Tuesday, May 01, 2007
The Skin I'm In
I found two great books Saturday at two different yard sales. (My mom bought a bike at yet another.)
The Skin I'm In by Sharon Flake is an adolescent book, and it captures all the pressures of middle and high school that my sister went through, as did I, to a much lesser degree. It's also an 'African-American' book in that the main character and most of her classmates are black, but I still identified. I was also shocked at the cruelty toward the main character - just because her skin is darker than everyone else's. I've heard of that before, but it still doesn't make sense to me.
It's not a sad book, but most of it makes me sad - the way Maleeka goes along with the other kids in picking on the teacher and getting into a lot of trouble. Thankfully, she learns what really matters by the end of the book, after a disastrous exercise in peer pressure.
The book starts when a new English teacher arrives at Maleeka's middle school. The book is told in first person present tense, something that often rubs me the wrong way, but didn't this time. The present tense part, not the first person thing. If I don't like a book (The Nanny Diaries) it grates on me until I give up. But if I like a book, it's natural.
The teacher is a former advertising executive who decides to teach when the school system starts a program for executives to teach without getting teaching certificates. Everyone hates her because she makes them do a lot of work, but I got the feeling if they'd STFU, they'd learn something - Maleeka did.
One thing that really resonated with me was her intelligence. She's in 7th grade, but can easily outdo a 9th grader when it comes to math and she's a gifted writer. I like to think of myself as smart, but I never felt pressure to dumb it down. That is something that bugs me about school - no one wants to look smart, even in the honors and AP classes! This week is Gateway Testing week at the high schools, and most teachers won't do a thing, they can't, because their schedules are messed up and most have students taking a state test. The Gateway tests sucked. They were not timed, but you couldn't bring a book to read when you were done, and you couldn't leave early. When I had to take the English 2 test (my last Gateway), I used my 504 health plan and horrible skin infection that had pretty much cleared up as a reason not to sit for 3 hours doing nothing but sweating and itching. I got to take it in a little closet-like room with a window off the guidance office and checked out after I was done. There's a lot more leeway with the End Of Course tests - they're required to graduate, but you can leave early or bring a book. (I left early both times.)
The thing that pisses me off? My sister had to sit in the cafeteria for 3 hours today because her 1st period teacher was giving a test and the classroom was being used. The class is a senior class she was put in instead of study hall (they told her that sophomores had to have parental permission for study hall. She got the note. She didn't get study hall.), so she had no one to talk to.
It was very boring.
I know she doesn't like to read, but come on! It would not have killed her to take a Gossip Girl or Cosmo in, it would have killed the time.
No one can complain about having nothing to do in school if they know how to read, have books, and are allowed to bring them.
Back to Maleeka - I got the feeling that she hated being so smart, because it let another girl exploit her and made her an outcast. She went to a typical poor school - no one gives a damn, and when someone tries (the new teacher), they're attacked.
And this was written in 1998, before NCLB.
Oh! The title. She comes to terms with the deep color of her skin, and that made me extra happy. In the book Pledged, there was a snippet about a black sorority that had the 'paper bag test'. If a pledge's skin was darker, she was out.
White is the norm and non-white people, especially women, have been trying to be as white as possible for too damn long. I make the point of describing everybody's race - even the white guys. It's just me, but it's a step.
Maleeka was 'inferior' because her skin was dark, even though a number of people thought it was beautiful. (The teacher is one, much to Maleeka's chagrin.)
She was inferior to the other black students who had lighter skin, because white skin is still the ultimate goal. Unless you're white, then you want to be tanned all year. (Not me - too long in the sun and I turn beet red, usually from overheating, but sometimes from a burn and it doesn't fade to a tan, it fades to white.)
That's just wrong, but I don't know how to correct it. I've never picked my friends by the darkness of their skin, more the personality and interests and will they talk to me than anything else. The hottest guy my senior year, to me at least, had dark skin and the most amazing dreads. And, despite his popularity, he talked to me.
Back to the book - I got it for a dime at a yard sale (black family) because I'm always interested in books from the 'abnormal' perspective. (Not white, not male, not Christian, not American... I could go on.) Since it was a kid's book, it looked like an easy read and not a waste of a dime if I didn't like it.
And I do.
However, I don't want to read it again. I'm taking it to the Crisis Center next time I go. (Supposed to go today, but Lois was sick and I was in crippling pain. I'm not now, I'm on a 100mcg patch instead of 2 25mcgs. It kicked in within the hour. Awesome.)
Why the crisis center?
Goodwill sells their books, we don't.
Most of our clients are black, and most have children. I hope another girl, black or white or whatever, gets it and feels good after reading it.