I was 10 years old when I first became aware of what my skin meant to the rest of the world.
Being the child of a Black mother, who immigrated to Canada from Jamaica, and a white father, who spent much of his early life in Montreal, I was always two things; at the cross-section between two worlds, but blissfully unaware of that fact.
But with time and age came the comments, the looks, those subtle glances that you only begin noticing after you get a little more jaded about the way the world sees your skin.
I’d receive compliments that were always half-baked. They’d tell me how fortunate I was that I was so light. That my curls were so loose. That I wasn’t too black. But they didn’t realize that my definition of beauty was not the same as theirs. My mother’s dark skin, my grandmother’s broad nose, my family – the people they were complimenting me for not looking like – were in my blood, in my culture, and in my definition of beautiful.
Those compliments always felt more like a knife than a hug. I’d smile and thank them and wonder why it was good to not look like half of who I was.
I have a birthmark on my stomach. It’s large and broad, and about three shades darker than the rest of my skin. “It looks like poorly mixed paint,” they’d say, “you should really get that checked out” and “the black genes are finally coming through.” I’d crouch, and hide, and shy away from any instance where I had to show that part of my skin.
I was thirteen when I was first asked if I was adopted. My skin was lighter than those of my brothers and my features resembled my white fathers’. Adopted…that was a common thread throughout my adolescence. Adopted. Because of a matter of a few shades.
Small moments like these made up a larger picture of how my community viewed difference. I came from a largely white school, largely white sports teams, largely white neighbourhoods. It illustrated to me the challenges that my mother, my cousins, my uncles, and my aunts faced every day.
I learned that humour was a great defence mechanism and often said the things people used to say before they’d have a chance. It didn’t hurt as much when it came from my mouth.
I don’t do that anymore.
These days, more than anything, I’ve learned to love the half of me that I was praised for not looking like. I learned to vocalize how much beauty I see in my heritage, in my culture, and in my people. I learned that these moments are opportunities for education and that I should never internalize their fear of difference.
Mostly, I learned that I didn’t need to claim one part of me, more than the other. I am half white, but I am also half Black. And I am proud of that fact. I’ve found comfort in being “half-enough.”