It was the middle of spring in 2015. My friend and I were making our way through through a lively day party. As we were looking for a spot on the dance floor, a man who was clearly inebriated and looked to be about 12 years my senior grabbed my arm and insisted on whispering drunken sweet nothings in my ear.
In an attempt to escape, I sought refuge next to a chill, quiet guy who peeped my struggle and pretended to be my boyfriend. For the rest of the night, he and I got to know each other and ended up exchanging numbers.
A couple of months later, we were dating regularly and I genuinely enjoyed his company. One day we took a trip to the beach for an afternoon of fun in the sun. With the relaxing sound of waves crashing, the warmth of the Florida sun and the refreshing ocean breeze, it had all the makings of a beautiful date.
That’s when it happened.
After we changed into our beachwear and made our way to the shoreline, he jokingly said to me, “I hope I don’t get as dark as you.”
I looked at him as if he had two heads. I know he didn’t say what I think he just said, I thought to myself. While I took mental note of his racist remark, I decided to let it go for the time being, thinking that everyone says stupid things from time to time and I also didn’t want to come across as too sensitive or defensive (even though I had every right to be).
As a dark-skinned black woman, this was not the first time that my complexion had been referred to in a negative manner by a potential mate. As a teenager and even as a young adult, the guys I knew were not at all shy about sharing their preferences. Hearing male friends or classmates gush over a lighter-skinned girl often left me feeling invisible and downright ignored.
As my feet sank into the sand with each step, I wondered if I’d made the right decision by coming on this date.
After walking along the beach for some time, we reached a popular seafood restaurant. As we waited for our food to be served, my date saw a man who happened to be a little darker than me and said, “At least you won’t get that dark.”
Strike No. 2, I thought to myself.
“Why are you so concerned about how dark I’m going to get?” I immediately asked. “And why are you worried about other people’s skin tones?”
Instead of getting angry, I tried to educate him. (This was three years ago and I had a lot of patience). I informed him that his comments were ignorant and unnecessary. He shrugged it off, saying that he was just joking and that it wasn’t a big deal.
Soon thereafter, our plates arrived and food was his only saving grace. But after our meal, I just couldn’t shake his remarks.
I had to know: If we were going to continue dating each other, would my skin tone be a problem for him? If I got just a touch darker, would he be able to handle it? Would the richness of my melanin cause him to implode? Had he not heard of black girl magic?!
I decided to ask him, “Have you ever dated a dark-skinned girl before?”
That’s when he sheepishly replied, “Well, dark-skinned girls aren’t really my first choice.”
For a moment, it felt as if time stood still. His words stung with rejection. I looked at him in disbelief.
He then added that he’d only dated light-skinned girls previously. (For those of you wondering what his ethnicity was, he was half-Puerto Rican and half-black.)
So what does that make me, I thought. Runner-up? Second place? An experiment? Was he only dating me until his light-skinned Nubian queen came along?
I quickly gathered my belongings and told him I was ready to leave. I didn’t want to make a scene at the beach and feared what would come out of my mouth if I opened it.
We rode home in complete silence, except for when he stopped for gas and asked me if I wanted some ice cream. I curtly told him no. As he dropped me off at my place, he said in a quiet, whispering voice, “I’m sorry if I disrespected you in any way and I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings.” I gave him a final, fatal side-eye and headed in.
As I lay in bed, recalling the events from earlier that day, I felt my eyes welling up. I cried for reasons that I didn’t understand at first. I was raised to be a strong black woman and I wasn’t supposed to let this sort of thing affect me.
As a child and young teen, I often viewed my dark skin as a handicap, keeping me from experiencing true beauty. I’ve received the backhanded “You’re pretty for a dark-skinned girl” compliment and experienced feelings of shame when I turned a few shades darker after playing in the sun.
It wasn’t until my senior year of high school that I began not only accepting, but admiring my complexion. After sharing my insecurities with a friend of mine who also had dark skin, she immediately pulled my arm into the sunlight and asked, “Do you see how our skin sparkles in the light?” It was from that moment on that my negative mindset about having darker skin began to dissipate.
With time and support from family and friends, my confidence increased and I started to see the beauty in my dark skin. As I became an adult, I began to truly relish having a deep complexion and started sharing those feelings with my fellow dark-skinned sisters and brothers. It was a journey of self-reflection and self-love that no one could ever take from me. However, after years of working to build up my self-esteem, this guy came and nearly knocked it all down.
OK, so he didn’t knock it down, but he did put a dent in it.
The truth was that even though I’d cultivated an appreciation for my skin color over the years, what he said caused old feelings to resurface. I cried because his words took me back to the little girl who was petrified of getting darker on hot, sunny days. I cried because even though I tried my best to be strong and resilient, what he said made me feel inadequate and unpretty. I cried because I was pissed, embarrassed and betrayed by my own emotions.
The next day I let him know how asinine and offensive his comments were and he continued to apologize profusely, saying that he had a bad habit of sticking his foot in his mouth. He told me that he needed someone who would “put up with his occasional bullshit.” Long story short, we didn’t work out. I simply couldn’t imagine spending any more time with someone who demonstrated that level of ignorance.
I did manage to learn a few lessons after my disaster date. I knew that even though he didn’t appreciate my chocolate skin, there were others out there who would and that I should never settle for anyone who makes me feel less than. I’m now dating a man who loves my skin color, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
This situation encouraged me not to fall victim to the lingering effects of slavery and colonization on today’s unrealistic standards of beauty. It reminded me of the importance of teaching children (and adults) that every shade is beautiful and that no one is better than the other. Lastly, it empowered me to continue living my best life, loving myself and reveling in my precious dark-skinned black girl magic.