As I was reading the back of The Skin I'm In by Sharon G. Flake to get a better understanding of what the book was about, I could not help but relate it to my own life. Maleeka Madison carries with her a sense of low self-esteem due to her inability to not only accept, but become comfortable with the color of her skin. Growing up, this was something that I struggled with as well. Being biracial (half black and white), I always felt different from my peers. Although I went to a high school where the population was predominantly African American, I was still ridiculed by classmates. I can recall instances where I have been called Oreo or have been told that I need to "pick a side"; either I identify as black or white. Like Maleeka's classmates, my peers thought these comments were out of pure fun and harmless. Yet, I do not think that they understood the magnitude of their words and how they influenced how I saw myself. It wasn't until around my junior year that I began to accept the skin I'm in, like Maleeka. Although I did not have a teacher like Miss Saunders to act as a role model, I did have a wonderful group of friends who helped me deal the bullying.
Throughout the book, Maleeka constantly endures racist remarks from her so-called friends such as "chocolate brown baby" or "Maleeka, Maleeka, we sure want to keep her but she so black, we just can't see her" (Flake, p.14). Having to deal with ignorant comments from classmates added to Maleeka's lack of self-esteem. Although this was something she struggled with throughout the book, I enjoyed seeing her character begin to love and accept who she was.
The Skin I'm In is a book that can be relatable to so many, regardless of their skin color. We all face the issue of low self-esteem whether it be because of our skin color or another physical feature. Self-image served as one of the central themes of this book. One portion of the book that stood out to me was when Maleeka decided to cut her hair in order to look like the women depicted in a magazine. The beautiful women Maleeka saw as she was flipping through the pages of a magazine ultimately shaped how she perceived herself and the "ideal image" she wanted to possess. Although it was evident that Maleeka cut her hair in order to look more like the women in the magazine, I feel as though this particular portion of the book symbolizes a bit more. Considering the fact that she endured a tremendous amount of ridicule from her classmates, Maleeka was not comfortable in her own skin. Could cutting her hair have served as a way to distract her classmates from her skin color? This is a question that I pondered as I was reading. Maleeka may very well have cut her hair to give her peers something else to look at;looking at features beyond her skin color.
As I continued to read The Skin I'm In, it became clear that Maleeka's stories of Akeelma served as a coping mechanism for everything that she endured in and out of school from her peers. Writing was an escape for Maleeka; like it is for so many students. Maleeka was able to come home after a long day of dealing with Char (whom by the way I hate), Raise and Raina, and just place the pen to paper. Akeelma seemed like a strong character who was proud of being African American, despite the overwhelming issue of slavery and racism occurring around her. By the end of the book, I began to see Akeelma and Maleeka come together as one. Maleeka was finally able to accept who she was; regardless of whether or not anyone else did. Maleeka owned the skin she was in.
"It's not about color," she said. "it's how you feel about who you are that counts." (p.40)