All brown children color
their faces. First families
shades of yellow, red, black.
Self-portraits traced with edges
of brown crayons; they know
their identities long before
they are taught race.
What color is my skin?
A resounding tale of fallen shackles,
of long tenancies on distant
masters’ lawns, of coal-painted
faces dancing on stage, of misplaced
ballots and grandfather clauses,
of front row seats on public transit,
of Black Power and Panthers,
of raised fists and Afro puffs,
of Black berries sweeter than sugar,
purple juice on their puckered lips.
Why do we color?
African lineage documented in
mixing shades of nude on pallets,
wielding artistic instruments—
colored pencils, crayons, markers.
With every brushstroke
They match their complexions;
Tiny realists never white-washing,
erasing their existence.
We are here.
Little brown children, present
yourselves as unabashed
workings of self-identity.
Do not cover your skin
for a fearful colorless society;
coat it in a deeper mahogany.
© Nortina Simmons
This is a revision of a poem written last year. Click here to read the original version.