From the Editors: February 2024
The right (not privilege) to love the skin you're in
What does it mean to be comfortable in one's own skin?
It is to acknowledge the self but not be overwhelmed by it; to let go of what is in need of letting go and carry the rest with grace. It is both intentional and effortless; equal parts self-regard and self-erasure. It is to exist freely regardless of setting. It is confidence without context.
Unfortunately, that level of comfort has historically proven much more elusive for those with brown or Black skin.
The Black experience has been marked by both societal hyper-awareness of "Blackness" and systemic under-valuation and neglect. It's weighed down by centuries worth of trauma, stereotypes, and subjugation. Long-entrenched power structures continuously outline and reinforce "appropriate" settings for Black individuals. Black Americans must remain ever-conscientious about context, because Blackness has been attached to a set of roles, rules, and expectations.
One way to begin to dismantle those stereotypes is representation — in our governments, economies, communities, and media. Observations like Black History Month intend to showcase the contributions, talents, names, and faces of Black America. But as activist Marty Nwachukwu notes, representation does not equal change. It is one thing to be seen, another to be heard, and quite another to be listened to — and afforded the agency to make the changes necessary.
As a media outlet, we can represent the Black experience as more multifaceted and diverse (Precious Thompson's beautiful cover art portraying Black women as "soft, cozy, feminine, and classical" versus the aggressive, "exotic," and unappealing stereotypes that predominate). We can profile fascinating individuals that have had an impact or influence in their respective fields (Stephen Galloway). We can provide a platform for African Americans to be potentially seen and heard, but Nwachukwu is right. Mere visibility is not enough.
These issues are about more than lip service or cover treatment — it's about pulling those relegated to history's margins and footnotes (such as Erie's Emma Howell) into a total re-drafting of the story, hopefully one with a much more uplifting message to tell.
Until then, may we all learn to love the skin we're in.