New Girl in Town: On being Black and the Unspoken and Often ignored Issue of Prejudices Within Ones Own Race

New girl on what it's like to be a Black woman living in 2011.

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.

Kris Day February 23, 2011 at 02:20 AM
I think our society has come a long way in embracing the fact that God made us all a beautiful variety of colors, none more worthy than another, but sometimes we are reminded we still have a ways to go. For instance, the other day my daughter, who is white, told me that her black friend told her she wishes she weren't black. For Black History Month their class is learning songs that have African or slave roots, but this same little girl makes fun of the songs and makes my daughter feel embarassed for enjoying singing them. It's enough to make you want to cry. I've shared with my daughter how she needs to affirm her friend by telling her, "Black is Beautiful" (as is every other color under the sun), and to go on enjoying the songs and not let this little girl's attitude affect her, and that maybe the little girl secretly likes the songs and does like the fact that her friend does too. But it's just sad. I have to wonder if this little girl is missing a strong female black role model in her life to tell her how beautiful she is, and to celebrate her heritage. Hopefully, like your friend, Jamie, she will get it sometime along the way. I dare say that the young man you knew probably grew up to realize that beauty comes in all shapes, sizes and colors too. But if he did not, then he is to be pitied.
Tomi February 23, 2011 at 05:10 AM
Very insightful piece, New Girl. An expose on this sad reality has been long overdue.
Samantha Jones February 23, 2011 at 02:59 PM
Tis true, it is alive and well. I complained recently to a friend about this very subject. We were discussing two single men that we know and how they have made it clear that they prefer spanish wemon. Yeah, to each its own blah blah blah... but "really"? I guess im more in favor of loving what made me, a black man.
Samantha Jones February 23, 2011 at 10:08 PM
Prejudice and discrimination are a silent killer. Our actions speak volumes louder than we ever would. Many of us have grown up seeing discrimination on a daily basis which shaped who we are. Weve see the lighter skin girl with long riglests get picked by a teacher to be her pet, and weve seen other girls playing in her hair, touching it with envy yet desirable adoration. Nobody has said a word but we get the message.... we need to be like her. Later in life we see that same "pretty girl" at the job, the club or at dinner get fawned over by "any" brother simply because she is simply what hes has been convinced as " better". Again the message..buzz buzz. And although we are loved, its never said that we are beautiful - which sends the message.. buzz buzz ... we arent. We suffer until we have an AHA moment. (wooosaaah) we dont have to continue the message, we can change it.. as sisters we can stop hating, show love, show respect and talk to one another in tone that lets our sisters know regardless of what shade of black we are...we are beautiful, we are queens, we are loved.
Amahl Miller April 13, 2011 at 09:25 PM
Great article. I grew up down I-20 from you in Augusta GA.


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