My body is the sanctuary of my lineage,

the safe that holds an inheritance too great

for me to apologise it away,

for me to denounce the differences in my complexion

simply because of their colour.

Identity is encoded into my body

like needlepoint spots of every hue

weaving paintings from the shades of my bruises.

The pigments of my skin

fit the whole range of the spectrum,

yet somehow, I am only ever seen

as a dusky shade darker than white.

It began when prejudice crawled into

the cardboard corners of my crayon-box

and tried to make me understand

that I was less of a human being

simply because I didn’t fit

onto the lightest, brightest section

of the colour wheel.

I’ve met the cold, grey eyes

who believe in uncoloured sterility,

but my eyes are kaleidoscopes

with stained glass irises, seeing

that somewhere in their achromatic psyche,

they confused prejudice for purification

and bleached away their humanity.

I want to spill every colour from my body,

make them realise that the canvas of my skin

isn’t dark because there is dirt embedded in it;

it is dark because it is a fusion of every colour,

because it is a prismatic collection

of everything undefinable by a single shade.

I will not decolourise the parts of me

that are too bold to be monochromatic,

too complex to be folded into a label;

my skin is painted from a thousand points of colour,

like a picture made of pixels.

Don’t ascribe a hue to me

when you haven’t seen me living in rainbows,

and don’t understand how

there is no one colour to tint

the human spirit.

My skin has been painted

with the bruises of every ancestor

who fought to claim their colour.

Now I claim my own pallet:

I draw variegations onto my bones

with the raw spectrum of my crayon box,

finger-paint marbled streaks

into the ridges of my face,

tattoo onto my heart the pride I hold

for being arcipluvian.

This poem is an expression of what it means to be ‘coloured’. From the beginning of my life, I was taught how to be a coloured child; I was spoon-fed labels to remind me that my classification as a person was dictated by the shade of my skin, and it never ceased to amaze me that people could define themselves and define others with a single hue. I believe that as human beings, we are multi-coloured. It is those who seek to separate people into sections on the colour wheel who have a lesser understanding of humanity. As people, we are complex beings who I do not believe should be constrained by labels, especially when it comes to race and other significant factors such as religion and sexual orientation.

Our bodies and our personalities are uniquely important and are an expression of our heritage. I do not believe that anyone should ever have to be ashamed of who they are, and this poem explores how individuals should not have to tie back their multi-faceted selves with the restraints of labels. Especially regarding race-related prejudice, the main message of this poem is that skin colour cannot ever account for the entire complexity of humanity and that individuals should not have to be suppressed by those who are short-sighted enough to value one skin colour over another.


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