It is my first day at school.
The other kids don’t like me. They say I’m stupid. They say I’m weird. The only person who talks to me is Fozzia. She’s my friend. We trade lunches while we sit on the swings. She is my best friend. Her skin is darker than mine, but it doesn’t matter to me because she is my friend.
It is my first time in England.
At the border agency in the airport they ask me to fill in a form. Tick the box for ethnicity. Black African, Black American, Black Other. White American, White Australian, White European White other. Asian.
Most application forms are exactly the same.
Some say, African, mixed race and Caucasian. But none ever apply to me. White other. I tick the box and specify “White South African.”
Why does it matter what the shade of my skin is? I am not white, I am not black, I am not Asian or Australian.
My skin is darker than my mother’s and my brother’s but is lighter than my father’s and yet we are all called “White?”
When my mother or brother go out into the sun they burn and their skin goes bright pink and then for days after their skin flakes and peels away and throbs. If I or my dad go outside when the sun is hot, we tan. We get browner and browner whilst our hair gets blonder and blonder until platinum streaks my mouse brown hair. Are we white?
I have friends whose skin is dark, dark like ebony or very expensive chocolate but their skin is not black. Not black like the midnight of a starless night, not black like the artificial dye put into clothes. They simply have dark skin. I have friends whose skin is like rich honey and yet they are told that they are black.
The black ink on the application forms on the stark white paper screams at us that we must fit into a box. Tick what you are! Well I am “White”. I am South African. I live in England. I have an Australian visa. If I move now to Australia I can in a few years be Australian, if I stay here in England I will be English in a year. I produce enough melanin that my skin does not burn in the sun but not enough that the tan remains. My eyes are green, neither blue nor brown. I do not fit inside your printed boxes. I am me, and that is all I can be.
“Tick where you come from”
“Tick where you were raised”
“Tick where you come from originally”
“Where is your home? Where are you from? WHERE ARE YOU FROM?”
EARTH! I AM FROM PLANET EARTH!!!!!! It was here that I was grown and here is my home, and yet it is here that I feel most alone because I am not the right shade for you. Because I don’t fit into your little boxes.
They say that the cradle of human kind is in Africa, and yet if we are all from Africa then why am I not allowed to say that that is where I was originally from. So once upon a time some people stayed in Africa whilst others went to Europe and as they were separated their features became more and more defined. And now I have a sharp pointed nose and freckles and green eyes and blond hair but I come from Africa, because once upon a time the people who went to Europe went back to Africa. And some of the people who went back believed themselves to be better people because their skin was lighter. And those people were wrong. Because despite our different features, the same blood that runs through my veins runs through yours. Our bones and our anatomy are exactly the same, the only difference between us is the shade of our skins. If we both walked through a fire now, our skins would scar to a red-pink. If we were to survive the flames together then no one would be able to differentiate between us because we would both be vulnerable naked flesh clinging to life and bone. Because that is all we are, all we are, all we ever have been and all we ever will be is human. The colours of our skins melt and shift and change. As we grow old, our hair falls out and our eyes mist over with cataracts and our weary bones creak and tire like old, ungreased machinery and yet we are all the same. And as we reach our final days we will look back and see our weathered skin puckered and wrinkled from years of expressing vile prejudices about things that go no deeper than our skin.
When we are laid to rest, our bodies will be gnawed at by the same maggots and worms. The cartilage that shapes my nose to a point will fade and disintegrate and if my tombstone wears away to humble black stone, our yellowing bones will be like twins. So no, I don’t not hate you because of your skin. I don’t hate anyone because to me hate is pointless, to me hate doesn’t exist. Hate is simply a word that we have made up to express a pain caused by something that we don’t understand. But I do understand, you are my brother, whatever your skin, whatever your religion or belief, you are my family and we are family. We are but simple differentiations of the same substance. Human.