UNDER HER SKIN: HOW GIRLS EXPERIENCE RACE IN AMERICA. Edited by Pooja Makhijani. Seal Press, 2004. 318 pages. $15.95. www.poojamakhijani.com. www.avalonpub.com
“I decided that everything I am is important,” writes Devorah Stone in her essay, “Except.” She and the 20 other women who contributed to Under Her Skinshare this celebration of self but not without reliving what made them the women they are today.
Edited by Pooja Makhijani, this collection of essays expresses everything from residual anger to amused sadness. Never easy, always honest, often innocent, rarely less-than-complex, these stories share the thoughts and emotions of women who, in their childhoods, realized that while race is inherent, racism is learned. Interestingly enough, more than one essay addresses the racism of the authors’ own parents. In others, the cross-mix of heritage is represented by an overwhelming desire to belong but never quite knowing how or to what group.
These extraordinary women share their reminiscences, still cushioned in the honesty of youth while supported by the wisdom of age. In so many of the stories, it is clear that race was not a divisive factor in the children’s lives but rather a celebration tying relationships together. “… while we never forget that we have been scattered and persecuted and enslaved in the past, we remain facing ever forward, our hands out to each other. We see the colors of our various skins as beauty, not destiny. We know there’s more inside than will ever be visible on the outside,” writes Lisa Drostova in “Bionic Child.”
The anger and frustration of the incidents that introduced them to racism are, for the most part, gone, replaced by a confidence grown stronger over the years. As painful as some memories may have been to put on paper, the candor must soothe the wounds in the realization that the authors have survived and become vital women in a society that still imposes blatant racial biases.
While there are 21 stories (including the editor’s introduction), there are not, unfortunately, 21 different representative combinations, which would have enhanced the rainbow of perspectives; however, there are some surprising and unique voices. The African-American point of view dominates the collection, and while there is a variety of voices and backgrounds represented, it was easy to wonder: where are the Chinese, the Hispanic, the Filipino voices? Where are the stories of race vs. same race? So many voices must be waiting, begging to be heard.
The writers express no apologies for who they are. There are no threats to the readers. There is only a series of women sharing a developmental part of their lives with everyone who will listen. From the African-American, Jewish, Japanese, and Caribbean-Spanish, to the Nigerian, Vietnamese, Native American, South Asian, Jamaican, Puerto Rican, and Scandinavian-American, these women’s roots circle the globe and find a commonality in this anthology. “We’re white and black and yellow and red and cinnamon, and our hair is kinky and straight and curly and we’re rich and not-so-rich, and nobody cares,” writes Toiya Kristen Finley in “The Last Safe Place.”
The thread that ties this collection together is that none of us—not one—chooses the skin into which we are born. That is not our responsibility. Our responsibility lies in how we honor our skin and respect that of others.
|Jeanne E. Fredriksen reads and writes near Chicago, where she freelances as a copywriter and teaches Creative Writing to children through the Center for Gifted-National Louis University.|