You have the right skin color

Erin Fischer
Boulder, CO

This is actually the end of a quote from Abraham Verghese’s novel, Cutting for Stone. The whole quote says “Accent be damned in Africa, as long as it’s foreign and you have the right skin color.” It is referencing how a person who was low class and not well educated in their home country, can appear high class and educated in Africa just because they are foreign and white. As a white American woman who works in Africa I can relate to this sentiment and to the experience of being told, outright or through a person’s actions, that because I have the right skin color I would be allowed to do something, go somewhere, or be trusted with something above my expertise. Often I don’t realize it’s happening but sometimes I know it’s happening and why, but I don’t stop it. Maybe I don’t exactly know how. Maybe it feels counterintuitive to impose boundaries on myself when others are giving me permission. Maybe I enjoy the feeling and brush off the why. I’m not sure.

In a broader way, it spoke to me of the judgements we make every day about who we associate with how we feel about them and the assumptions we make. Inherent in this statement “you have the right skin color” is the implication that you can have the wrong skin color. Some people live with that feeling every day whereas for others it’s more shocking to think about. As humans I wonder if we’re all scarred of this possibility- this reality… i wonder if its that fear that makes us cling to our own people, our own race, our own culture… where we feel right.

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