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Cocoa Hue, from me to you...

Updated: Nov 26, 2023

Being totally transparent, I am a man who’s often struggled with my self-esteem with regards to my appearance more times that I would like to admit. More specifically, I’d like to think that the root of my issues had centered around my interpretation of society’s preconceived notions regarding the color and tone of my skin. Furthermore, I also feel that subconsciously, my anxiety had manifested itself in my inability to perceive how it affected the manner in which I saw myself and how this self-loathing of my skin also affected how I interacted with the world around me. Being a darker skinned African-American male, I am no stranger to the barrage of micro and overt aggressions that I’ve had the unfortunate opportunity of experiencing more often than not based on the color of my skin. While I have absolutely no control over how the world reacts to me as a black male in America and abroad, I believe that I do have the power to control the world within me and the journey to acceptance continues silently within my thoughts and feelings. In and outside of the black community, there has historically been a stigma surrounding the politics of our skin and it has taken decades for us to finally have the conversation about it in the public sphere while analyzing the effects of colorism across our community. You can be black, but you can’t be “too black”. I’d often hear this in conversation with people and it wouldn’t often be stated verbatim, but in the way that people would react when speaking about it. I know that I was not always the darkest person in the room, but those types of interactions would always stick with me and I found myself unable to shake it off. As an avid consumer of YouTube content, I find it mildly interesting that the community is starting to engage in conversation surrounding desirability and in challenging the widely accepted Eurocentric standard of beauty. Understanding that the metric for male beauty is a sliding metric at best, there is one thing never changes and it is the simple fact that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. It seemed to be that for the majority of my life and from my vantage point, what many saw as the standard of beauty did not lie within me. I was not a tall, olive or light complected person with light eyes, but my father was.

Regarding my background, I grew up between rural communities located in the southernmost portions of Mississippi and Alabama, in which my mother and father was born and raised across both state lines. My father was a very tall, light skinned man of mixed heritage and an athletic build. A man whose athletic and intellectual prowess was celebrated everywhere he went. My mother was the opposite. She was a small dark-skinned woman whose spiritual faith and determination seemed to make her all but invincible in my eyes. After my parents split and I remained with my mother, my relationship with my father grew strained but never broken. As a young boy, I often wondered how I ended up with a father like him as he was everything that I thought I was not (at that time). He was gifted athletically and I was not. He was physically a very striking man, and I was not. He was light, and I was not. As I grew older, quite a few interactions with people across various walks of life solidified my growing inadequacy regarding my appearance that was further emphasized due to my own issues with how I saw myself and my relationship with my father. For full disclosure, my mother remained a fountain of love throughout my youth and my father embraced me as his son (because I am his son) without a shadow of a doubt. Despite the differences between my father and I, he always remained a beacon of light regarding my own intellectual ventures and I sincerely thank him for instilling that within me.

I am old enough now to know that we have to learn how to maintain an awareness of our true selves so that we don’t allow ourselves to be swain by others’ view of us. It’s not just our appearance that makes us desirable, but a confidence that radiates from within. A confidence that I refused to allow myself access to until recently. At the dawn of the social media age, I found myself really struggling to maintain a healthy self-image. Through the emergence of social media, I’d like to think that it became a platform for me to take control of how I show up in the world while also becoming a method to connect with people across vast distances, bridging the gap and facilitating discussion on a myriad of topics. Social media became a great way for me to present myself to the world in the manner that I’d prefer. Unwittingly, it became the very mechanism that highlighted the very insecurities that I’d often tried to cover up. All it took was one good stroll down memory lane for me to understand this wholeheartedly. Too many times did I find images that I had posted of myself with unflattering filters that presented my skin tone in many shades lighter than I actually am in real life. Too many times would I mull over posting a photo or video because of a growing anxiety of how dark I appeared. The feeling of needing to alter the lighting of a photo to affect my appearance grew with each double tap of the image. Never in my life have I ever thought of enacting drastic changes such as plastic surgery to change my appearance, but if I had the resources, would I still feel the same?

As I had finally become more, “woke”, I grew to understand how my insecurity manifested itself in how I presented myself over social media. I had seemed to exacerbate underlying feelings of anxiety due to how I had perceived myself and what I actually saw in the mirror. Little did I know, I was a victim of what many black people experience in America every day. Somehow, I found myself in a virtual space where validation from strangers influenced how I saw myself and I would find that I unwittingly allowed complete strangers to influence how I saw myself. As my posts gained more likes, so did my confidence and when they didn’t, I would feel the crushing weight of my “self-diagnosed anxiety”. If social media was the door to where the access to my self-esteem lied, those filters were the key. Sometimes, I’d think about deleting all of those old images and starting over with a renewed image but I’ve come to accept them as a part of my journey to full acceptance. I mean, what are scars if not proof of something that you survived that may have caused you pain? It was through a close group of family and friends, in and out of my community, that taught me how to embrace the skin that I am in, because it is mine and there is beauty in that. It took those same people to help me understand that I am not merely my skin but as the singer India Arie once said, “I am the soul that lives within”.

While the road to acceptance for me is still ongoing, I’ve come to understand that the same road is paved by the history and heritage of my people. OUR dark skin served as protection from the burning sun. It is symbolic and handed down from many of those same people that sacrificed and fought through unimaginable odds for their children to survive in a world that did not readily embrace them. It remains proof of how a people can survive unspeakable horrors and still find the space to create beautiful music to move a nation and speak to its soul. To create delectable meals out of scraps once served to slaves. To remain at the forefront of ingenuity and change across this great nation and there is power in that. We now live in a time where the terms, “Black Girl Magic” and “Black Boy Joy” flood the social media sphere in an attempt to rewrite some of the narratives perpetrated against Black people across our society and as an effort to reclaim our self-worth from those who would mean to diminish our experience. We also now live in a time where our melanin is “popping” and man it pops SEVERELY. Seeing posts and whole pages on social media where people highlight the beauty in all shades of blackness as it actively presents itself all over the world, is so refreshing to see and I welcome it with open arms.

It is through many of these narratives, social media pages, and powerful bonds that I’m finding true acceptance in the melanin that was gifted to me by my mother whose chocolate skin tone matches my very own. In this year and moving forward, I am resolving to use less filters on my social media platform and in my photos, not just for the aesthetic of it all, but as a way to align how I see myself with how I want to present my image to the world. As a confident individual at home in my skin, no matter the tone or shade.

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