The Whitney Museum chooses silence in an effort to displace, downplay, and negate valid public outrage regarding their policies, ethics and leadership. By Jamara Wakefield May 17th marked the start of the 79th Whitney Biennial. The Biennial is a contemporary art exhibition, featuring typically young and lesser-known artists, at the Whitney Museum of American Art […]
BLACK: An Apology to My Skin—Lovechild of the Sun
In this letter for #BodyPositivityInColor Asia Renée apologizes to her skin for not cherishing it—its richness, its history and its significance as part of her identity. She acknowledges how she was raised without having the space to see herself represented as a dark-skinned Black woman and how she is finally embracing her whole self after over three decades of pain, sadness and anger.
By Asia Renée
Dear Lovechild of the Sun,
We have been together for so very long, you and I.
I just want to take a few moments to apologize to you, for the maltreatment and the lack of appreciation I’ve shown you throughout my life. You, we, have been chosen by the sun to absorb its light abundantly, and I have been running from this, from you, my entire life.
When I began to think of this letter, this apology, before I even sat down to write it, I grew depressed. My whole day was ruined, I was in a funk. A kind of funk I hadn’t seen in months. I knew that finding the right words, coming to terms with writing this letter, a long overdue apology to my dark skin, would mean standing in over three decades of pain, sadness, and anger. Remnants of insults that remain as I struggle to let them roll down my back, fury and stifled words of outrage still lining my throat.
The next morning, as I stood in my towel after a shower and brushed my teeth, I looked up and into the mirror. Something I almost never do. I looked at my face and then at you, glistening with droplets of water on my shoulders. “Melanin poppin’!” I thought to myself.
It felt absurd and it felt good. It felt good to honor you.
The exclamation of “Melanin poppin!” is something I’ve never really done. Something that I’ve mostly seen shouted from the rooftops by light-skinned Black women who have finally decided to come and sit at the table of Blackness, who have finally decided to accept what I have worn as a cloak of shame and invisibility and a simple fact of being all my days.
I am sorry that I’ve thought so little of you.
Perhaps it would have been easier to be proud of you if I’d had more visible examples of you in my formative years. I remember my father telling us, my mother and myself, “You just so damn BLACK,” as if it were a curse. He’d say this when we said or behaved in ways he did not like, whether it was me not sharing with my brothers or my mother ignoring his attempts to garner her attention.
I was always confused, though, about Black being used as a curse or insult by him, because we are the same complexion, my father and I. I didn’t get it, but I chalked it up to being a child in an adult’s world and maybe I’d figure it out when I got older.
Aside from my family, there was hardly any representation of Black women in my childhood world. I could identify all four Beatles, David Bowie, and even Janis Joplin, but couldn’t pick Nina Simone out of a lineup. There was Oprah Winfrey, but she was banned from our television for some reason I still do not know.
But Dad did have a few Grace Jones albums. I distinctly remember looking at her Nightclubbing album in awe. Her skin looked so black and so beautiful to little me that I began to think there might be hope for you and I. That someday, I might be able to love you and, even more, be able to defend and protect you from all of the people and all of the things that would try to convince me that you were unworthy of love and safety.
Perhaps, like many other maladjusted Black people, I avoided many of the things that would have affirmed my Blackness. I’m sorry for that. Even when I went natural in 2005, it was not in effort to resist whiteness intentionally, it was because my hair was tired and breaking, and I wanted to finally know what it meant to have healthy and happy hair. When I got locs for the first time in 2007, a lot of people took it as a statement of affirming my Black identity. But again, I was really just looking for happy hair, and I was tired from detangling this 4C crown.
I think what has happened, throughout my whole life, is that my Blackness has been ascribed to me, because of you, but I have not fully stepped into and celebrated that Blackness, because of you. I have disassociated from you and I can keep apologizing, but I am not sure that this apology is enough.
In the last few years, I’ve been able to find Black woman heroes that I desperately wish I’d had as a child. Nina Simone, Assata Shakur, Fannie Lou Hamer, Shirley Chisholm, Marsha P. Johnson, Octavia Butler. I imagine who I could have been if these women’s photos were hanging in my childhood bedroom. If as a teenager, I was knocking back Octavia Butler novels and singing Mississippi Goddam instead of reading Christopher Pike vampire books and plastering Backstreet Boys posters on my walls.
I eventually found my way to Black women. Ones who look like me and ones who don’t. Ones who affirm my Blackness and who feel blessed by your presence. Black women who are desperately calling me back to you, to stand tall in this glowing, sun-loved robe. Black women who see our beauty and call me over and over again to see it too.
This skin is armor.
Battle suit for a war I never asked to fight.
Yes, it can be pierced.
The scars you cannot see but I promise
I am bleeding and
Deeply, sometimes critically wounded inside.
This skin is a business suit.
Not power red and crisp, white collar but
People cower to me
Flinch when I clear my throat.
Walk in eggshells like I’m unreasonable.
Fear is not respect.
This skin is a divine robe.
I challenge spaces
This suit is armor and I cannot remove it.
It is heavy, glorious, and mine.
This world will not bend on its own to make space for me. I take on a quote from the illustrious Audre Lorde and proclaim, “Caring for [and loving] myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” I am working to reclaim power that is my birthright and space that is due to me, and heal generations of my mother’s family line, full of Black women who navigated this society in this same kind of dark skin.
“My skin is black.
My arms are long.
My hair is woolly.
My back is strong.
Strong enough to take the pain
Inflicted again and again.”
The opening lyrics to Nina Simone’s “Four Women”. My name is not Aunt Sarah, like the woman she sings of in the song, but this song is still about me, about us.
My entire life, I’ve been shrinking and hiding in this skin. But as I get older, I realize that this is the skin of my mother, of her mother, and of hers. My great grandmother. Skin the color of moist soil
Reminiscent of the days, weeks, years spent in the Carolina sun, working their bodies into the ground, only for the chance to come back and do it again tomorrow… For the chance to stay around long enough so that I might one day be born.
Thank you for keeping me, and holding me, since the day we were born, together a Lovechild of the Sun. I am working so hard to find my way to you, to celebrate you, to love you fully in all the ways you deserve, that we deserve, and I’m sorry it took me so long.
Asia Renée is a native Philadelphian. This mom of two is a lactation counselor with deep interest in reproductive justice and dismantling white supremacy and patriarchy. She is a poet and co-founder of Brown Girls Out Loud, a website dedicated to the celebration and empowerment of Black and Brown women and girls.