LUPITA, DARK CHOCOLATE WOMEN, AND COLORISM
KENNETH AND RAMIREZ TALK AMERICA(a fictional discussion)
Kenneth was sitting on the couch, his dark hands clasped together, feigning calm. Ramirez could see right through it, because he’d been roommates with him long enough to identify the change in his behavior.
“Yo,” Ramirez said as Kenneth pretended to be interested in some obscure, first-season show he was streaming from the Roku. “Is she coming over tonight?”
He looked at Ramirez, surprised. “Damn, you were actually listening to me?”
“You’re coming off nervous as fuck man, I could read it all over you. But yo, I got you. One second.” Ramirez disappeared into the kitchen. He came out with a full glass bottle of Vodka that he must’ve purchased and brought into the apartment at some point while Kenneth had been in his room, preparing things, just in case Ava decided to sleep with him. Unlikely, seeing how they hadn’t even had a previous date, but, better prepared than not. Ramirez was holding a couple of plastic cups. “I was going to give it a couple of hours before I started drinking but fuck it. I got this girl coming over tonight too.”
Kenneth frowned. “No, no, no. Wait a second, man. I’m supposed to have the place tonight.”
“Relax brother,” he said, setting the plastic cups down on the coffee table, untwisting the cap, and half filling each cup with Vodka. “My girl ain’t coming over until a couple hours after yours. You said seven thirty for yours, right?”
“Damn, you taking notes?”
“Aw, you know me, man,” Ramirez said, then downed his whole cup in a couple of gulps, ending with a mild grimace. “My memory’s razor sharp.”
“Yeah, she’s coming around seven thirty.”
“Well mine ain’t here until ten.”
Kenneth said nothing.
“Come on, drink that man,” Ramirez said, nodding toward the cup. “Ain’t your girl going to be here soon?”
“It’s only six-thirty, man. I got another half-hour.”
Ramirez laughed. “And you’re looking this nervous? Yeah, you really do need a drink.”
“I’m only doing this shit,” Kenneth said, picking up the drink, “because I do need something to relax.” He chugged the Vodka.
Ramirez raised his eyebrows. “Damn, didn’t actually expect you to drink it that fast, man.”
Kenneth felt himself relaxing a little, was thankful for the drink.
“Damn, she must be fine, man. If she got you acting like this.”
“I don’t even know how I pulled this off.”
Ramirez half-filled his cup with more Vodka. “What do you mean?”
“Nothing,” Kenneth said. “Just nothing.” Kenneth found his mind wandering to the coffee shop where he’d met the girl, replayed how he’d inquired about her age just to make sure he wasn’t about to flirt with a minor, and how she’d confirmed she was twenty, nine years his junior. For a split second he’d considered leaving it at that, worrying that this gorgeous, brown skinned girl was still too young for him. That no good could even come from the attempt to get a number or make any type of attempt at a future opportunity to get to know her. Then he just went for it, thinking fuck it.
“Nah, I’m good.” Kenneth said, waving the second drink off.
“Suit yourself,” Ramirez said and headed down the small hallway. A moment later Kenneth heard a door click.
He sighed. “Fuck,” he said, burying his face in his palms, his heart thumping unbearably fast in his chest.
He’d never been so nervous in his life.
As it turned out, she made it easier for him. She smelled very good, but it was also evident that she was no stranger to marijuana. The slightest hint of it wafted from her clothing when they hugged at the doorway. And she’d smoked enough to be noticeably high, which eased Kenneth’s tension considerably when he took note of this.
“Hi,” he said, surprised by the warmth of her hug, a hug that he’d melted into as easily as she’d seemed to melt into his. They parted enough to look at each other. For a second he considered sliding his fingers through her dark, shoulder-length hair, but resisted.
“Hi,” she said gleefully, almost as if she was on the verge of laughter. “Please tell me you have liquor.”
“Uh…as a matter of fact…”
Conversation came easy for the both of them. Kenneth had a feeling Ava just wanted to escape from whatever monotonous shit was going on in her day to day life. But Kenneth was grateful for it and quite grateful that she was high when she arrived. He could tell her guard was down because of it. Or…who knew? Maybe this was just a slightly enhanced version of how she would’ve been anyway.
Kenneth became so lost in the conversation that he almost forgot he had a roommate until there was a knock on the door. Up until that point Kenneth and Ava had had a horror movie on the TV that they’d barely been giving attention. It might’ve been the most recent Michael Myers movie. They’d, ironically, gotten into a conversation about the best horror movies thirty minutes after they’d put the movie on, and at that point the movie may as well have been nonexistent.
So when the knock came, despite being a little drunk, Kenneth jumped.
Ava barely noticed and said, “I’m telling you after US and the performance my Pisces sister Lupita N’yongo gave, Black people are going to end up having all the top grossing and critically acclaimed horror movies.”
“Love Lupita N’yongo,” Ramirez said, happening to catch the last bit of conversation as he stepped out the hallway and approached the front door to let in his date.
“Ava, Ramirez, Ramirez Ava,” Kenneth said, introducing Ramirez to Ava.
“Hi,” Ava said, giving a small wave that Ramirez reciprocated. Ava elbowed Kenneth gently in his side, said quietly, “Now if only the Lupitas of the world didn’t have to deal with this colorist crap, huh?”
“Yeah,” Kenneth said, not giving it much thought(though in a few moments, unbeknownst to him, he’d be forced to give it a lot of thought). “Sad, but Lupita’s been making huge strides so she deserves props.”
“Don’t tell me you’re one of those,” Ramirez said, stopping behind the couch Kenneth and Ava shared, his arm around a light-skinned Black girl that Kenneth had never seen before.
Based on the split second flicker of varying emotions that curved the dark skin of Ava’s face — surprise, confusion, and irritation — Kenneth knew instantly that she had not intended to have a debate on the subject, much less for Ramirez, a guy she didn’t know and one who was clearly not Black or even light-skinned, to comment.
Fuck, Kenneth thought. He’s piss drunk and high out his mind.
It was the only thing that would’ve given him the nuts to say such a thing to a Black woman he was unfamiliar with and potentially ignite a hostile back and forth.
Kenneth mimed cutting his throat, hoping Ramirez would notice the signal, shut the fuck up and disappear into the room.
Ava, who was a bit out of it herself, was amiable enough.
“You don’t agree colorism exists,” she asked softly, looking over her shoulder at him.
“I believe in racism, one hundred percent,” Ramirez said, barely resisting a slur, but this light and dark versus each other has always sounded like such a crock of bull to me.”
“And you’ve lived the life of a dark-skinned woman in America, have you?”
Ramirez hesitated, then said, “I’ve looked into a lot of this and light-skinned and dark-skinned women are in the same fight.
“You have some balls kid. I’ve personally experienced it. I — ”
“I’m just saying that our people — ”
“Our people?” Ava said.
“Minorities. I think we all have a problem with unnecessarily complicating things. I think colorism with Black people is one of the examples.” He looked to his date. “You agree with me, right?”
Ramirez’s date looked completely disinterested. Kenneth interjected before she could say anything.
“Colorism’s real Ramirez,” Kenneth said, feeling that with his words he could end this conversation quickly and send Ramirez on his way without having to tell him directly to fuck off. “Lighter skinned women have a certain privilege that darker skinned women in the community don’t have. For Christ’s sake, during slave times lighter skinned slaves were able to stay in the house, albeit, it wasn’t necessarily a wonderful experience with the abuse and rape but there’s a reason the slave masters let them stay inside. Yeah, racism is real. But this is a facet that exists within our race, especially with Black women.”
“Well, you just made my point for me,” Ramirez said. “What you said cancels it out. It doesn’t matter if light-skinned women were able to stay inside if that made them more accessible for abuse and rape.”
“Well you can get abused in or out of the house, Rahm,” Kenneth said, feeling himself getting frustrated, desperately wanting to end it, but not wanting to lose the argument as a Black man in front of two Black women — one of them his date — even though it put his night at risk. “But do you want to get abused and raped and sleep out with the animals and the bugs or abused and raped and sleep in the fuckin’ house.”
“More access means more time getting abused,” Ramirez shot back. “If you’re a light-skinned slave sleeping down the hall from the slave master, it’s easier for him to get up and rape you there then if you were out in the barn. Same with the physical abuse, as well.”
“Yeah, but whether that’s true or not, colorism today has to do with what goes on with preferential treatment of light skinned and dark-skinned people today. What you’re — ”
Ava put her hand on Kenneth’s, saying nothing, but managing to stop his speech long enough to reinsert herself into the conversation.
“We’re talking about present day, gentlemen. Present day, Rahm.” At this point her eyes were locked directly on Ramirez’s. “I grew up always second to any girl that was light-skinned, inside of my family, and out of it. I had aunts that wanted to do the hair of my lighter-skinned sister before they did mine. When it came to babysitting it was the same. I once had one aunt of mine — I was seven at the time — say that I was so beautiful, but that I was just a little too dark. That’s how she put it, a little too dark.”
Ramirez grumbled something.
“It doesn’t mean it’s the rule. That sounds like an exception within your family.”
“The media,” Ava exclaimed. “Movies, music videos. What are you talking about? It’s always been harder for darker-skinned women to get their just due in the industry. Who’s the biggest Black female artist, right now. Huh? I bet you she doesn’t have my skin tone.”
“If you’re talking about Beyonce or Rihanna being as big as they are it’s because they’re talented.”
“Have you heard Jennifer Hudson sing?”
“And you think she’s more talented?”
For the first time Ramirez managed to make Ava hesitate.
“Maybe not more than Beyonce but you can definitely debate her and Rihanna in terms of talent.”
“I haven’t seen much from Jennifer Hudson in terms of music,” Ramirez admitted. “But everything I’ve seen of hers has just been so boring. I don’t think — ”
“Have you heard of the paper bag test,” Ava said. “Have you heard of it, Ramirez?”
“What does a paper bag have to do with any — ”
“In the nineteenth and twentieth century employers used a paper bag test to decide if someone Black was too dark to work at a restaurant or other place of employment. If the applicant was as light or lighter than a paper bag they were hired. If they were darker they weren’t.”
“I thought this was supposed to be present d — ”
“Okay,” Ava said, getting up on her knees, fully turned around on the couch now. “Present day. How often have you seen a woman as dark as Lupita Nyong’o ranked as the most beautiful woman in the world on a magazine. I’ll wait.” She cupped her hand to one ear, waiting. “The fact that it happened with her alone was a miracle.”
“I’m sure there’s been others.”
“Then name one,” Ava said, her voice passionate but still holding onto a level of calm and control that Kenneth found impressive. “And Michelle Obama, you remember her, don’t you? You think if she was light-skinned there would’ve been all the questions about her being a man?”
Ramirez’s date was on her cell phone now. Kenneth wondered how long it would be before she decided she wanted to go home.
“People were going to say anything about any Black woman,” Ramirez answered, “no matter the skin complexion, because she was the first Black first lady.”
“You ever notice how in movies, shows, hell, most of the stuff Black, that most of the time a light-skinned girl is put out front as the love interest, while the dark-skinned girl is just seen as the side chick.”
“Okay, it sounds like you’re being nitpicky.”
“Are you serious!”
“Racism is real,” Ramirez declared. “But this colorism shit is fantasy. And I don’t have a problem saying it. It’s not a real struggle.”
“So I’m making it up?”
“Hey, Ramirez, drop it man,” Kenneth said. “This ain’t your department. You’re not a dark-skinned woman. You sound insane arguing with her. How would you know?”
“I just hear this crap all the time and I’m calling it out. I — ”
“God, I’m too drunk and high for this shit right now,” Ava said, putting both of her hands over her face. She removed her hands and put her attention back on Ramirez. “I’m not wasting my time with this. I don’t even know you! And you don’t know me!”
Ramirez swayed a little, the energy it took to argue and the sheer amount of liquor and weed he’d consumed apparently wearing him down.
“I don’t need to know you to know about colorism.”
“You don’t even fuckin’ know about colorism dude!” Ava screamed. “You didn’t have self-esteem issues due to being treated like an outsider in your family because you weren’t lighter skinned! You didn’t have to grow up noticing that damn near all the Black women being given any shine were lighter than you were! You didn’t have guys and family make cracks about how your skin complexion limited your beauty! You didn’t have lighter skinned friends who were talked about like queens while you were standing right there beside them but ignored like you didn’t exist! You never had issues getting a date because you had to worry about someone lighter stealing a potential date right from under you!”
“But — ”
“I’m done!” Ava interrupted, shot up to her feet, snatched her purse off the coffee table and stormed toward the front door.
“No wait!” Kenneth shouted, following close behind her.
He wasn’t able to catch her until she was out of the apartment.
The cool air hit his skin more intensely than he’d expected and he shivered a little.
“Wait,” he said, grabbing her arm.
She turned around, tears streaming down her dark cheeks. “I just need to go home, okay,” she said, snatching her arm away. “I think I smoked too much.”
“We weren’t even smoking.”
“I mean before I came over. Sometimes weed makes me weirdly emotional.”
“Don’t let him get to you,” Kenneth said, putting his hands gently on her shoulders. “Half the time he doesn’t even know what he’s — ”
“Just let me go home right now,” she said, turning toward a modest white car. She opened the door. “I just…I don’t know.” She slipped inside.
Kenneth wanted to say more to stop her, but the words, for whatever reason, were just not available to him at that moment. He watched her drive away, the red lights at the rear of her vehicle dwindling, and wondered if he’d ever see her again. If he tried to call her would she even answer?
I’m sorry this happened, he sent her in a text message. Then added, If it helps I thought the points you made were right.
Kenneth headed inside, expecting to see Ramirez standing by the couch with his girl, looking apologetic. But he’d gone into his room, the door shut. Kenneth could hear the hushed sounds of Ramirez and his girl having sex. It infuriated him.
But he was really drunk. There was so much more he wanted to do, so much more that needed to be said. Right now, however, the only thing that really seemed to matter was getting some sleep. Still enraged, Kenneth headed to bed.