The Blacker the Berry

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Emma Lou is plagued by the color of her skin. She was born with skin that is too black. Her mother was a fairer-skinned African-American, as was the majority of her mother’s family, but her father, who left her mother soon after Emma Lou was born, was a dark-skinned black man. Her family constantly regrets the color of her skin. She and her family tried to lighten her skin with creams and bleaching, but to no avail. Emma Lou wishes that she had been a boy. Her mother has always told her "that a black boy could get along, but that a black girl would never know anything but sorrow and disappointment."[1]

Thoughts of her skin and family consume Emma Lou, even at her high school graduation. She is the only "Negro pupil in the entire school,"[1] and this fact is made even more obvious by the white graduation robes the graduates wear, to the dismay of Emma Lou. The only thing Emma Lou can concern herself with is the color of her skin. Her graduation ceremony takes a back seat to thoughts about her skin.

The summer after Emma Lou’s high school graduation was coming to a close. Emma Lou had still not decided what she would do next, as it did not seem to matter much. She is a dark skinned girl, and therefore, she thought, she would never amount to anything. Her Uncle Joe suggested that she go to college at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, where she would find other Negroes with whom she could associate. She would earn a bachelor’s degree in education and then move to the south to teach. Uncle Joe believed that smaller towns, such as Boise, "encouraged stupid color prejudice such as she encountered among the blue vein circle in her home town." Emma Lou’s maternal grandmother was closely associated with the blue veins in Boise, a group of people who only accepted fair-skinned individuals. This group, including Emma Lou’s grandmother, looked down upon Emma Lou because her skin was so dark. Uncle Joe thought that Emma Lou would find happiness in Los Angeles, for the people of Los Angeles did not have time to dwell on one’s skin color.

Upon arriving in Los Angeles, Emma Lou began her search for other Negro students, determined to find the right crowd. At the Bursar’s office on registration day, Emma Lou found herself in line behind another black first-year girl and was immediately excited. But this excitement left Emma Lou as soon as the young woman opened her mouth. Hazel Mason was the wrong kind of Negro. She was the exact type of person that Emma Lou tried so desperately to distinguish herself from. And to Emma Lou’s dismay, Hazel seemed to be the only Negro student willing to be friends with her. The other Negro students were pleasant enough when introducing themselves, but they did not invite Emma Lou into their circle, and they most certainly did not invite her to join their sorority. After Hazel stopped attending classes, a young woman named Grace Giles became Emma Lou’s only true companion in Los Angeles. Grace, who was also left out of the sorority, enlightened Emma Lou about the women asked to join. Emma Lou would never be asked because she was too dark and not wealthy enough.

Emma Lou returned to Boise for the summer noticing even more the color of her skin and the limitations it created. She realized that all black leaders were either light-skinned or had light-skinned wives. Contrary to Uncle Joe’s belief, the people in Los Angeles proved to be the same as the people in Boise when it came to the color of someone’s skin.

At a picnic during the summer, Emma Lou found herself in the company of a young man named Weldon Taylor. His skin was a darker than Emma Lou’s ideal, but she did not let this stop her from getting close to him. By the end of the night, the two had kissed and Emma Lou was in love. Over the next two weeks, Emma Lou changed. She was no longer the anti-social being, living up to her family’s ideas of her as a misfit. She spent her nights with Weldon, thrilled by "his presence...
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