Guest Story by Francie
We called it ‘ring around the collar’: At college parties, it was that moment when you could clearly see black men with light-skinned black women dancing in the middle of the room, and dark women, like me, left to form a ring along the edges of the wall. Naturally, we joked about it. We trivialized it. We looked down on the boys who fueled it. But as stark as that color line was, we rarely talked about how much it hurt.
I never talked about how that ring in the room brought back memories: memories of Duck, Duck Goose, the circle game I never wanted to play at my all-white nursery school. It wasn’t so much the feeling I got from that game, but the lack of feeling — when boys and girls would pat each other’s heads, then pause and hover over mine, not wanting to lay their hands on that woolly, unfamiliar texture.
There was also the memory of shade under trees, and the strong suggestion by my grandmother in Haiti that, with all that island heat, and the sun’s power to make me even darker, I should really stay under cover. I remember those visits vividly. I don’t condone her thinking, of course, but all these years later, I can understand it: Light-skinned herself, and knowing all the advantages it had given her, my grandmother wanted to give me just that little bit of color edge. She wasn’t trying to turn me inside out, turn me against myself. Even though that is exactly what happened.
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