"Scrub your knees. Don't forget your elbows. Use more soap," my mother would say as she checked in on my six-year-old self in the bathtub. She knew my body was dirty from all the sticky germs I'd gathered on the playground or at gymnastics practice. Yet even as she ordered me and my brother to use more soap, she never once made us feel that our skin color was dirty.
You might be thinking to yourself, Well, of course she didn't. What kind of mother would make her children feel that way? But the sad fact is that no matter how much adults like my mom built us up and made us feel pride in who we were and what we looked like, there was always a sneaky, vicious monster out there, determined to knock us right back down. That same monster has been whispering in the ears of little brown and black children since before my great-grandmother's time, telling us that the color of our skin makes us dirty.
As much as I've worked to armor myself, to defang that monster and keep it at bay, it ambushed me again yesterday morning, as if to remind me of my vulnerability.
I was scrolling Twitter, as I do every morning during my rise-and-grind routine — catching up on the latest news from Variety and The Hollywood Reporter; scanning to see what funny video has gone viral in the middle of the night, what crazy rant 45 is on now — when something disturbing caught my eye. An advertisement. Four images. Two women: one black, one white. The black woman happily peels off her brown top, which is the exact same color as her skin, to reveal a smiling white woman in a white top. In the bottom right corner of each image is a bottle of Dove body wash.
I pause. Scratch my head. Think for a minute. Wait. Dove, you want me to believe that using your soap will turn my skin into that of a white woman? No — that can't be it. You want me to believe being black isn't clean? You want me to believe that black = dirt and white = purity and using your soap will make me clean? Got it. You're telling me my skin, the deep, rich melanin that I was born with and cannot change, is filthy. Got it.