This is My Skin

In honor of the 29th and final day of Black History Month, we wanted to share a poem by a young woman, Jordan, from one of our local churches. Her words are brave and true. Challenging and beautiful. 

 

This/My Skin

“My skin is yellow
My hair is long
Between two worlds
I do belong
But my father was rich and white
He forced my mother late one night
And what do they call me?
My name is Saffronia” –Nina Simone, “Four Women”

This skin, my skin
this toasted honey in between
yellow light-skinned once taboo,
scorned both by sun and shade
This skin has been skin before—
clothing generations of children unclaimed
as white master took property concubine
Left her battered, with child, and most often alone
to break her back in the fields
with her babies by her side
And maybe if they were lucky
they could steal away and be light enough to pass
for something worthy enough of reading lessons
If they were lucky

This skin, my skin is hushed over history
torn out pages crumpled and eaten
swallowed in shame
painted over pretty
But their story is not my own
No, my tone was forged by love
refined by forgiveness
applauded or degraded by passerby
Black father, white mother, 1990, still married
Made my grandad squirm uneasy—
not that he disliked his daughter-in-law
but he grew up in Mississippi in the 1930s
and had seen some strange fruit in his time,
broken weathered wind chimes swinging, swaying
whistling their somber warning:
It only matters what they say they saw
He survived in suspicion, resided in fear

But this skin, my skin, this new commonplace
so much growth they rewrote the census
just to include us inbetweens
This toasted honey yellow lightness is being redeemed
I am my father’s eyes, his vinyl records, his quiet confidence
skipping on turntables
needled in groove
I am my mother’s resolve,
her milky hands
rolling out crust for her first sweet potato pie
despite my aunties’ unconfident side eye
I am bridge. I am unity. I am glimpse of Kingdom near.
This skin, my skin, is reconciliation song
So let it be sung
in congregation divided
Invite me in
Learn my lyric
Allow me to make you uncomfortable
as you join hands and realize
you are not as together as you think you are
Have you asked me what my name is?
Have you learned my legacy?
Will you, can you
set down what guilt or fear or pride
is keeping you from
truly knowing me?

I have been called many things:
both level-headed and angry
articulate and sass-mouthed
Oreo and ghetto
not like the others and
you’re all the same
But this skin

My skin is black gold
My hair cannot be tamed
My parents taught me how to love me
So I refuse to stand ashamed
I beckon you, commune with my people
In your homes, under your steeple
And what should you call me?
My name is Connection
My name is Connection

 

Jordan Steele is a part-time poet and full-time graduate student in the clinical mental health counseling program at ASU.

Her poem was originally posted of Redemption Tempe's blog