So I have been thinking recently about internalised racism. About how we are sometimes the most racist to ourselves and others of our race. Black people have the tendency to this (this black person in particular). We both are and are not to blame for this as throughout history we have been oppressed and fed a number of lies which has shaped our position in society.
‘You are not intelligent.’ ‘Your hair is ugly and unprofessional’ ‘Your skin is to dark therefore you cannot be beautiful.’ ‘Your nose is to big, not dainty and elegant.’
Everything that has happened to us we have dealt with, fought and survived. Everything we are supposed to hate about ourselves is now deemed beautiful on anyone without dark skin. We are now in the midst of trends such as cornrows, big lips, big bottoms and being as bronzed and tanned as possible. All trends that most black people are genetically born with or adopted into our culture a long time ago. All things that we were ridiculed and put down for having. All things that were deemed ‘inappropriate’ and could mean you never were employed. All things that have been stolen from us, and sold back to us without any credit and a hefty price tag.
I have been thinking a lot about internalised racism. I am in a good place and have learnt to love myself. I am able to recognise this because at one point this wasn’t the case. I subconsciously hated my skin. I hated the way my hair looked when it was wet, I hated the fact that I wasn’t as pretty as the other girls. Why couldn’t I be like the beautiful girl who was on the cover of cosmopolitan or vogue? Why didn’t the boys like me as much as they like the other girls?
My prejudice against my own race led to me trying my best to separate myself. I was proud of the fact you that I wasn’t a ‘typical black girl’. I like indie, heavy metal, festivals and crazy drunken parties so I’m not like them I’m different. I used words like ghetto and ratchet to describe people who looked just like me. I didn’t like what my skin represented so I tried to be different.
This is something I have only realised I used to do now that I am doing some self-reflection. The more I grow to love myself, I start to figure out the reasons why I was so down on my appearance. Now I laugh at the term ‘typical black girl’ and can’t believe I ever used it. I am also deeply upset I put black women into this box. There is absolutely nothing typical about us and is an extremely offensive thing to say. Of course there will be similarities that any two people of the same culture will have. However we come in different heights, sizes and body shapes. Some of us are extremely outspoken and some of us are really shy. Those of us of African or Caribbean descent will have the similar upbringings therefore similar stories. We deal with our traditional parents and the deep schism between the old school and the new school. There are many things we do that they can not and do not want to understand. A lot of subjects warrant the ‘in my day’ speech which I think is something we can all relate to.
As said in the beginning we are and are not to blame for our own racism. The negative feelings I had towards my skin come from a lifetime of being told that black is not beautiful. The image of beauty that has been given to me from the moment I understood what the word beautiful meant has never looked like me. If I think about my favourite toys, movies, celebrities, TV shows – they were never beautiful dark-skinned people. As little girls we played with barbies and toy babies, we watched Nickelodeon and The Disney channel and our favourite films were films like Toy Story and The Incredibles.
This was society’s way of teaching us what morals we should have and who we should inspire to become. Our favourite people did not look like us and were never from the same place. Thus began the image I started forming of myself and the dislike of the girl of the girl staring back at me in the mirror.
I am happy about how far I have come. I am happy about how far WE have come.
There has been a massive revival in the effort to get POC* to love their skin. Black businesses are growing and many are choosing to ditch the chemically straightened hair and weaves/wigs and embrace their naturally kinky locs. Black media has exploded and black twitter are forver there to bring focus to the issues of interest to the black community.
I love how comfortable I am in my skin and the more I learnt about the struggles of many people before me went through to get the basic freedom that I have, the more my melanin means to me. I have the freedom of expression and legislation behind me that in theory keeps my safe from attack or being discriminated against.
I am sad because we have a long way to go. The thought of young girls and boys going through the same battles I did is an upsetting reality. The reality is, if a POC types beauty into google they will see images they cannot relate to.
The reality is the world is still a pretty unfair place for us, in terms of living conditions, employment, politics and law enforcement. The reality is that as a people the black race is still very divided at how we can demand better for ourselves. The reality it takes learning about your history, and teaching yourself the black is in fact beautiful in order to live a life where you are happy with your skin.
As always I have taken the time to figure out what my feelings actually are about this. I have never been particularly outspoken, and have a hard time coming to you with a set of intellectual facts and figures. Talking to my family – especially the older generation has helped me love myself and my history. Hearing about the oppression people in my own family faced has forced me to wake up. It is easy to wish for another life, wish to look a different way, wish things were not so hard. However my ancestors dreamed of freedom. They dreamed of liberation from their slave masters. They dreamed of an education. They dreamed of having the right to vote so they could start to effect change to their society. They dreamed that one day their grand-children, and great-grandchildren (such as myself) will not have to fight the same battles they have had to.
I have unintentionally ripped of MLK’s ‘I have a dream’ speech but that’s how far you need to go to be grateful for what you do have and protest for the change you have yet to see.
Of course it is important to identify and challenge racism whenever you see it. But first you must deal with the racism you harbor internally and ask yourself why you feel this way. When you can except your shortcomings and change your mentality and behaviour you then can start to deal with the external world.
*POC – Person of Colour