18 February 2009

Guest Post: Wake Up Call

I have not been able to write as often as I would like.

Here is a guest writer -- Kid Sis #2. She wrote these fine words. I cannot agree more.

“This boy is beautiful! His skin is so fair! I hope his skin never gets darker, he is so cute.” These words, spoken by family members about my son yesterday, were supposed to be compliments. However, I was reminded of how, to many, light skin is synonymous with beauty. The more I think about the comments, and the number of times something similar has been said about my son, the angrier I get.

A few years ago I was at Mizzou and had my hair in braids, with extensions. A young man started talking to me, telling me that I shouldn’t wear extensions in my hair; he told me that I should embrace the “natural me,” the way that women in Africa do. At the time I was annoyed, because I had actually gotten the braids in Nigeria, where most women wear braids or weave of some kind. Now, however, his words are ironic; because the African women who many Americans think embrace their natural beauty actually have some of the unhealthiest attitudes of beauty. In reality, the only people who have ever criticized my natural hair are Nigerian women. The women who see me with an afro for the thirteenth time, who ask me for the thirteenth time with disdain if I can comb my hair, are all Nigerian. The only people who ask my modelesque sister with her beautifully shaved head “what did you do to your hair?” are Nigerian women. The only people I know who use bleaching cream to lighten their skin are Nigerian women.

This is not to say that Black American women all embrace natural hair and dark skin. But in no other culture that I know is the standard of beauty so far from the people themselves. At the African store yesterday, I noticed that the entire counter under the cash registers had a variety of bleaching creams, many containing steroids which run the risk of damaging the skin if used improperly. My husband noted this morning that one aunty of ours has the characteristic look of someone who has used bleaching cream for too long. Obviously she is not the first person who has damaged her face; yet the creams are still being used widely.

Here in the United States we make jokes about people who are too dark, and many of my light friends admittedly avoid the sun to stay light. I even know of a young man who placed a towel on his left arm when driving so that the sun would not darken it. But, again, the standard of light skin equaling beauty is not as ingrained as in the Nigerian born women that I know.
My son, born in 2008, will always live in an America that could elect a Black man, an African, to the presidency. However, he remains in a world where many of his people hate the beauty that God gave us. We all have white friends who tan until they are darker than many Black people; why do they love our skin more than we do? Our color palate is the most diverse of any race, and every shade is beautiful; so why do some praise only one part of the spectrum?
God gave us hair which can be straight, curly, wavy, or a kinky Angela Davis fro. Some of you may remember in junior high I did a project on an imaginary invention, the Automatic Hair Changer. I wanted white hair so badly, and my invention promised to create silk smooth hair, “thick and full of body”. Fortunately I now appreciate all Black hair, both relaxed and natural. But are my children going to hate their natural curls? Are they going to internalize the message that is sent to them when people compliment their fair skin, and tell them not to let it get darker?

The harsh reality is that no matter what values I instill in my children, others around them will continue to pass on their ancient ideas of what defines beauty. This has been a very sobering wake up call. In 2009.

Guest writer: Kp

1 comment:

  1. I just read this and it reminded me of an incident from years ago when I worked at a hospital in nyc. There was a beautiful young black lady who was a resident(a doctor training to be a physiatrist) in the hospital. She wore her hair in braids and I thought she looked absolutely gorgeous. She told me that one of her white male colleagues told her that the braids made her look unprofessional! All I can say is that he was a jackass and a really shitty doctor too, and she was a crackerjack physician as well as being beautiful inside and out. In the long run, people like him don't really matter, because they MAKE themselves insignificant and diminish their own humanity.


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