“Don’t play in the sun. You’re going to have to get a light-skinned husband for the sake of your children as it is.”
In these words from her mother, novelist and memoirist Marita Golden learned as a girl that she was the wrong color. Her mother had absorbed “colorism” without thinking about it. But, as Golden shows in this provocative book, biases based on skin color persist–and so do their long-lasting repercussions.
Golden recalls deciding against a distinguished black university because she didn’t want to worry about whether she was light enough to be homecoming queen. A male friend bitterly remembers that he was teased about his girlfriend because she was too dark for him. Even now, when she attends a party full of accomplished black men and their wives, Golden wonders why those wives are all nearly white. From Halle Berry to Michael Jackson, from Nigeria to Cuba, from what she sees in the mirror to what she notices about the Grammys, Golden exposes the many facets of "colorism" and their effect on American culture. Part memoir, part cultural history, and part analysis, Don't Play in the Sun also dramatizes one accomplished black woman's inner journey from self-loathing to self-acceptance and pride.
Golden paints an intimate self-portrait of her life as a dark-complexioned black woman and invites readers to take a behind-the-scenes look at the twisted and emotionally charged path of color-based discrimination that began when she was warned not to play in the sun. She succinctly details how the "light is right, black get back" mentality has permeated the African diaspora, its invasion of black institutions and how it sits just below the radar in Hollywood, athletics, news coverage and music videos. She includes stories from dozens of friends, acquaintances and experts, which as a whole suggest that blacks the world over may have been traumatized as much by colorism as they have by racism and colonialism. And with the grace of being faithful to one's own experience, Golden firmly plants her audience in her controversial dark skin. During a fifth-grade square dance, a popular young white boy rejects her black hand in disgust. At 19, in the wake of the black consciousness movement, Golden checks her face and Afro in the mirror and for the first time, "weeping with appreciation," "loves" what she sees and goes on to form her own prejudices (since worked-through) against the lighter-skinned. Erudite, self-aware and thorough, Golden makes a knowing guide to thorny psychosocial territory.