epi_shares: Black in the Sun

by epi

A bit of creative writing about being a black girl on spring break from my senior year of college.  I was 21.  I’m 23 now.  It still rings true.

Black in the Sun
I never doubted myself until you did. Or was it when I was judged so heartlessly by my own image reflected in your eyes?

They spent a week lying prostrate on the beach: Arms and legs spread wide, bodies tilted just so, begging the sun to touch them. They wanted the world to know that they’d been there, that they could afford to fritter away a week, and hundreds, maybe thousands of dollars. That they, if only for a week, were able to escape the cold, the acres of brown grass, and those achingly empty tree branches that mark a season that is much too long and much too miserable.

Even the black girl was out. Doesn’t she know she’s already black? Her fellow beach-ites stare at her as she saunters past… and it is a saunter. She puts an extra switch in her hips for every averted pair of eyes she sees. Men stare at her hungrily, and she stares back.  They carry fantasies of that one exotic fling, the one affair that doesn’t count, because she’s black and they’re white and besides, everyone knows that black women are only good for… So yeah, she stares back. But she knows she’s just a curiosity and the look in her eyes is far from flirtatious (determined perhaps, maybe pitying, possibly disgusted, but never flirtatious). Some though–misinterpreting her gaze– approach her with some inane question that she never (ever) answers. Their (angry? dejected? lustful?) stares follow her as she takes her place in the sun.

She bares her skin unashamedly, as if she’d never known their stares (or perhaps, as if she knows them all too well) and begins to order the sun. “TOUCH ME!!”, she commands. She wants to be browner. “Brown is beautiful, and browner is better.” She says this laughing, head thrown back, sure that the only truth she needs to know is that “color doesn’t matter”. It does, but carefree and ignorant children rule this world. And doesn’t she know that browner doesn’t exist? That there is black and there is white, and lately there is brown, but browner cannot exist–it’s black.

But she’s insisting that the sun make her darker, make her browner. “NOW! she yells. What does she expect to get from this (except burned)? The sun asks no questions though, and philandering rogue that he is, receives anyone. So he gives it to her. Pounds down on her in fact, blackening her “browned” skin. And she doesn’t know. But she will.

This beach thing, this “tanning”, it’s nothing but rebellion. She sweats and burns beneath a sun she’s spent her entire life hiding from. She’s decided that she’s tired of being afraid of something whose only threat is that it can make her more of what (she thinks) she already is. So this week, day after day, she stares defiantly at the sun, positive that its beams holds no power over her.

She was wrong. She knows it now. Discovered her error when she glanced in a mirror. She gasped, “When did I get so dirty”. And then, “No, not dirty, black”. Followed by a whisper so soft, it may just have been a booming thought: “Well, what’s the difference anyway?” She knows it all now. She understands that though the difference between brown and black might only be a shade, it’s everything. “What now?”, she wonders quietly, unable to meet her own eyes.

It’s funny. That little girl was always screaming out her color, reminding people of it everywhere she turned. She scorned makeup (minus a little eye shadow to highlight her perfectly almond eyes), stating that her skin was enough. That black should be beautiful enough. Just like nappy should be straight enough. But, really, she doesn’t know she’s black. She. Doesn’t. Know. She’s. Black. Or, she didn’t. She knows now. And she’s a fool if she forgets (and she will).

Already she’s asking too many questions. “How is it”, she demands, “that I can be ‘too black’?” “Black is black, and brown is brown, without or without a tan”. But in the same breath, she wonders when her blackness will fade back to a comfortable brown. She wonders if she should avoid the sun. But only long enough (she says) to get her original color back. She wants to be beautifully brown again. To feel confident again. And then, she promises, she’ll challenge the sun once more. And one day, maybe, she really will be beautiful (she hopes). Brown will be brown no matter how dark it gets. And she’ll be able to gaze into a mirror after a tryst with the sun, and smile. And her reflection will smile back. “Yes”, she thinks, “soon I’ll be beautifully black, and beautifully brown”. She must’ve forgotten that she’ll always be black.

“But for right now”, she thinks, “I’m shunning the sun”. But maybe she hasn’t. Because that dark, dusty face she sees grimacing above the sink can’t be hers. She’s not black, she’s brown. She knows the difference now.