The Silly Gooses That We Are, We Flew North and Now We’re Stuck with the Winter


Winter is where my soul goes to die. I hate the death-defying slalom otherwise known as the morning commute. The asphyxiating swaddle of winter wear. The popsicle toes that take all night to thaw. The painful subzero air that needles your skin and burns your eyes. The salt-ruined shoes. The dirty summits of shoveled snow. The seven-month gloom.

Apologies to poet Robert Frost, but there is nothing about “easy wind and downy flake” that makes me want to stand in the dark woods and contemplate the meaning of life. In fact, the only question winter makes me contemplate is: “Why do black people live here?”

We know the historical reason. It must have been pretty bad, that Jim Crow South, if we were willing to trade Atlanta’s weather for Detroit’s. I get why millions of blacks left the South during the Great Migration, but why didn’t we follow the ones who went to Los Angeles? Y’all let Henry Ford wag a few dollars in front of you and now look, generations later, you’re still living where you have no business being.

It’s a scientific fact: Black people don’t do cold. There have only been two black people in history who said, “Yay, more snow!” One was Matthew Henson, the black man who in 1909, is reputed to be one of the first humans to reach the North Pole, along with white explorer Robert Peary and Inuit guides. And the other was that kid in The Snowy Day.

I searched the internet only to discover that scientists aren’t willing to say that people are genetically predisposed to live in certain climates. There’s little doubt that blue eyes and blond hair are Darwinian adaptations to the cold, while dark skin and thick hair are adaptations for the heat.


But researchers say that the biggest influence on our ability to stand heat or cold is cultural, not biological. Many of us have preconceived notions about why we like hot, cold, snowy, sunny or rainy weather that aren’t entirely based on our bodily reactions. Two people standing in 40-degree weather, for example, can have very different tolerances to it —while their bodies are reacting the same, physiologically.

And in 2001, researchers concluded that skin color has more to do with vitamins than weather tolerance. Folate, which is necessary for healthy fetal development, can be destroyed by too many ultraviolet rays. People in the tropics have developed dark skin to block out the sun and protect their body’s folate reserves. Vitamin D, which is found in sunlight, helps fetal bone growth. Therefore, people in colder climates have lighter skin to take in as much vitamin D as possible from the sun’s weak rays.

Whatever. I know what I know. If black people were really supposed to live in the cold, then why did Gold Bond have to invent Ultimate Hydrating Lotion Radiance Renewal cream-oil with coconut oil, cocoa butter and African shea butter? We were fine with our Ponds and Vaseline until we came North, where avoiding “ashiness” is practically an Olympic sport.

I guess we still live in Detroit because, by the time we arrived at this last stop on the Underground Railroad, we weren’t in the mood for any more acclimation. Nothing white had killed us in our search for a better life; we weren’t going to let it start with snow.

So, as black Detroiters, we do what we do to get through the winter. We grill our chicken in oil drums, even when it’s snowing. We avoid the flu shot because the last time she got one, our second cousin on our mama’s side got pregnant. We laugh at the white people who go “up north” for the holidays.

We eat sweet potatoes when it’s not Thanksgiving or Christmas. We pretend we like Kwanzaa. We wear fur coats and dare PETA to say somethin’. We don’t leave the house on Martin Luther King Day. And, on the date we spy the first white person in cargo shorts and flip flops in February, we play that number.

I’m bringing this up now, my fellow African descendants, in order to warn you that it’s always darkest (and coldest) before dawn. March may be coming up daisies for the rest of the world, but for us, it’s just a lousy tease. Don’t be hoodwinked, bamboozled and led astray! This winter may have been mild, but spring ain’t even close. But you’ve been living here since the 1800s. You should know by now. 

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