A clumsy attempt at exploring the complex issue of skin color in the African-American community.
Four novellas undertake a single agenda: to demonstrate the wickedness of intrarace bigotry. No stroke is broad enough for the authors, which is unfortunate, as the issue—how light is too light to be black, how dark is too dark to be pretty—is at once fascinating and heartbreaking. The first piece, “My People, My People,” by Stovall, involves an ad executive confronted by a racist client. Carmella has chosen the perfect model for a new cosmetics campaign called Hot Chocolate, but the owner of the company, the indomitable Helena, wants a lighter-skinned model. Carmella correctly suspects that Helena’s own self-hatred of her black features is the root of the problem. Price-Thompson’s “Other People’s Skin” begins well with the birth of Euleatha LaMoyne to the fair-skinned Peaches. Peaches rejects her dark-skinned daughter, leaving Eulie to be raised by her great-grandmother, Ma’Dear, a wise woman who tries to instill in Eulie a compassion for those who mistreat her. And boy is she mistreated—Peaches and her light-skinned daughter Paline behave as if Eulie is a monster they’re kind enough to house. Eulie decides to leave town after Ma’Dear’s death, but is instead transported back in time to a plantation, where, now light-skinned, she’s able to understand that pain and suffering come in all shades. In Desiree Cooper’s “New Birth,” Lettie, to help pay for a retrial for her wrongly convicted son, gets a job cleaning house for Catherine Rollins, a light-skinned attorney. Catherine, an unabashed proponent of the worst racial stereotypes, assumes Lettie to be a thieving, welfare-scamming, illiterate loafer, while Lettie thinks the worst of Catherine and her light-skinned kind. Lastly is Elizabeth Atkins Bowman’s “Take It Off!” about a biracial university student torn between proving her blackness to the other black students and retaining her integrity as a budding journalist.
Attempts are made to examine the source of misplaced self-hatred, but the characters are either so bad or good, and the plotting so overdone, that all subtlety is lost.