shades of black
by Latasha Dunston
My younger sister, Jasmyne at 16 years old sitting on a stone wall over looking the rocky mountains on the land of the Ute tribe. (2018)
Since a very young age, I’ve been picked on by my peers and even family members for the way that I speak, my interests, and even how I dress. I never really understood why I was so different, but it just goes to show you that sometimes you can oppose your environment. Just like the kids around me, I was born and raised in West Baltimore, a very low income, high-violence, black community. Yet I seemed to stick out like a sore thumb.
I had my phases of trying to fit in during various stages of my young development, but it never lasted long. I learned to lean into my otherness and eventually found my group of friends who accepted me for me. Back then and now even today, I seem to be judged by those around me. They try and put me on this narrow black spectrum, whose foundation is a mystery to me. Little do those people know, there is a large spectrum of blackness.
I have always been my own unique shade of black—breaking the rules and crashing the barriers that society has tried to box me into. It has been such a journey to accepting my reality that I am “other,” a bright, strong black woman. The type that you can’t help but stare at in awe because I am doing all the things that history has tried to claim are not for me, even down to the man I love. My shade of black is dowsed in desert dirt and wildflowers. I find pride in my strong connection to nature and plants.
I am unique in my shade of black but I am fully aware that there are so many others just like me: a different, special shade of black. I hope to encourage and redefine what it means to be a woman of color in America today. You do not have to be a color inside of the lines or fit any definition someone else has made for you. There is a lot of room for correction to the image that is portrayed of us.
I go and explore in the outdoors for the younger version of myself that had no idea those wild spaces existed. Nor did I believe that it was something that I could attain. I would love for my younger sister [pictured in the illustration] to see that there is a much bigger world out there, just waiting for her to take up that space. My dream for her is that she paint her shade of back all over this world—for her to find passion and share it with others.
I wear my shade of black with pride, dignity, and honor. No need to code-switch, no need to hide. Be the biggest, best version of you that you can be.