To many fans, actor Taye Diggs has always been a sex symbol of the silver screen, playing the love interest of some of the most beautiful A-list actresses like Angela Bassett, Nia Long and Sanaa Lathan. But off-screen, Diggs hasn’t always seen himself as the dashingly handsome man that his fans view him as. In fact, as he explained in a recent interview, he used to think he was unattractive because of his dark skin. And according to the “Private Practice” star, it wasn’t until supermodel Tyson Beckford became a star that he began to see himself as beautiful.
Diggs struggle to find the beauty in his skin is all documented in his new children’s book, Chocolate Me, an inspirational read, illustrated by his college friend, Shane W. Evans, that presents powerful messages of affirmation to kids with darker skin as well kids of all colors to embrace themselves the way they are.
Diggs recently spoke with MyBrownBaby.com about his new book and how his own struggles with self-esteem and self-love inspired the book. According to Diggs, he, like the main character of his book, began to experience criticism about his color at the age of 5 and would be haunted by the critiques for years to come.
“At 5-years-old, none of us knew the can of worms we were opening … the little white kids who were making fun of me, they didn’t know,” said Diggs. “Their whole questioning was coming from the fact that I was different. None of them ever used the N-word or Negro. They just knew, “OK, his skin is brown, my skin is white, his skin is white, his skin is white, let’s make fun of him.” It wasn’t even in a nasty way at 5. But I obviously didn’t take it well.”
The actor explains that his parents were also affected by colorism in their younger years, with his mother, Marcia Diggs, who is fair skinned, seeking to affirm her blackness by dating dark-skinned men. She eventually fell in love with Diggs’ father, Jeffries Diggs, who is dark skinned. Despite their own issues with colorism, Diggs say that his parents tried to instill in him the idea that his skin tone was beautiful like anybody else’s.
“My mother and my father made sure that whatever we were going to see, whether it was a movie, play, TV, they always brought attention to black performers; without in any way being discouraging to other races,” Diggs explained. “It was just this, ‘we want to make sure you understand who you are and regardless of what mainstream society puts out there or may think, this is what is happening. These are positive people that look like you and are doing great things so there’s no excuse for you to not be doing things just as great.’ ”
Unfortunately, his parents effort still weren’t enough to shield him from effects of racism and colorism, and during his teen years, Diggs found himself struggling to accept himself in a world that favored lighter skin. However, all of that changed when Diggs got some much need inspiration from dark skinned supermodel Tyson Beckford.
“When I got into high school I started to hear, just from the black community, everybody is more attracted to the light skin girls and the light skin dudes with the light eyes. And from within the race the light skin black people and lighter brown people would make fun of the darker people. So then it was a completely different kind of struggle. And then funnily enough it was when dark skinned men, and this was just from my perspective, there seemed to be a shift where all of a sudden we saw Denzel Washington, Wesley Snipes, Tyson Beckford. I’m still trying to figure out how this came to be. For me, when I saw Tyson Beckford hailed as this beautiful man by all people, that caused a shift in my being. And I remember literally waking up and walking the streets feeling a little bit more proud. And then after the movie “How Stella Got Her Groove Back,” when I had my own personal moments of weakness, I just had to remind myself of all the people that really enjoyed that movie and just kind of lean on that.” Diggs said.
Today, Diggs and his wife, Jewish actress Idina Menzel, also face challenges with race, as well as new hope as they raise their biracial son, 2-year-old Walker Nathaniel Diggs, in a changing world of race relations and ideas about skin color.
“Me and my wife, we discuss this and we’re still trying to figure some of this out just with Walker and what he should call himself and how he views himself. When I was growing up if you were half a shade darker than white, the white people would not accept you. You weren’t white,” explained Diggs. “These days, thank God, people are a little bit more accepting and people’s views are broadening and it’s not as accepted to just choose one, how you might have been forced to in the past. I think it depends on the parents’ perspective and how they feel about those issues and how they kind of want to pass that down to their child. As proud as I am of my blackness, I think it’s important to show Walker that he should be just as proud of his Jewish mother and all of the culture that that includes as well.”
According to Diggs, he hopes his new book will inspire kids across the world to find pride in themselves and their skin tones just like he has, but perhaps most important for Diggs, he hopes that his book will help his son be proud of himself as well.
“… every time I continue to read the book to my son — now he can say the words along with me — words can’t explain how it makes me feel,” said Diggs.
We applaud Diggs for doing his part to help undo the damaging effects of colorism as well as helping children like his son to embrace their multiracial heritage. Kudos to you, Diggs. And like Diggs, below are other celebrities who have shared their stories on embracing their skin tone and ethnicities. –nicholas robinson