You know, I hesitate to discuss colorism at all because my experiences are so different from that of my brown and black skinned sisters. I am what someone would call light-skinned. I always have been light. However, I think it’s important for people who benefit from colorism to explore that truth and be honest about it the ways we contribute to it, no matter how small.
I remember the first time I ever heard someone call me a b*tch. I was in the fourth grade and I could not for the life of me figure out why Asia Brown was calling me a b*tch. I was quiet, didn’t bother anybody. I had one friend, a little Filipino girl named Kim and she was really the only person I talked to. I was intelligent and nervous. I got all of my kicks from knowing I was the smartest child in the room. I knew it, I knew my teachers knew it. And as an adult, I realize that’s why the other girls thought I was a b*tch.
I was the smartest child in the room and still, my teachers heaped praises on me for the most mediocre tasks. I was always told in front of everyone how smart I was and how I was going to grow up to be amazing! I do not recall ever hearing my teachers discuss the other girls in my class that way. I do remember them being called ‘fast’ and ghetto. I remember them being called hoochies and fast tailed little thangs. I remember them being told to sit down as they were on their way to the teacher’s desk to ask for help.
I was bullied mercilessly in school. I was poor and everyone knew it. My clothes, our home, my hair all reflected my family’s financial situation and the kids I went to school with were harsh critics. I remember my name, Shauncea, being twisted into ‘Shakkacea’ and ‘Shaka Zulu’.
But, I was never called ugly.
I was never called a gorilla.
I was never called crusty or ‘dusty‘ or ‘nasty.’
The girls I went to school with were black. All of them except Kim were dark-skinned, cocoa buttered, Blue Magic Grease-pressing combs black girls. They were beautiful. Yet, when a boy was angry, the boys would harass them all. Calling them ‘nappy headed hoes’, ‘crusty b*tches’, ‘Boogeyman’, etc. So many other hateful, horrible things designed to rip apart the very fabric that held them together! These same boys (whom looked like them!) targeted their skin, their natural hair as ‘disgusting,’ ‘foul,’ unkempt abominations. Teachers didn’t protect them the way they protected me. Society and Television didn’t reflect their images as beauty and grace.
As an adult, I look back and think about what it must’ve been like for those brown skinned girls to sit next to me in class and be ignored. When they were not ignored, they were insulted. What must it have felt like to be on your way to ask for help to advance yourself and be told to sit down because you already had been written off? Imagine having your hair done, your nails done, a fashionable outfit and still be dogged because you had the audacity to be born brown!
Imagine watching the light skinned girl be protected by her teachers. Imagine watching her be praised for the most basic of tasks, while your hardest efforts were nonexistent in the eyes of all who matter. Imagine going home from an entire day of that to turn on a TV, only to have the TV tell you black cannot be beautiful without being light-skinned, curly-haired and ambiguous. Imagine listening to the news call you, because you are darker-skinned, ‘welfare queens’, ‘baby mamas’ and ‘video hoes’.
Imagine never seeing a black woman who is a doctor, a lawyer or a physicist! You go to bed, you wake up tomorrow to go right back to school, see the little light skinned girl that everyone protects and praises while she sits smug in the corner knowing she’s the smartest person in the room and not helping you.
Yeah, that girl IS a b*tch.
Even as a younger adult, I would refer to a brown-skinned girl as ‘ghetto’ if she put colored (rainbow, red, pink,etc) hair in her weaves. Even as a black woman, I believed that was only okay for white women. Black girls are robbed of the right to even be artistically expressive. I was thirty, before I ever heard of internalized racism.
You see, none of this is about what those girls did to me. It’s about what society did to those girls. They were not bullies. They weren’t ingrates or troublemakers. They were hurting! These girls were turning into women right beside me, growing up in a world that makes it perfectly clear they’re not worthy or welcome.
These girls were only seeking to destroy that which was being used to destroy them.
There is no pandemic of self-hatred among black women. There is no hate inside us for what we see. Black women hate the image society has painted of them. We hate the ghetto, attitude, uneducated, nappy headed baby mama caricature mysogynoir has drawn of black women. Black women are tired of having to fight to be seen as worthy and welcome! It’s high time we start kicking down these antiquated ideas about what is beautiful. Colorism has invaded everything from the beauty industry, the economics of cosmetics, to care in hospitals and doctors offices.
We have to do more to recognize the way we contribute to the experiences of the brown and black skinned women around us. They need our support. Their trauma is real and it’s up to us to change the stigma surrounding being a dark skinned woman.
Contributor, The Ideal Firestarter