I was looking out the window a moment ago and decided I’d go sit out on the patio for a few. It’s so nice and the weather is clear so, why not?
As I baked my skin in the sun, I’m reminded of something I was told a long, long time ago by a summer camp counselor.
When I was 7, my mother enrolled me in a local summer camp. Being so young and painfully shy, I was immediately attached to a particular counselor who was also attached to me. Most of the camp counselors were in high school which, to me, seemed like a million miles away and being the oldest child, I’d always wanted an older sister and I found it in my counselor.
She would let me dig through her purse and play in her hair and everything she said I followed. I sat next to her at lunch, on the bus and even when she was monitoring the class. I was her helper and she treated me extra special because we were ‘friends’.
At summer camp, every Friday was swim day and since my mom didn’t give permission for me to swim, I had to play with the sprinklers and in the shallow end and since she wasn’t a certified lifeguard, she had to sit with us.
So as I’m splashing in the water, she says to me, “keedy, come out the sun.” I went to her and asked why, she said, “you don’t want to play in the sun too long because you won’t be light anymore and you’ll be black as Joe Porter.”
Of course, I asked who Joe Porter was and she said, “somebody black and ugly from being in the sun all day. You don’t want to get too black.”
I had no clue why I didn’t want to get too black or whatever, but I did as I was told and stayed out of the sun. For years I would go outside, remember what I was told about my uncertain skin tone and decide to stay on the porch and play with my Barbie dolls.
For the longest time, I was afraid to ‘get too black’ and even when i ran from the sun, I had no clue why. I just knew I needed to because someone who was important to me told me so.
It wasn’t until years later, I believe I was in middle school and we took a family vacation to Disney World. I exclaimed to my mother, “I need to get out the sun before I get black as Joe Porter.” My mother laughed it off but later I recall her asking me where I had gotten that from and why was I worried about getting black. She wasn’t angry or anything, she just explained to me how unimportant skin tone was and whoever told me that was somebody who was insecure about their own looks. She told Joe Porter couldn’t be too black and ugly if everyone knows his name!
My mother said that’s an ignorant statement to make and that I’m way too smart to let people fill my head with garbage. Then she said something to my daddy I carry to this day: be careful who you let watch over your kids.
This isn’t a piece about staying in or out of the sun, it’s about being mindful of what comes out of your mouth and knowing the power of speaking things into existence. Just about any rapper, singer or actress can recall something, either positive or negative that a coach, instructor or teacher told them that sticks with them into adulthood.
It’s so true that the adults who monitor children have a tremendous amount of influence over them. As an educator, it is so important to me to be an example and a role model. Whether you know it or not, somebody is watching you.