Hispanics/Latinos · movies

What color is your Skin?

I always wondered as a child what my kids would look like. (Actually, I still do.) Despite sharing the same parents, my sisters and I look nothing alike (except for two of us having similarly tightly-coiled curly hair). I was so much lighter-skinned that my sister that growing up people would ask if I had a different father, a white father. Years later, I would have to assure strangers that I was not biracial. No one, especially my “Spanish blood is better” relatives, were calling themselves mixed race back then, even if as Dominicans, we were.

But everyone in my family was a different color. My grandmother looked white. Her mother, who was half-Spanish, half-Dominican, looked very mixed but more Native American (well, with piercing blue eyes, as did my little sister. My mother looked brown and my white-looking father called her “morena.” Her brother looked white and had green eyes.

My aunt, despite being half Spanish, half Dominican, had distinctly African features. My cousin looked black. In fact, when I introduced him as my cousin to a childhood friend, the childhood friend said, “He can’t be your cousin, he’s black.” I was 8 so I turned to my cousin and said, “You’re black? When did you become black?”

The movie Skin, stars Sophie Okenedo, a biracial Jewess from London, is out now in theaters. The movie is based on the true story of Sandra Laing, a woman who was born to white-looking (but mixed) parents in the 1950s but classified as “coloured” during apartheid era South Africa. Her parents fought to get her classified as white but failed because Sandra, with her dark skin and tight curly hair, did not “look” white. Her father even took a paternity test to prove Sandra was his daughter. Eventually, Sandra sought refuge in the black community.

In case you missed it, The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles featured an interview with Okenedo in “Jewish Actress Sophie Okonedo Explores Biracial Identity”.

Read the Entertainment Weekly review: Skin

3 thoughts on “What color is your Skin?

  1. The title of this post reminds me of the fact that my birth certificate from 1962 in Boston says: “Color: Yellow”. And no, I did not have jaundice as a newborn baby.

    I have almost exactly the same skin tone as my husband who is half (Gallego-)Spanish-Cuban, a quarter Polish Jewish, and a quarter German Jewish. But I am more tan in the summer and more pale in the winter than he is. When I tan it is “olive-toned” as opposed to the more ruddy brown tone that “Caucasians” typically turn when tan. (Our hair color is very similar too, so I used to joke that we could have a wig made out of my hair for a toupee for him when he goes bald. But these days I have only a few white hairs, while he is increasingly “salt and pepper”.)

    My daughter has very pale skin and my son is more tan than I am (especially after spending a lot of time out in the sun during the summer).

    But of course “color” for racial description is often not at all correlated to the color of a person's skin.

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  2. I puttered around the internet and found a documentary made about Sandra Laing. It's got a tune of “oh, she's okay with all the bad stuff, so everything's fine now” that's pretty gross (the reporter is a white South African–surprise!), but it shows her going to her dad's grave and putting a stone on the grave. I've never heard of non-Jews doing this, and his name was Abraham, so I'm wondering if they were Jewish. I can't seem to find anything on the internet that would confirm or deny my hunch, so right now it's only an idea. But perhaps not an entirely crazy one.

    Here's the link to the video (the grave scene is at 19:30): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cYZyvxpsCjQ

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