me. What was this "beautiful for a dark skinned girl" meaning?! Was that the natural way of things? Should I go around telling people they're beautiful to be light skinned or white? As a matter of fact, I had never heard my mother tell my lighter skinned siblings they were beautiful for their light tone. What was the difference between them and I? I began to question this everyday, every hour, every minute, and every second of that moment in my mind until I exploded! There was a deep need to know the answer to this burning question in my heart, my SOUL!
I would not get the answer to that question until eight years later, when I was 17-years-old. I was working in a small gift shop right up the street from my house. I knew most of the customers and they knew; everyone lived in the neighborhood for the most part. Men, women, and children came and went, buying gifts for their children, husbands, wives, etc. One particular day, a Sunday, I was working during the early evening, it was about 6:30. I was scheduled to get off at 7:00, the same time the shop closed. It was normal for no one to be around at this time on Sundays. People were either finishing up their Sunday dinners or getting ready for work and school the next morning. I was sitting on the stool behind the counter, aimlessly gazing out the back window of the shop. Suddenly, the bell on the front door made a dinging noise; this notified me and any other cashier that a customer was entering. I turned to look at who it was, I was startled by the tall white figure I saw. A white man I had never seen in my life walked up to the counter, grinning heavily. "Hello sir", I said cheerfully. He said "hi" back. I asked if I could help him with anything. He told me he was visiting this town, he was a tourist. He just wanted to get his wife a simple gift, nothing too special. I said "ok" and and began to show him the jewelry in the counter right in front of me. He looked for a while until he finally picked out a golden necklace with a pink diamond heart. He gave it to me so I could ring it up and package it. I could feel him staring me down, but I paid him no mind. Then out of no where he said, "you know, you sure are pretty for a dark skinned girl." I immediately laughed it off and thanked him. I was dying on the inside though. How in the hell could a complete stranger say the EXACT same words my mother said to me years earlier? Was this some sort of an inside joke? HELL EVEN MY CHILDHOOD CRUSH SAID IT! What was going on? THAT'S IT! I had to know that very second DAMN IT! What is all this damn dark skinned foolishness about?! 7 o'clock couldn't come fast enough.
I ran home like I was a track star, racing for the finish line! I finally reached my front yard, it seemed like it drew farther away the more I ran! I bust through that damn door like a bunch of cops looking for some dope boys! "MAMA!" I shouted to the top of my lungs. She didn't come fast enough, so again I yelled "MAMA!" I waited a few more seconds. Then finally I heard her coming down the stairs. "Girl why are you yelling so loud?!" My mom said as she came to see what I wanted. My mother was only maybe an inch taller than me. We looked so much alike. Like me, she had very thick, long pretty hair. And her skin... laawwwdd have mercy her skin was as new and soft as a newborn baby! "Mama I remember you telling me that I was beautiful for a dark skinned girl when I was younger, now what does that mean?" She stood there looking puzzled for a moment, she even laughed for about 10 seconds. Then after a slight pause and with a straight face she said, "well honey if it means that much to you, it's just a joke people say about black girls; usually the darker they are the more unattractive they become. But, since God made you pretty you're one of the lucky ones." I just stood there and wondred, then stood there and wondered some more. I was even more confused than I was before, I sort of wished I didn't even ask. But that wasn't in my character; I have to get answers to the things I have no clue of. Her answer wasn't enough for me. Even at this very moment, I never saw color... I mean I did but I didn't. Of course I knew there were the dark skins, the browns, the tans, the almost whites, then the whites. But... I never thought anyone wasn't pretty just because they were "dark". It was at this moment that I felt stupid, I felt like I wasn't apart of the loop. How is it that the white guy at the shop knew about our colorism and I didn't know. How did Darren know about these color differences and I didn't? Hell we were the same age when he found my beauty suprising because I was dark. I felt that my mom had betrayed me, she had never given me a history lesson about this or explained why this "joke" wasn't actually a joke at all. I said this with the most serious tone I think I had ever said anything in my life: "well mama... you are dark skinned as well, and you are beautiful; so the next time you wanna call me beautiful, leave the "dark skinned" part out.