I know racism. I remember the first time I experienced it. I was three, I won’t go into details but I remember coming home from nursery and asking my Mam if I was black. I didn’t realise I was different. She said no, you're my beautiful brown girl. And that is what I am - a beautiful brown girl. But it has taken me a long time to feel that way. I didn't believe that black was beautiful, I was never allowed to.
The way Western media judges black women by European standards was the reason for the majority of the issues I had as a little girl. When I was about 25 I found my voice and confidence and realised I don't want to look like you. Fuck what your media thinks I should look like, or what the western world's idea of beautiful is. I am fucking beautiful.
Some of my earliest memories involve my hair (Afro hair = high maintenance). One day at nursery a teacher brought her rollers to show the girls. Each girl was allowed a roller in her hair, but when I asked for one I was told I had the "wrong" hair for rollers. Can you imagine how much it crushes a three year old’s spirit to be told that she is "wrong"? To this day I don’t wear my hair down.
I was 12 when I first used relaxer in my hair. Hours of chemicals burning my scalp and neck for straight hair. Why did I want straight hair? What is wrong with my natural hair? It is never portrayed in the media that nappy is beautiful. Look at the examples of black women we have to look up to: Rihanna, Beyonce, Naomi Campbell, not one of them rocks their natural hair, they all wear weave or perm.
This is what weave will do to your hair kids.
When I was growing up you couldn't even buy afro hair products in Newcastle. I had to get them brought up for me from London in bulk. Is it any wonder I had problems when the city I was born in doesn't even think I'm beautiful enough to sell me shampoo?
Throughout my childhood I was the subject of ridicule for the afro puff my Mam would put in my hair. I remember as a child in primary school, adults as well as kids thought it was okay to touch my hair. It is not okay for people to touch my hair without asking - I am not an animal in a petting zoo. Yes my hair is different, the texture is different and no it’s not okay to touch without asking. This still happens to me today. Don't touch my fucking hair.
How could I be expected to think I was beautiful in the world I grew up in? Walk into a newsagents - other than the odd celebrity, how many black women do you see on the cover of women's magazines? We have to look to ‘Black Beauty’ or ‘Black Hair’ for that, and let me tell you, those magazines are not widely available. They have to be ordered in from WHSmith in town. Is this okay? As a child, it wasn't okay. I remember crying myself to sleep at night, begging God to let me wake up white like my Mam so that I could be happy. But happiness is a white people thing.
I begged God to give me long, straight blonde hair. How ashamed I am of that now. I begged my mother for a nose job as a teenager. How I hated my wide, flat nose. “It’s too big for my face”, I used to cry. Why was I, a child, made to feel that it was? Black is beautiful. That is the truth that is hidden from our children.
Though it’s not just white face focused media who are causing the black woman's struggle. There is another struggle going on and it’s in our own communities: Colourism.
Colourism is defined as a colonial mindset where people are discriminated against and accorded different social treatment based on the shade of their skin. The journalist Jill Nelson states "Black women find themselves involved in a lifelong effort to self-define in a culture that provides them no positive reflection". The light to dark hierarchy has existed since the days of slavery. Well, kids, we are no longer slaves.
While researching this article I stumbled upon the documentary DarkGirls. Dark Girls featured interviews and commentary from dark skinned black women who had suffered discrimination throughout their lives based on the shade of their skin. The media elevates black women with European features (light skin, smaller noses, thin lips, straight hair), and borderline ignores dark skinned black women. This is affecting the self esteem of our children. I watched the entire thing and after an hour I was in tears. It broke my heart to see a little girl saying light skinned girls are more beautiful and clever and she is ugly and stupid for being dark skinned. This is not my struggle, but we are one people, so it is our struggle. How can we still be living in a world where we are making our children feel this way? It looks like not much has changed since the mid '80s when my own struggle began.
I cannot bring a little girl into this world to feel the way I felt - I won't. Carefree, happy childhoods should not be the exclusive privilege of the white man. Why, within our own communities, are we discriminating against one another based on the shade of our skin? This is slave mentality taken from the days of colonisation when the house nigger was light skinned and the field nigger was dark. You'd rather be in the house than the field. Why do we aspire to look more like the race that enslaved us and colonised our continent for their benefit? Have we lost our minds?
It is a disgrace that skin bleaching creams are being marketed and used, not only in the western world but in Africa. Beautiful Africa.
What the actual fuck is this? (Senegal Billboard "Khess Petch" means "All White")
Let's stop hiding, let's stop pretending to be something we're not and let's make the world an easier place for our daughters. It’s going to be hard enough for them as it is. Let's rock our 'fros and embrace our natural skin colour. Let’s stop wearing our weaves, stop relaxing our hair, stop bleaching our skin. Let’s love ourselves the way God made us. We don't have to aspire to be house niggers for an easier life anymore. Slavery is over. Let's move on, let's be free. We don't have to assimilate Western-influenced culture in our colonised countries - Africa is free! Only when we do these things will we truly be embracing the freedom our ancestors fought for, we are letting them down.
I am black and I am beautiful. From the top of my big round forehead, my full lips, my round wide, flat nose, my waist length ebony curls right down to my natural born black arse (its a big 'un kids!) I am gorgeous. Ask me who I am? I'm not some heartbroken teenage girl with my confidence shattered, no self esteem and ashamed of my nappy hair. Ask me who I am? I am a beautiful brown girl. We are all beautiful brown girls.