I have twin boys who are almost 30 years old now. But when they were very young, I was sitting with both of them in the predominantly white environment of my home in West Virginia talking about things fathers discuss with their sons. I shared with one of my sons, that when I was his age my skin tone was very much like his, very light. In a matter of fact way, I mentioned that as I got older, my skin darkened and changed to become much more like his brother’s skin, which was darker.
My son, whose skin tone was lighter, began to cry profusely. I was befuddled by his reaction, but when your 7-year-old is crying without a reason and you love him, you investigate it immediately! So I asked him why he was crying. He blurted out, “I don’t want to get blacker, Daddy!” He looked at me in total anguish and said something that left me astounded. He said, “Because if you are black they hate you more.” He cried so hard that I took him in my arms so that he couldn’t see that I too was shedding a tear or two, myself. I was hurt for both of my sons, and I was hurt with them.
People wonder why so many Black writers focused on creating a sense of self-love from within the Black people. Shouldn't we encourage them not to think about race? But when even seven-year-olds are terrified by the thought that they might become Blacker, it is clear that the need to reclaim Blackness from the scourge of racist hatred is a moral imperative. Jakes' essay is a fantastic defense of that argument.
A Black Power writer once remarked that (I'm paraphrasing from memory here) "we were taught to love Whitey before we learned to love ourselves, and that ain't good." Love for all of humankind is important. But when you've been beaten down, denigrated, abused, and told to be worthless your entire life, learning to love yourself might be even more so.