Where to start? Do I begin with the first time I was called a nigger in 2nd grade or the second time in the 6th grade? No, too broad. Let’s start in kindergarten when my school nurse asked me to ask my mom if she wouldn’t put my hair in the “funny little braids” so that it would be easier to check my hair for lice. Being one of two black girls in a class of 25, it was in that moment that I would forever feel different. Naturally, my mom was pissed. She sent me back to school to say, “My mama said you can take my hair down but you BETTER put it back like you found it.”
I never had a single inquiry about my hair from the school nurse throughout my duration of elementary school.
Besides being overweight and stricken with acne, as I grew older, kids found other ways to tease me outside of my skin color. In a high school with a population of 94% white, I was an easy target of indirect racism. Why is the backside of your hand black and not the other side? A parent told me to slow down with my accelerated reading points because she didn’t want me to have more than her son. A principal once asked if my dad lived with us. I was waiting on her to subtly ask if we were living on government assistance.
In marching band, the director’s daughter asked me during one sweltering practice, “Tyler, is your body temperature hotter than mine right now?”. With a smirk on her face and the other white kids eager to know my answer, I felt outnumbered and defeated, laughing it off by saying, “No.” As the only African-American in the marching band, parents of my classmates would tell me, “I look for the black dot on the field to see if my child is standing near you.”
Is there a perfect response to these questions for a 15-year-old or any child? I wanted so desperately to fit in that I just continued to smile through my hurt feelings. The kids knew as much as their parents told them and the parents were going out of their way to make me feel uncomfortable. If I verbally retaliated, instantly I would be categorized as a troubled “black” child. Now that I am an adult, I see how their ignorance added to my own complexities of being Black. It wasn’t until I turned 25 and began writing for a Black publication that I truly felt the essence of what it meant to be proud of my skin.
College had its own troubles. Race and gender was not it. I turned 27 last month and made it a vow to everyday reflect on what it is to be a Black woman in America. I can only say, people fear what they do not understand. Reading blogs and following conversations on Twitter made me realize that I was not alone in these damaging experiences. Hearing teens and young women describe the cruelty they’re subjected to all because their beauty is “too dark” or only “pretty for a Black girl”. One girl once said she was called an “ugly bitch” by her classmates all because she is Black. How can you fix your mouth to say that to another human? We are treated like extraterrestrials more often than not. When it comes to the features we have long been ridiculed about, the narrative changes. I wonder which Black woman inspired Kylie Jenner’s highly sought after lips and her sister’s iconic hips? Melanin sold separately. Cultural appropriation is an epidemic.
We are conditioned to believe that by bleaching our skin and straightening our hair, somehow the rest of society will find comfort in our lost beauty. Some days it seems as though everyone wants to persecute us for our individualiy until our style is made “the it thing by a celebrity”. Otherwise, we’re dubbed strange, like aliens to this land. A broad generalization to make, but it’s true. When is the last time someone asked to touch your hair like it’s a foreign human cell.
In a conversation about how she likes to wear her hair, a little biracial girl told me yesterday, “My mom doesn’t want me looking like some black kid.” Her father is Black. In this very moment, this child has a seed planted in her head that there is an innate problem with people who are born Black. I asked the child if she was Black. Her response? Yes. Sadly, for now, she won’t be able to take pride in what flows deeply in her blood. Because her mother is disgusted with children who appear to look as though they are Black, this girl must now must carry the burden of believing she is above her peers and that one part of her is grotesque. What a shame. Something so beautiful is unaware of her pristine value all because mom is mad at dad and his ancestral lineage. You cannot truly love yourself and only embrace certain attributes. Somewhere between conception to birth, his skin color was not an issue to mom.
Prejudices put forth by parents can directly translate into self-hate for offspring.
Being fully aware of those who feel the need to marginalize black girls, is what makes me represent #BlackGirlsRock. I have friends who say, “Why do you always hashtag that on your pics? White girls rock too.” Sure, every girl rocks. However, no one has to tell you that. Look at the kid’s shows on Disney or the covers of magazines and the Academy Awards. You don’t see many of us. And if you do, it is poorly represented or not at all. #BlackGirlsRock says, I see you Black girl even if no one else does.
Beverly Bond, Founder and Executive Director of BlackGirlsRock, Inc. said it best:
“Black Girls Rock is not just an ornamental phrase used to cloak ourselves in vanity. It is a critical and necessary affirmation. Because when you grow up black, and a girl, you come to recognize that there is a privilege associated with race and gender. And as a black girl, you learn that because of skin, and the body that you were born in, society has placed you at the bottom of this hierarchy. So, saying that we rock is a response to the tremendous neglect that black girls feel, when they grow up in a society where they are underrepresented, misrepresented or completely overlooked.”
Being a Black girl isn’t a disability, a mountain to climb or a hurdle to overcome. Beautiful, strong, excellent, tenacious, resilient, game changers, innovative, stylish and whatever else we choose to be. Let us decide. Stop putting Black girls in a box. We are bound to break out…one way or another.