Updated: Sep 28, 2018
I was born in the 60’s and became a teenager in the 70’s. I was super sheltered and ridiculously naïve. And scared. And mostly unhappy. I was lonely and spent most of my time alone. I didn’t have many friends. I felt very misunderstood. And my boobs grew in one at a time. Like a B-cup on one side and AA-cup on the other. It’s any wonder I grew up with depression, who gets one breast?
There were race riots going on back then, in Detroit and apparently all around the country. Of course, I knew nothing about them because I was kept sheltered. The only thing I knew about racial problems were from the news programs that constantly showed black people in the south being hosed with water and attacked by dogs. My mother thought it was important for us to see this, but never explained why. It never made me angry, but I was so sad about what I saw. What was even sadder for me was that I discovered that I was disliked for something that was totally out of my control – the shade of my skin and the texture of my hair. I was high-yellow with long, dark, wavy hair. I wish I could say it was all in my head, but I can’t; I know it to be true because people (mostly dark-skinned girls) made it a point to tell me so. They let me know that I thought I was something special because of the traits that I had absolutely nothing to do with. And here’s what’s ironic, I was in total envy of them.
As a little girl in elementary school, I used to marvel at the dark-skinned girls in the morning (because after school we all looked like Pigpen from Charlie Brown, just dusty), how shiny and glowing they were. They looked like magic to me. Me? No matter how much Jergen’s lotion or Albolene Cream my mother slathered on me, I was just pale. And their hair? Tight, kinky, awesome hair. Oh my, talk about envy. I would have given anything to be able to rock an afro; long, wavy hair doesn’t do that. Even today, every now and again that small streak of envy pops up – Melanin Magic, but now I celebrate my beautiful sisters because I’m ok in my skin.
It was always strange to me that ‘shades of black’ had seasons. There was a season for dark blacks and one for fairer blacks, and it was strong within our own community. This was the beginning of me noticing what I identified as different traits in shades of color. For instance, my selection of men. I don’t date light skinned black men. This stemmed from watching my big brothers; one was light, and one was dark. My perception of them was this: the light one kept his reddish hair pristine and his clothes immaculate. The ladies loved him and chased him and swooned over him. He was also not about to get dirty, so he didn’t work, and he was broke! My darker brother, on the other hand, afro, holes in his jeans, dusty, oily and grimy from work. The ladies loved him and chased him and swooned over him too, but when I asked for extra money to hit the skating rink, he had it. I began to associate skin tone with ethics.
It seemed that we (lighter skinned) got away with so much more than them (darker skinned), were given more privileges – and shamefully, I used that to my advantage when necessary. Check out Spike Lee’s movie School Daze, it tells a pretty accurate story. My being light was also my internal curse, I began to feel guilty about my skin color and how I made other girls feel. I never believed that I measured up. I was even trained to get a job that “pretty women” did, a secretary. Not knocking anybody’s administrative skills because I’ve been there and done that and was damn good at it and I know that an office runs so much more efficiently with a skilled admin running things. Since that’s what I was being groomed to be, I decided that I would be great at it. So, I learned to type – 120 wpm in junior high school and 95 wpm shorthand dictation in high school; and like algebra, I'm sure I haven’t used it since. I also began to believe that guys only liked me because of my looks. By the way, I’ve NEVER felt like I was pretty – coming soon to a blog or book near you.
This blog was written because I can’t imagine that I’m the only person who grew up feeling some kind of way about something they couldn’t control. If I could go back to my younger self, I’d tell my “village” to encourage my brain, help me explore my talents, develop my strengths and show me unlimited options. If I could tell parents anything right now, it would be to keep your beauty comments in perspective and help your children to be great from the inside out. After all, you as parents, and your ancestral DNA are what contributes to what your children look like. Teach them that they are beautiful in their skin tone and magnificent outside of it.