– How Did We Get Here and Stay Here –
As a child, I was teased a lot because I was light skinned. I was called names by other people of color like half-breed, white dog, white girl, Heinz 57 etc. I never opened up to my parents about all the pain it caused. It cut me like a knife and created wounds so deep I didn’t think they’d ever heal , but I did! Back then, I thought I just had to suck it up because at that time it was what people had to do. As I aged, I had what I call the “light skinned epiphany” wherein the light bulb came on in my head that having lighter skin in the black community was somehow looked at as better. It meant you had “good hair” fair skin, sometimes light eyes and were deemed as cuter than others. It gave you a pass on a lot of things. It got me entry into arenas that my darker skinned counterparts may have struggled to get into and even attention from males whether welcomed or not.
Instead of embracing my skin just as it was, I secretly resented it. I had a sister with pretty skin who was darker than me and I didn’t want to see her mistreated. I had cousins in every shade from the color of night to the color of coffee with a lot of cream who were smart, driven and kindhearted. All of the attention the “light skinned epiphany” drew to me made me want to be even darker than I was. To over compensate for my feelings of not being accepted for me as a human with roots from a country so rich with color, I did things like go and try to get a sun tan to show I was black enough to be accepted by my own people. Since my skin was light, however, I ended up burning which fed even more into the issue I had with being fair-skinned. Eventually, this led me to only want to date darker skinned guys because it just seemed like I needed to embrace it more and let people know that no matter what the skin tone was, both darker skinned and lighter skinned people were the same. It was really what was inside that mattered but it was hard trying to convince the world of that.
Keeping in mind this personal struggle was my own, I never shared much of it with too many people. The same struggle would infuriate me when I’d hear black women being accused of having attitudes at work or in school. To me, it was clear that we were just raised to be strong and assertive because we often had to be the voice for those we loved. Having this issue in the workplace always haunted me when I’d speak up where others did not. This was not (and often is still not) looked upon kindly; yet, people who don’t look like me speak up all the time and they are called courageous, confident, strong or no-nonsense. I and other women like me on the other hand were called things like uncooperative, aggressive, confrontational and even worse the “b” word for exhibiting the exact same behaviors. We were unrelatable. This spilled over even into the way people reacted to many like myself who preferred to be private about our personal lives. Being raised in a home where I was taught that work and personal lives are separate, this was a normal way of living for me so to have it frowned upon was foreign. Sadly, keeping the two separate is still not looked upon favorably in many offices. On the flip side of things, when others who did not look like me were private about their personal business, it came across as jut their personality while I was asked questions about why I had to be so secretive and looked upon as standoffish or not a team player.
When presented with scenarios like those above, it may seem easy for some to make arguments for or against any of the statements. What is not so easy is for people to put their selves in the shoes of a black girl or black woman to see how this feeds into the self-defeating thoughts that many struggle with feeling that we are somehow unworthy or flawed. Regardless of intent, it speaks to an implicit bias that continues to plague the world in which we live and work. And no….this is not about pulling the proverbial “race card” as many like to call it, but instead it is an attempt to help others see the way in which we send messaging to our girls that their own diversity of thought and skin are not welcomed in a world that is naturally diverse.
Recently, my own daughter began to feel the pressure of the treatment many black women have felt. As we know, teenagers go through a lot of ups and downs and their feelings are all over the place. Fortunately, my daughter is pretty in touch with her feelings most of the time and knows that sometimes the re-leveling of teenage hormonal fluctuations play a part in how she feels. She is self-reflective enough to analyze those same feelings when she is in what I’ll call a better mood. One thing that has stuck with her is how some of the boys of color talk about the girls of color. When rebuffed due to undesired advances, some have retorted with things like “that’s why I don’t deal with black girls now” or “black girls always got an attitude.” She has become increasingly more frustrated in recent days asking me why it has to be about black girls instead of just a girl not being interested or the fact that some of the things guys say are rude so they get ignored or instead get a well-deserved clap back from the girl? She also expressed that there are times when some people act as if black girls are not good enough or like something is wrong with them because they stand firm on their beliefs. When she said “it feels like no one wants the black girls because we aren’t easy” the feeling of all the years of my youth came rushing back. To elaborate, what she meant by easy was we aren’t always easy to walk over and you may have to put in some work or contend with someone who is strong in conviction but still quite pliable with reason.
Though many women want to be respected, acknowledged and given a seat at every table in life; there are times when many black women I’ve spoken with have felt they are being treated as if we specifically don’t deserve to have a seat even if others do. It was heartbreaking to hear the anguish in my own daughter’s voice that so many of us can identify with. That same anguish has left many saying things like “but what about me?” or “what about us?” And to be clear, the intent is not to bash our boys but instead find better ways to uplift our girls and educate all on the worthiness of one another.
So where is the onus of responsibility in helping our girls feel worthy and our boys realize these young ladies ARE worthy? Who is supposed to teach our males that our females matter and vice versa in every race and not just for people of color? How can we stop this cycle of “if it’s easy, I”ll go there but if I have to be more and accountable for stepping up my game you can miss me on that?” Who is teaching our children and our young adults that ALL relationships require work whether they be intimate relationships with a mate, relationships with a friend and even workplace relationships with a co-worker? Whose job is it to raise kids that love their skin color, love their hair color, love their round bodies , love their thin bodies, embrace their less than flawless face, accept their robust butts, smile at their thick or thing thighs and love everything else about themselves?
It is all of ours! We must stop giving accolade to ads that praise only people who are specific shapes and size. We must realize that there is a hidden bias even in the fears we harbor when walking down the street past people of different skin tones and religions. We must look at our entertainment industry that continues to struggle making darker skinned stars mainstream while doting over lighter ones who may even at times have less talent. We must see people from the inside out and not the outside in. We must learn that strong minds and being outspoken while still respectful is an asset and not a liability. We must learn the difference between assertion and aggression. We must learn that we were made in an image that is just right as is without question. And finally, we must teach our girls (and boys) THEY ARE WORTHY!!!!