I Am Not Leaving You
I saw a pic of Mo’Nique following her in studio interview with HOT 97 and did a double take. Over the last three years, the Academy Award winning actress has lost an impressive 82 lbs through diet and exercise. Having shed 103lbs of my own using the same conventional methods, I understood the smile on Mo’Nique’s face, recognized the pride in her stance and the relief in her eyes. She was saving her own life.
I Instagram’d the picture and within minutes hundreds of you shared in my joy for her, reposting, tweeting and liking the flick. The general consensus was the comedienne had done good.
Then there were the few of you whom felt differently. The complaints ranged from, ‘she looked better fat’, ‘and now her head is too big ‘to’ now she won’t be funny anymore.’ But I think the most telling criticism – the most popular one – was ‘what happened to representing for the big girls?’
I bring this up for a reason…
Last night, episode 7 of The Gossip Game began with a scene between K Foxx and myself at ooVoo. I’d seen her interview with the beautiful Brittany Sky, the lead from Kendrick’s ‘Poetic Justice’ video and posed a question that unfortunately didn’t make it into the episode: Don’t you feel that ‘colorism’ in any form (light over dark or dark over light) is wrong?
It was that question that began the exchange that was aired. K Foxx felt passionately that the mass mistreatment of darker African-Americans (particularly women) warranted some recompense and was puzzled why I didn’t feel the same. She was sure I’d experienced some of the same color-biased disrespect that she’s encountered over the years.
But I haven’t. On my best days my skin is a glowy pecan, on the average day I’m more the color of a Popeye’s chicken breast. My skin sits between two shades of most foundations (this told to me repeatedly by accomplished make-up artists). I choose the darker so that even when I sweat, I won’t look ashy. I don’t consider myself dark skin or light skin. I’m fully aware that the color-bias does exist both ways, and it angers me but I’ve never experienced it first hand. I’ve always simply fallen in the middle. I’m brown. I’m never included in the discussion. And I’ve never really been told that I’m ‘dark skin’…Until K Foxx.
By this afternoon hundreds of viewers had made a point to tweet/Instagram/FB message me. The comments ranged from, ‘how could you be ashamed of your dark skin?’ to ‘girl you are not lightskin’ to my personal favorite, ‘You’re darkskin, if this were slavery you’d be in the field with the rest of us.’
Finally, I put it all together. Let’s go back to Mo’Nique.
The boisterous funny gal built a career off of being larger than life. She had entire routines based on the idea that ‘skinny bitches are evil’ and boldly declared that P.H.A.T. should be embraced because it meant ‘Pretty Hot And Tempting’. But this was 82lbs ago.
At my highest weight, I’d traveled to New York from LA and was out with my friend Jai, who had just lost over 70lbs of his own. I remember struggling to keep up as we roamed the village, I can still recall the contempt I felt when he ordered a grilled chicken breast and salad for lunch while I indulged in a burger and fries. Jai scared me. He represented what I couldn’t see for myself.
I understood the hate against Mo’Nique, a great deal of which came from those who appeared to be struggling with their own weight. Where her loss should’ve inspired, for some it shown a light on how far they themselves had to go to get there. They felt abandoned. Even though Mo’Nique had done what was (rightfully) best for her, she’d carried the torch proudly for so long that her fellow P.H.A.T. Girls felt she’d left them, alone and unrepresented.
As I sat still and made myself look through the profiles of many of you that took the time to let me know your thoughts on my complexion, the pattern I noticed was unmistakable. Very few of you were of a lighter skin tone. A great majority of those who contacted me boasted things like #TeamDarkSkin and ‘Chocolate Queen’ in your bios. And now I understand.
I appreciate the love I’ve received over the last two months from those happy for my inclusion on the show and proud that I’ve kept my focus and composure. I understand how my network and others have actively mishandled our image so I came into this show resolved that I would be true to who I am and represent my culture.
I am a Black woman. It’s one of my favorite things about myself. And no one or nothing could ever make me anything but proud of that.
Many of you felt that by me saying I wasn’t dark skin, I was somehow rejecting you. You thought I was leaving a team that I actually never even played for.
I refuse to help divide us. Light skin, dark skin or in between, we’re still being hunted every single day by poverty, educational bias, poor health habits, law enforcement and so many other things that I will be damned if I continue a discussion started by slave owners so they could place a dollar amount on our heads. Miss me with all of it. If you need me to identify with a particular skin tone in order to relate to me, then you were never going to relate to me anyway. We’re all Black. I understand the pain of color-bias and will gladly champion discussions on how to stop it. What I won’t do is allow anyone to push me into a corner and saddle me with his or her own hypersensitivity. This is not a game I’m going to play and I encourage you to stop playing it as well. What we give power to, will control us.
I am not #TeamDarkSkin, just as I am not #TeamLightSkin. I’m not even #TeamBrown. I’m #TEAMBLACK. And know that I am not now – nor am I ever – leaving you.
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By Paulo Coelho