Momma, I wanna be light-skinned, is a phrase that some of us in the Black community have heard, thought, or regrettably muttered. It is also the title of Rhonda Bennett’s new book which recounts her experiences growing up in the harsh realities of colorism in Alabama.
Thriving as a dark skinned woman of color in the South can (and often does) present a unique set of racial and social challenges. Colorism functions as a branch of racism in that it affects the victimized community from within. Many of us begin our journeys loving the deeply melinated beautiful skin we’re in until our self-worth is obliterated by a thoughtless throwaway comment. Commonly, that comment is made by a person, friend, or relative who is every bit of dark skinned as we are (or at least brown skinned). Bennett delves into the heart of her struggle as a young brown skinned girl by unveiling several instances of discrimination, and her triumphant journey to self-acceptance.
This fast-paced autobiography is filled with stories that will shock some but are hauntingly familiar to a lot of us. The author reveals how her mother once expressed concern for her daughter’s fondness of outdoor activities. Normally one would assume that her concern was driven by environmental factors like poison ivy, wasps, or a host or other legitimate issues. But it was her daughter’s darkening complexion that worried her.
“Rhonda’s getting darker from being in the sun” she said.
Bennett wasn’t immune to the common name-calling: “tar baby” and “ashes” were among the popular insults of choice. But as hurtful and upsetting as those names were, nothing compared to the painful sting of her grandmother’s lasting words one day: “I need you to marry someone white or high yella if you want your children to have a chance in this world.” It was in that moment that her grandmother’s unsolicited advice aroused a sense of betrayal and anger, something the young woman carried over into adulthood.
The inspiration of this tale comes in the form of the author’s admirable tenacity. Not one to give up without a good fight, she finds her voice (figuratively and literally) through her gift of singing. She also discovers her love for competing and winning pageants. By the way, this fabulous beauty won Ebony magazine’s HBCU Campus Queen title in the late 90’s. Of this occasion she recalls her moment of success, “Oh what a feeling! The culmination of years living beneath who I could be, were over. I no longer looked in the mirror with disapproving eyes. I was finally free.”
Her journey continues to evolve as she rediscovers her spiritual roots and learns to let go of superficial validation altogether. What I love about this book is that it encompasses more than colorism and race. The author wants the reader to embrace her individuality and uniqueness by taking ownership of her obstacles and pressing forward regardless. Bennett even leaves a few blank pages after the story for the reader to begin handwriting his or her own chapter. If you are in need of an uplifting read, this book will not disappoint, I promise.