The Skin I'm In Questions and Answers
by Sharon Flake

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Why was Maleeka so afraid of Charlese, and what could she have done earlier in the story to avoid the issues that she found herself involved in?

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Charlese is one of the most powerful and prominent pupils at Maleeka’s school. When Miss Saunders arrives at the school, practically her first act is to reprimand a girl she finds “leaning against the wall with a boy sucking on her neck” and tell her to get to class. Maleeka almost chokes when she realizes that the girl in question is Charlese and demonstrates her sentiment that even the teachers have to be careful in addressing Charlese:

Big mistake, lady, I’m thinking. Charlese is the baddest thing in this school. She ain’t gonna forgive you for loud-talking to her.

Maleeka is, to some extent, friends with Charlese, but the relationship is an unequal one, and she is really more like an acolyte to Charlese than her friend. Charlese brings clothes to school for Maleeka and periodically assists her in gaining social assistance, while she treats Maleeka, and the other girls to whom she extends her patronage, as subordinates. Maleeka even says that she is “like Superman” when she is wearing the clothes Charlese gives her, acquiring and projecting some of Charlese’s arrogance. However, Charlese bullies her by demanding the clothes back again in front of other pupils, showing that she really only wants to exercise power over Maleeka.

Despite Charlese’s erratic and disrespectful behavior, it is not until the very end of the book that Maleeka stands up to Charlese, who has just called her an “ugly, stupid black thing.” Maleeka replies:

″Call me by my name! I am not ugly. I am not stupid. I am Maleeka Madison, and, yeah, I’m black, real black, and if you don’t like me, too bad ’cause black is the skin I’m in!″

She could have avoided a great deal of trouble by doing this earlier in the story.

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