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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