I wish I could speak to the young mixed girl in rural Delaware when she hated her knotted curls, brown eyes, and skin that was shades darker than her mother’s. She was still growing, expanding under the surface, a quiet force, impatient for her voice to break the silence. It’s easy to think that you’re suffocating when it’s too dark to see what’s holding you back. I wish I could pull her away from the TV before she began to think she needed to be blonde, white, and mean to be pretty. Because she obeyed those silent rules, and she was too embarrassed to question them because she was so far from that definition of perfection. When you hold such a strong belief at a young age it grows with you, pushes at the edges of your mind, and climbs the walls like ivy. It becomes a part of you, too burdensome to remove. I wish I could talk to her before she had let it grow for years. I wish I could have told her that she was not alone when she was surrounded by others that didn’t mirror any of her features. She was too young to know that true beauty pumped through her innocent heart, that everything she hated for making her different she would one day learn to love and claim as her own. She couldn’t see that her short hair allowed the sunlight to leave freckles on her face, that her big lips gave her a honeysuckle smile, that her ashy skin, coated in cocoa butter was a painting, mixed by her mother and father. I wish instead of envy and admiration she could see herself as equal to her kindergarten classmates. She wanted so badly to be just one race, mistaking appearance for identity. I wish I could stop her from wishing on dandelions that she could just be pretty and white. I wish she never had to wonder if she was black enough to have been a slave. Black enough to be like her father. Black enough to belong. Black enough. I wish that as she grew so fast in middle school that she got stretch marks on her legs she wouldn’t wish she was smaller, like a white clover hidden among other weeds. I wish that once she finally realized she didn’t need ivory skin, she could have been content. But she wasn’t. She wished she wasn’t too pale to be black, riding a wavelength of mistaken identity. I wish that her childhood wasn’t consumed with a philosophy most adults can’t comprehend. I wish that people would stop saying that children are too young to see race. Children have more time to be observant, to compare and contrast, to deduce what makes them different, and they are subconsciously taught that to be accepted they must abandon those qualities that set them apart in a crowd. She couldn’t shed her skin, so she found comfort in her Alicia Keys album and the books in which she could imagine the characters too look just like her.
I wish I could have stood beside her, but she was growing, and she couldn’t afford to be in anyone's shade, even if it meant she had to be burned by the sun. Her roots, her past, refused to let her abandon the person she would become. Once she stopped looking at others and into the mirror, when she could understand her ancestors, and felt seen by Maya Angelou she knew that she was black. When she smiled at her mother she knew that she was a part of her. And finally, that was enough. She emerged a sunflower.