I’m now three months into my new life in Manassas Park, Virginia, but elements of my old life and the way I was raised remain with me now and probably for always.
With February being Black History Month, I thought it would be a good time to discuss my heritage.
I discussed the nuances of life as a woman of color recently with one of my newest friends in Manassas Park, a man of mixed decent, who didn’t really understand that there were any nuances.
Though segregation and slavery ended many years ago, my friend didn’t understand that the years of discrimination still affect us to this day.
A form of discrimination and prejudice exist within the Black race.
I have lived, witnessed and seen Black people put a premium on other Blacks who have fairer skin.
Light-skin Black girls who have hair with looser curls are often considered “prettier” than girls who have darker skin and tighter curled hair.
Sadly, many of the women in my life feel defined by the skin color.
A few weeks ago one of my close friends and I were talking about men. She was commenting about how a guy she dated wasn’t interested in being in a serious relationship with her.
“Every time things don’t work out with a guy, I think it’s because I’m too fat and too black,” she said to me.
I was so shocked to hear those words come out of her month. How did this intelligent well-educated law school graduate and attorney come to reduce herself to her weight and her color?
What had society done to their young black women to make them think their dark complexions and curves are flaws?
I guess it goes back to slavery, when lighter-skin Blacks were allowed to work as house servants for their White owners, while those with darker skin did more labor-intensive field work.
How many times have I, far removed from slavery, heard some Blacks refer to Blacks with lighter-skin as “house Negros?”
I tell you know lie, when I say that so many of my single girlfriends in the dating pool feel like they are at a disadvantage because they have dark skin.
It’s implanted in us at an early age. I remember being on the playground in middle school and hearing a Black boy talk about his White girlfriend.
His girlfriend, had long, shinny perfectly straight black hair down to her waist.
One day the Black boy said, “ My girlfriend is pretty. My girlfriend is White. She doesn’t have naps. Her hair isn’t nappy.”
Standing there as a 12-year-old girl with short, curly hair that I wanted desperately to grow long, I thought, “Is she better than me because she’s White?”
I thought that I was somehow inferior because I was a browned-skin Black girl—a dime a dozen in my 98 percent Black middle school. And here was this White “anomaly” who I thought was somehow more beautiful and more desirable than me because of her hair and skin.
It exists in other cultures, too.
My good friend, a Mexican-American who grew up in California, said people within her race call darker skin Hispanics all sorts of derogatory names because of their complexion. One Mexican girl’s father didn’t want her to marry her now-husband because he was “too dark,” my friend said.
Where do these prejudices come from??
A Panamanian friend of mine with very dark skin, told me that as a little girl, she used to walk around with a towel tied around her head, to mimic having long, straight hair.
She wanted so much to be White, she told me.
That all changed when her mother saw her one day with the towel on her head and had a heart-to heart with her daughter.
She was told never to be ashamed of being Black and there was no need to pretend to be anything you were not.
She embraced her color and grew to be one of the most attractive women I know. She’s a real head-turner, especially because she is so tall.
Which brings me to another related subject.
Why is it that so many people say to attractive dark-skin women, “You are so pretty for a dark-skin girl.”
Over the years, so many people have said this to my older sister and it is really annoying.
It’s like an insult disguised as a compliment. I mean, what is THAT suppose to mean? That most dark-skinned people are ugly and the person they are complimenting is the exception?
In the course of preparing this editorial, I spoke to another close friend and asked her if she thought that some Black people were still judging others by their skin tone.
She had something very wise to say.
“Jamie, prejudice is alive and well, but you can choose to live within those parameters or choose not to,” she said.
You can let people define you by something as superficial as your appearance or something as deep-rooted as your heritage and end up spending your entire life wondering if you’re ever good enough.
Or you can be the best person you know how to be and forget the rest.