The Blacker the Berry, the Sweeter the Juice
I'd been in Amsterdam for two months and had decided I'd never leave. I'd fallen in love with the narrow rows of sharply dressed houses pressed up tightly against each other. I loved the strange combination of orderliness and casualness that pervaded the city, and the glittering canals and the cheery houseboats bobbing on the water, lit from within like fireflies in a jar. I even loved the screeching seagulls flying in packs over the canals, playing tag and bodysurfing on the sparkling water.
In the early morning with the mists shrouding the canals that ring the city it is easy to see why Amsterdam is known as the "Venice of the north." Although the streets change their name every block, the city is compact and easy to get around by foot, bike, tram, and even boat. Buildings are rarely higher than four stories, so there's always plenty of light and sky.
I'd fallen in love with a society that allowed for freedom of choice, late-night culture, and the right to simply be, no matter your race or background. I was in love with the Dutch people, who seemed to enjoy life the most and feel the least guilty about its pleasures. Actually, I'd fallen in love with one Dutch in particular.
I'd just finished breakfast and was sitting with my morning paper in Dimitri's Cafe on Prinsenstraat, when I saw the most beautiful man at the window. He was tall and thin, as many Dutch are, with a long face and narrow sloping nose. Stop there and he'd be just one of the many beautiful people I'd seen all over Amsterdam into Rotterdam and in parts of Belgium.
It was the potent mix of African and Dutch blood running through his veins that composed his features into an odd and wonderfully poetic juxtaposition. He had skin the color of rich cream with a sprinkling of nutmeg freckles across his nose. His eyes were the most astounding shade of blue I'd ever seen. His long nose was offset by full, thick lips and above his prominent forehead sat the biggest, most gloriously kinky, dirty-blond Afro I'd ever seen.
He was beautiful, like rain after a drought, the sun after a storm. He was a gift dropped at my feet and he was looking at me as though I was too.
I'd surprised myself. I wasn't usually attracted to mixed-race blacks, or I never let myself be. It was an unspoken oath, I guess, to not sell out my own deep blackness, which had been held against me for so long. So I signed on to the don't-mix-it-up-and-lighten-the-race program. It had been easy enough until now. Most light-skinned brothers weren't normally interested in me. They usually went for black girls my sister's complexion.
Of my three siblings I was the dark spot in every family photo. My sister's high yellow was at the opposite end of the color spectrum. We all had the same "Chinky" eyes but my sister got most of the Chinese in my Jamaican family. I got most of the African. My two brothers fell somewhere between us. I was closest to my father in color, though two shades darker than he, and my sister was closest to my mother, who could have (and some say should have) passed for white.
Every time relatives put us side by side, fingered our hair, complimenting my sister on her wavy fall and café con leche skin, then turned to shake their heads at my nappy bush and espresso complexion, I put another brick in the foundation. Soon enough, I'd built a wall of ambivalence at best and hatred at worst for light-skinned blacks. They just seemed to have it easier: better hair, better job, lighter skin, lighter load. So it was always the darkest brothers for me. Why not? The darker the berry, the sweeter the juice, right? And I had no problems finding them since I was beautiful and they usually didn't have much luck with the light-skinned sisters.
So I was surprised when I felt an instant attraction to him. He was everything I was not, and everything I'd grown up wanting to be. Every secret desire I'd nurtured as a child and then discarded when I grew older of wanting to be popular, pretty, and light like the cream in my father's coffee and not the rich brew my mother drank black. He was every dream I left on my pillow, every wish on a starry night. Everything I wanted to be for as far back as I could remember was standing in front of me, smiling.
When I smiled back he walked in and sat down at my table. First he spoke to me in French, then German. When I told him I was from New York he switched to English. His name was Malcolm. He was Dutch, Belgian, and West African. He'd moved to Amsterdam three years ago from his hometown of Eindhoven in southwest Holland and was trying to make a living as a painter. His first words to me were "I love the color of your skin. It reminds me of the water in the canals at midnight. May I paint you? You are the most beautiful woman I've ever seen."
I'd come to Amsterdam to model. I'd had no luck in New York, where my "natural" look and "strong" features, which I knew meant my close-cropped hair, dark skin, and big lips, had fallen out of favor. I was in Amsterdam because of an apparent appreciation of dark-skinned black women in the Netherlands. They loved my looks here. This was a big change from New York.
Tar baby, coal black, darkie, the names had been endless and endlessly hurtful. That they'd come from friends and family had made it even more painful. "Keep out the sun now, you black enough as is" had started every summer as far back as I could remember. Though I'd grown up to be beautiful enough to make a living as a model, at castings the darkness of my skin always put me at a disadvantage. "Your color is too harsh for this season." "We don't have work for dark girls like you." "You're so beautiful. It's a shame you're so dark." The casting agent would then shake her head, close my book, and dismiss me.
Amsterdam was teaching me a thing or two about beauty. I was learning how to love myself without feeling I was too much this or not enough that. Here, as I walk along the canals, or cycle through the fields of windmills just outside the city center with the Dutch men smiling after me, I am learning how to love myself, how to feel beautiful and desirable.
So here I was at Odeon, the grooviest bar in Central Amsterdam, curled up on a comfy couch with D'Angelo's lyrics flowing out of the speakers, "Brown Sugar Babe, I gets high off your love and don't know how to behave..." and my fingers entwined with Malcolm's.
We'd drawn a crowd of stares on the dance floor, where we'd danced till we were drenched in sweat and funky. We'd pressed up tight against each other, bumping and grinding our way into the early morning. The humidity had frizzed my hair into a halo of kinky curls, my lipstick was smudged, the rest of my makeup was gone, my white T-shirt was transparent from sweat, and I didn't care. Laughing, Malcolm wrapped his big arms around me and fit my hips into his, matching his tempo to mine.
This was not a man I'd ever thought I would be attracted to, could not have anything in common with, but we connected in every sense. We had many of the same interests -- we liked the same music and loved dance, art, and books. We'd even talked about our color, the prejudices we'd encountered because of it. I'd thought things were bad for me in New York, but some of Malcolm's stories of growing up an only child of mixed race in a small, all-white industrial town on the outskirts of Holland made me rethink my Brooklyn childhood. He certainly hadn't grown up privileged because of his color, nor did he feel that way. His father was often away on trips to Africa. His mother, though she loved him dearly, simply didn't know how to celebrate his blackness, or even understand the West African dialect his father had taught him. He told me of how he'd yearned to move to New York, where people looked like him and he could feel a kinship with other blacks, where he wouldn't stand out so much because of his looks or always feel as if he didn't belong.
As he spoke I tried to grasp what it would feel like to not understand your blackness. Not to feel a part of a community of people, to understand the language, the gestures, the unspoken things that connect us without us even knowing. And for once I felt as though I belonged, no matter my color. I felt like part of a culture, and a people.
When we stumble out the door the cold air makes me shiver as we walk to our bicycles locked up along the canal on the Prinsengracht. It's early enough for a faint rosy light to start to brighten the eastern sky.
Standing in his bedroom, the shower steaming up the bathroom, I watch Malcolm undress. He has broad shoulders and a strong back, and his oversized shirt had been hiding thick arms and a strong ass. His skin is so light I can see the intricate pathways of bluish green veins beneath it. His nipples, which are the color of melted caramel, are the darkest things on his body. He is lighter than any man I've ever been with.
He drops his shirt to the floor and steps out of his jeans. Naked, his legs are slim and sweetly bowed. His chest is wide, and curly blond hairs, barely discernible against his bronzed skin, taper down to his stomach. Malcolm watches me watch him. He smiles as he comes toward me, then whispers, "Your turn."
He pulls my T-shirt over my head. He grips my arms, pressing me into his chest. His hands move up to my hair. Tangling his fingers in my kinky curls, he pulls my head back and exposes my throat, kissing a moist, hot trail from my chin down to my neck. He bites me there, then his tongue explores my throat. He moves down to my collarbone and kisses his way to the center of my chest, breathes in my scent, then exhales deeply. I can feel his smile against my skin. He turns me around and pulls my skirt to my ankles, then slips my panties down to join it.
I hear him pull up a chair and sit behind me. I feel his hands on my hips tracing the geography of my flesh. Caressing the curve of my ass, he grips my hips in his palms and kneads them. He turns me slowly around and breathes a sigh into the dark hairs nearly invisible against my skin. He rests his head there. His hair prickles my flesh, caresses my breasts. He looks up at me and smiles. He loves my skin, he tells me. He loves my color. He holds his arm against mine, marveling at our differences. I am a queen, a cause for celebration, he tells me over and over again. He pulls me onto his lap and whispers in my ear that he loves me.
Why do I love Amsterdam? Because I am beautiful here. Why do I love Malcolm? Because he made me love myself.
Ahhh, secret desires. We all have them, whether we admit it to ourselves or not. Brown Sugar 4 focuses on secret desires because it is a bond that unites us. It doesn't matter who you are, where you live, or what you do. We've all secretly desired something, or often, someone. Our secret desires, those yearnings we hold closest to ourselves, are what most illuminates us, who we really are or who we really want to be.
The Disturbing Pull of Desire
We've all felt the disturbing pull of desire. It may have been brought on by a first glance, an unexpected encounter, the sensual curve of a shoulder, the look in someone's eyes or the smile they gave you, a lover's scent on your fingers or taste on your tongue. Desire is that magnetic pull of one body inexplicably, inextricably, to another. It is the need for something unexplainable, but unmistakable. Desire cannot be explained, because memory, attraction, our senses and needs -- a subtle connection we could never imagine -- shape it.
Secret desires are those things we deny ourselves, perhaps because we think it's not something we should do because it's wrong, because it's bad, or because it might just feel too good. Maybe you desire something outside of the everyday and you think it's wrong because it's not the norm. Or perhaps it's someone we don't think we should be with because of their background or lifestyle. Perhaps society has told us that person is wrong for us, or our parents made the decision for us years earlier. Maybe we abstain because we believe that once we go there we may never find our way back. Don't worry, you're not alone. We've all grappled for control over our needs; we've all buried something so deep down that we realize it's there only when we're facing it head-on.
The stories in Brown Sugar 4 celebrate many different secret desires. Here you'll find stories of yearning with passionate and often surprising results. Whether you secretly desire the preacher's wife, your children's nanny, your best friend, your ex, your brother's wife, or your sister's husband, you'll find something to relate to, to give insight, or simply to turn you on.
These erotic encounters are told by bestselling authors, award-winning literary writers, and performance poets whom you already know and love, writing outside of their genre but in their own particular style about characters you'll recognize in places you'll know. What their stories give you are different glimpses into the many different worlds that make up black America, and truly represents what makes us tick sexually and emotionally.
Variations on a Theme
We know why we're here, what we're looking for. We read erotica for inspiration, sometimes to lose ourselves, though we often find parts of ourselves within the story. That is why, though I am straight, I can be stimulated by homoeroticism. Though I don't crave S&M sex, I can be turned on by it in well-written literature. Of course we all have our secret desires. How could we not? They are what make us who we are. They are why we are with the people we are with or not with the people we thought we'd be with forever. And sometimes it is why we are with people we never ever dreamt we'd end up with.
In the same way that every book I've read has changed me, every lover I've been with has taught me something -- whether I wanted them to or not. I've learned something not only about them but about myself as well. These experiences have been invaluable. I'm old enough now to know and appreciate that. We should be inspired by the endless possibilities available to us, all the variations on a theme. But we limit ourselves to what we think we should or should not like.
Time Again to Come Correct
In Brown Sugar 4 you will find secret desires portrayed in every color, shape, and form. Perhaps you yearn for someone like the enticingly young and beautiful Brazilian au pair in Trey Ellis's "Old Story," whose presence wreaks havoc on a couple's already rocky marriage. If you crave the feel of a warm, hard gun against your naked body, then go straight to Greg Tate's "A Ballistic Affair," a surreal and sexy story that crackles with energy and defies definition.
If it's your teacher you desire, the one you wanted in school but whose eyes you could barely meet, you'll be able to relate to Jervey Tervalon's "Always Running," a darkly sexy tale of love and loss. The unflinchingly told "Freda" is Edwidge Danticat's fable of social class and love that shows us how one can sometimes keep you from the other. If you're pulled to someone you never thought you'd be with, someone so different from you that it makes you question yourself, then read Angie Cruz's poignant and passionate "Until We Meet Again." You may never look at the Verizon man the same way again. If wanting the preacher's wife is giving you reason to repent, turn to "The Little Barton Job," Mike Phillips's sensually unnerving story set in the English countryside about two people who are transported to a secret place outside of race and class. Sandra Jackson-Opoku's deft and wickedly funny "Iguana Stew" will make you smile and will touch you in places you'll wish it hadn't.
If you secretly desire someone you're already with, but in a way they would never guess, read "Where He's Getting It Now," Gar Anthony Haywood's tragic tale of death and desire, wherein a woman's husband proves to be more than he'd seemed but not what she'd suspected. Perhaps you burn with memories of a childhood tryst, a sexual exchange that left you reeling, changed forever. If so, read Lisa Teasley's transcendental "Voiceover," involving a character caught between the past and present, between the woman she is and the woman she wants to be. If you like it rough and ready, then read "Luzette." Darrell Dawsey's raunchy, hot, and riveting story will send you back to the beginning when you've turned the last page. Brandon Massey's "Ghostwriter" is a sly, otherworldly tale of seduction and writer's block that brings new meaning to the word "ghostwriter." If an office mate is driving you crazy with desire, go straight to "Blackout," Tyehimba Jess's raw and poetic tale of a lusty encounter between coworkers whose passions ignite during the blackout of 2003. It'll make you wish you'd been there.
If you're keeping it in the family then turn to asha bandele's "My Brother's Wife," the heartfelt story of a woman's yearning for her best friend, who later becomes her brother's wife. If your sister's husband is about to get you into trouble then read "The Day After You," Preston L. Allen's climactic final story in his novella published in the Brown Sugar series. The end of Pam, Nadine, and Johnny's family drama about the obsession that comes with lost love perfectly illustrates what happens when family ties no longer bind. If it's your wife's friend you've been dreaming about, start with Kenji Jasper's "Little Get-Togethers," a cautionary tale of unfulfilled potential, desire, and regret. It might change your life.
If you're like me and it's your best friend, the one you promised yourself you'd never fall for but of course did, read jessica Care moore's "A New Tale of Two Cities" for insight. Her lyrical story of friendship and desire is a classic tale but with an urban twist. If you're caught between two men whom you desire equally, turn to "A Letter in April," Kalisha Buckhanon's beautifully depicted and quietly sexy story of a young woman who must choose between the love of her past and the man in her future. Reginald Harris's "Easy" is anything but. His surprisingly seductive tale of lust and fidelity, choices and regrets, will leave you with more questions than answers.
Powerful stories all, and you'll find them more familiar than not as they explore love, sex, and sexuality in a wide range of stimulating styles. These voices are diverse -- wicked and wise, hot and cool, hard and soft -- yet they converge and coalesce, are distinct and original. The writers in Brown Sugar are all part of the new black literary diaspora, and although divergent, they are bound by their common African heritage. Parts of the same whole, they represent the past, present, and future of black literature.
Editing and contributing to the Brown Sugar books has been a wildly fulfilling and exciting ride, and all those puns are intended. I think you'll agree that with Brown Sugar 4, the series goes out with a bang.
So come with me one last time, 'cause it's time again to come correct.
Introduction copyright © 2005 by Carol Taylor