A love-hate relationship between a black girl and her skin
Before I ever discovered sexism or racism, I was already shunned by colorism. That’s right, my first and most painful experiences of discrimination were meted out by other Nigerians because of the shade of my skin.
In primary 6, a new boy came to school; he was Portuguese and the only English words he could understand perfectly were ‘hello’, ‘sorry’ and ‘thank you’. For three consecutive terms in Primary five, I had bagged the highest overall position, and so my teacher thought it would be an amazing idea to pair him up with me so that I could help him out with his English. A girl in the back snickered that I shouldn’t sit next to him, or I would contaminate him with my blackness. The class burst into laughter.
In secondary school, colorism was not as hurtful, or maybe I had just become resistant to it all. I was told, ‘you are black’ the way one was told ‘you are stupid’.
At a point in my life, I hated standing next to my mother. Nigerians (and their need to give unsolicited advice) always felt the need to point out the fact that I had not inherited her light skin. Cue the sympathetic sighs and the prayers that Jesus will allow me to meet a man that will love me. Or when my mom came to visit me at school, and a certain classmate of mine (happy to never speak to her again) rushed to point out that my mum had ‘cheated’ me out of beauty, adding the fact that she had gotten her own mum’s light complexion.
I remember when a boy who was almost three shades darker than me had compared me to faeces. I asked him, ‘Aren’t you even darker than I am?’ He shrugged. ‘I’m a guy.’
We see this every day. While black men are loved and even fetishized for their skin tone, black girls are ridiculed for it. In the colonial era, dark-skinned women were called monkeys. Black women were denied painkillers because they were assumed to be masculine and hence, did not need it. Although not as pronounced as in the past, colorism is still seen on television screens. On black family sitcoms, male characters are played by black men of all kinds while female characters are always of a lighter shade or biracial.
The world is in a new era of ‘black girl magic’: the love of a coal skin with pearly white teeth and full kinky hair all dolled up in a mustard yellow tee shirt. And though I admire the ‘melanin love’ and chocolate emojis left in the comments section of my Instagram pictures, I wonder if this too will go out of fashion like a forgotten toy.
I remember an evening where I was engaging in my daily ritual of wasting ten minutes of my study time. As I roamed aimlessly into another room, a friend of mine stared long at me. I thought I had an insect on my head. She said, ‘Sope, you’re actually pretty. Wow.’ Like she had discovered a hidden gem that had been in front of her. My friend, who had seen me every day for the last eight years, had realized that I was pretty.
And that is the way dark-skinned girls are told that they are pretty: not because of their skin, but in spite of it.
The world romanticizes colorism by portraying it in a benevolent manner. A black girl posts a picture of herself and she is tagged as ‘skin goals’ or ‘nubian queen’. Why must a black girl’s beauty be attached to the recognition of her skin like she is being praised for her courage? Through benevolent colorism, we tell black girls that they are ‘brave’ for even thinking that they are beautiful.
This year has been one of learning and un-learning.
In the words of Alan Whitman,
I celebrate myself, and sing myself
And what I assume you shall assume.
I have dedicated this year to loving myself for who I am; hair, skin and weight. Maybe the melanin magic will fade away after some years, and I will love myself even more. I am beauty.
Day 3 of Day 30
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Day 2- Of Mothers and Daughters