Saturday, July 23, 2016

To My Fellow Women of Color, I Love You

A few days ago I wrote about what it's like growing up black in America.  I wanted to provide perspective into why the words, black lives matter, are being uttered, why they were used to form a social movement, why they mattered.  However today I want to write a post strictly to women of color.  Women of color I love you, you are beautiful.  Just because the media doesn't represent us.  Just because literature doesn't depict us.  Just because many people surrounding you don't look anything like you, doesn't mean you are not gorgeous.

I grew up on the West cost and the Southwest so my experience with prejudice is not as horrible as it could have been had my parent's lived somewhere else.  Where I grew up meant that there weren't many black people in my state.  When I was in school I could count on one hand, maybe two (but never more), how many black girls were enrolled.  In high school I never got asked out, I didn't have a boyfriend.  After graduation I was told, "you were hot but I'd never been with a black girl."  Sound familiar?  It's quite similar to the "you're hot, for a black girl."  Or even the "I just don't like black girls."

What each of these derogatory statements have in common is that, they imply that there is a difference between dating a black girl or a white girl strictly based on the color of their skin.  If you date a woman that has more melanin in their skin based on someone that has less will there be a difference?  Yes, yes there will be.  There will be a difference because they are two different people with different experiences.  Just like there would be a difference if you dated two black women.  The nuance, the intrigue, the subtleties, those come from individuals not skin color.

In the past black women have been labeled as easy, as having no virtue.  This comes out of slavery where white men would rape black woman, some were even encouraged to do so, to practice before they married their pure bride.  This fallacy that black woman are for practice is vile.  We are women as in equal to a man, as in a human being.  We are not a stereotype.  

Not only did I not get asked out but I also never felt comfortable in my own skin.  My hair didn't look like everyone else's.  I didn't frequent tanning beds, I knew this seems small and trivial but it wasn't.  It was this underlined understanding that I wasn't like everyone else.  I remembered my mom braiding my hair and a boy on the school bus sat behind me and yelled, "Ahh a squid," while he pulled at my hair, mimicking tentacles.  I was too embarrassed to tell my parents about it, or worse how my friends just laughed.  None of my friends wore braids, they all had straight obedient hair.  None of the prime time shows had women wearing braids like mine.  They didn't have hair or skin that looked like mine.  I started to straighten my hair in eighth grade.  Finally gone were my kinky curls that I was too embarrassed to wear down.  The curls that were compared to pubic hair at a sleepover.  

Skin care products, makeup, undergarments and braziers come in these "skin tone" shades.  Guess whose skin tone they don't have?  I read Brooklyn by Colm Toibin a few months ago, and there is an entire scene dedicated to when pantyhose arrive at their store for black women.  The book takes place in the 1950's, yet even now I think about last week how I had to go to three different beauty stores to find hair products for my texture of hair.  Hey America, there are women of color that would like to buy beauty products, we aren't going anywhere so make them available around the country.  

Just when I would start to fit in or forget that I didn't look like everyone else, I would get asked a question that would remind me that I didn't belong.  Like, "how come the insides of your hands are white, are all black people's hands like that?" or "Do black people sing at their church?"  "Why are black people so loud?"  "Why don't you talk black?"  "Can I touch your hair, (after they've already touched it)."  "Do black people have an extra bone in their foot that makes them run fast?"  "You're black, are you going to try out for track?"  When you're the only black person around, you get really good at being the speaker for blacks everywhere.  You are treated as a stereotype that is expected to represent these stereotypes.  You learn to tell yourself things like, my friends aren't prejudice they are just sheltered, it's not their fault.  Eventually you grow up and realize this is not your job.

Your job is to love yourself.  Your job is to fill your social media with images of women of color so that you are reminded that just because no one in your office, classroom, group of friends, or maybe even your family look like you, you still matter.  You represent a different kind of beauty, one that is hidden, one that isn't depicted on the big screen or magazines but I see you.  You're flawless.

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