Friday, February 5, 2016

Realness. ღ

(I own no rights to this image.)

I can vividly remember many of the bus rides from school that I had as a child. I was the only little Black girl amongst 10-15 white children on the bus--five of which who may have been girls. We all lived in the countryside, rural neighborhoods at least thirty minutes from the closest grocery stores or movie theaters. It was simple living out in that area but we didn't know that until adolescence of course, when we were exposed to more. We only knew what we were told and shown. 

During these long, tedious bus rides I always attempted to grab a window seat. Doing so seemed to provide me with a secret corner. A place I could slip into and no one would see me. Oftentimes, they acted that way anyhow. Being an introverted child, I didn't mind at all. I preferred it that way. Instead of socializing, I wanted to observe. Listen. Examine. For a young child, much of his/her personal development is impacted by what is seen at home with family members and what is seen at school with teachers and peers. Because I was one of the few Blacks in the school, I wanted to discover a way to blend in. Become a part of the majority. And what better way to learn than to observe those who are already a part of that majority. 

Mind you, I did not do this consciously. I was a child. My mind had yet to evolve to even understand what was happening around me nor why it was happening. I had premises for my desire to blend in but as a young girl, I could not necessarily explain to you exactly why.

One of the key things I envied most about my white, female peers was their hair. It had bounce. Shine. Was silky. And from what I could see, very versatile. It was the epitome of beauty and femininity, I believed. And because of this belief, I grew to dislike my own hair. I was ashamed. It had no bounce. It had no shine. It sure as hell wasn't silky. So I marveled at the sight of my friends' hair when they ran, jumped, and skipped across the playground and the classrooms. The sun's rays would beam onto their manes as if God Himself was kissing their heads in admiration. And I would watch from afar, awaiting the day for Him to kiss me too. 

My hair was not the only boundary that I believed separated me from my White counterparts. It was also my skin. And I'm sure you're thinking, "Of course! You're Black!" But I didn't see it that way as a child. It was not simply the fact that I was Black. But the fact that I was a Black that was dark-skinned. To this very day, I am not sure of where the inclination birth from. I don't know how I even conceived such a thought at such an early age. But I did. I felt that maybe... Just maybe if I were 2-3 shades brighter, things would be different. That "different" meant that I would be more popular in school. That different meant that my teachers would believe I was a little smarter than I let on. That different meant that I would have the confidence to be more outspoken and command the attention of others. That different meant that I would love myself more. 

It was not until my late teens that I realized I could accomplish all of those things while still being me--the dark-skinned, chocolate me that I've always been.

Although I could not control the texture nor length of my hair and the hue of my skin as a child, I quickly learned that which I could control: my speech. My vernacular. I could become more purposeful about the words that I spoke and the manner in which I spoke them. In order to associate and connect with my white friends I needed to speak their language, just as they spoke it, I believed. In many ways, I believe that I began doing this subconsciously. I simply mirrored the image I admired in an attempt to join the culture, become a part of the group. And it worked. They accepted me despite my nappy hair, wide nose, and bony black knees. I was the darkest thing in the room but when I spoke, the entire place lit up. Others wanted to hear what I needed to say. I believe that my introverted personality played a part in this as well. As reserved as I was, of course it was a moment to embrace if and when I dared to open my mouth in front of others. It made me proud. But it also made me shameful. I was lauded in the hallways yet laughed at at home. My family members couldn't understand why I needed to enunciate my -er's and use frivolous words when I could just say "gonna, 'bout," and "iight." I recall very vividly some saying that I "talked white." It sounds ignorant but the underlying message is everything but. To state that I "talked white" implied that proper grammar and enunciation was a mannerism Black people couldn't have. It confused me. It frustrated me. And so at a very young age, I learned the in's and out's of what we now call code switching. I was in elementary and middle school back then. I didn't know what that was all about. But what I did know was that it was "refrigerator" from 8:00AM to 3:30 in the afternoon and once my feet hit that dirt road back home, we ain't know nothing 'bout no "refrigerator."

In retrospect, I am grateful for my childhood experiences because they've taught me a great deal. Through reflection, I have learned more about myself, my heritage, and the world around me. Now as an adult, I realize that I am nowhere close to being the only Black (female) who has ever felt this way. As youngsters, we are indoctrinated into whatever culture around us. It's not our fault if we don't necessarily align with the standards of that culture because our race is something beyond our control. Trying to battle with it is much like a fight with nature; you'll never win. As a result of this insight, I've learned to embrace with open arms the person that I am, the person that I was born. It would serve an injustice to the men and women before me--who have risked and lost their lives so that I can be proud of who I am--to reject my identity. How dare I spit in the face of those who sacrificed for my livelihood? I owe it back, I believe. And so I dare to pay my respects by first acknowledging the self-rejection and dislike I harbored for myself, learning to accept that which I am, and then helping those who are quietly harboring resentment as well. We are often afraid to admit that we have these feelings because to do so is to admit that there are parts of ourselves we just don't like. But I believe it's okay to claim those feelings because none of us are alone and most importantly, we were not born with those feelings. They are the results of an indoctrination into a society in which whiteness remains supreme.