Having dark skin has always been somewhat problematic. Not necessarily for me, but certainly for the people in my life. When I was a young child I recall family members teasing my brother about his deep complexion, so I knew from an early age that being labeled as having dark skin meant that something was terribly wrong. As the years went on my complexion grew even darker, much to the dismay of my aunts who insisted that my dark skin had developed due to my failure to properly wash my face. They presented me with bleaching creams to correct the problem.
By the time I hit high school I was still wrestling with my dark skin, often wondering why black people would routinely use it to describe me. I thought I was perfectly normal, and I just couldn’t understand how my skin color often placed me on the outside looking in. Of course all of fair-skinned girlfriends managed to keep a steady stream of boyfriends, while I would look on, feeling trapped in my own blackness.
When college rolled around, “chocolate” became the preferred word used to describe my skin color. At first I dismissed the reference as something men would say to be flirtatious, but soon I began hearing even women use the term. I’d even hear grandmothers use the word to describe their grandchildren, often preemptively using the description before producing a picture of the child. While I can appreciate that “chocolate” is meant to be complimentary, it has never felt like a compliment to me. When men use the term I feel completely sexualized, and when I was dating it was a deal breaker.
Whenever I hear “chocolate” used as an adjective to describe someone’s complexion I’m both frustrated and puzzled. Why is skin color, particularly complexion, still so front and center? Why must dark skin be attributed to food in order for it to be acceptable? Why must we feel so greatly the stigma attached to dark skin that we use gentler synonyms to make it easier to swallow. Why is dark skin so hard to swallow?
History tells us that complexion was used to divide us, with the majority drilling into us the belief that the more European our features, the more beautiful we are. Since then we have publicly declared, “Black is Beautiful,” the hashtag #melanin is always trending on social media platforms, and when we see celebrities like Cicely Tyson, we proudly declare “Black don’t crack.” So if we can reclaim our blackness, we must also be willing to reclaim our dark skin and stop using other words to describe it. I am not now, nor have I ever been, a piece of chocolate.