Monday, February 16, 2009

Black Girl, Light World II

My assignment last week for Adv. Poetry Workshop was to do something I normally don’t. And to be honest I don’t really think I fulfilled that, though I did stay home on Sunday morning which I never do. I have also been confronting a prejudice that I’ve observed that I have a few months ago. I have definitely fallen into the trap of colorism (internalized racism). I have aughts against myself for looking the way I do and I have aught against others, specifically light skinned black woman and biracial women.
I realized this for the first time when I was thinking about a friend of mine that I met in an internship in Kansas City and looking at some of her pictures on Facebook from before she came to the internship. My friend had very long (middle of the back) hair which she usually wore pressed (straightened with a flat iron or hot comb). Before she came to KC, before I met her, she cut it very short, as in she only had about 1 inch of hair all around.
Now I’ll have you know that my friend is very sweet and wonderful and she’s a great jazz pianist and I loverher and I know this. But, to my own shame, when I was first saw the pictures of her in Seattle before she cut her hair my first thought was, “B*tch.”
My next thought was, “If you had come to IHOP with long straightened hair, I would have thought exactly what I think now, and I never would have spoken to you.”
My third thought was that I was incredibly surprised by my own reaction. I am a progressive and accepting young adult. I know better than this. Why would I feel this way or have these hidden prejudices? Isn't this something I should have moved beyond by now?

I don’t know what it’s like in other areas, but in the South racism and colorism are alive and well, and I can say that I have been treated differently because I’m black and because I’m darker skinned. Also around here a lot—not all, maybe not even most, but a lot—of mixed girls are very not nice people and treat darker females like they’re crap on a stick. Men prefer them. They are the ones who are featured in hair magazines and on TV. And from about 10 years old, they learn that they can rub it in your face. If you ask people to name 5 beautiful black women at least 2 of them are more likely than not to be mixed and the other 3 will be light skinned. It can be tiring and discouraging at the very least, especially when all your closest female friends are mixed and your two younger sisters are very light complexioned. Which means that every time we have girls’ night out I watch my friends and my sister being watched and hit on. People used to try to talk to me sister all the time and I pretend I wasn’t standing right next to her. I don’t only blame that on the skin thing; I am overweight. But it’s not like I don’t have friends who are bigger than I am who don’t attract a lot more attention.
Without realizing it, over the years I’ve come to harbor a lot of bitterness and envy and it’s kind of hard to discover that when I’d once thought I was above that kind of thinking and behavior.
It’s funny because my sister went to Peru last year with this same group of mostly mixed/light friends. And when she came home she came to me and said, “Now I know how you feel here at home,” because here my sister goes to the nearby HBCU and as I said she is very light skinned and she falls into the category of desirable female. However she does have distinctly African features (wide nose with an almost flat bridge and full lips) and my friends don’t. In Peru, my sister fell outside of the purview of desirable female, as women with distinctly African or Aboriginal features aren’t considered as beautiful as women with more European features in many South American countries, including Peru. Every where they turned people where saying “Oh your friends are so beautiful!” Men were trying to talk to them, but all while ignoring my sister. First of all, how rude is it to walk up to someone and say “Your friends are beautiful,” but not compliment the person? While I understand that there are cultural differences, I think this is the same everywhere. It made the trip difficult for her, even though spiritually it was a success.
(to be continued...)

***edit 4/1/2011***
I feel like a quote from this post from really encapsulates my own feelings of that moment and the issues that I am dealing with in taking responsiblilty for the way I've let the world standards intimidate me and judge me, then pass on those judgments to others, which is completely wrong.
"I know it’s shallow, but i understand it to be like a bad first impression, as in my first thoughts of you were negative because you have a trait that I value and may not have, causing me to feel intimidated by you. Eventually I get over it by getting to know the person but it still goes to show me that I still have work to do as far as my self esteem is concerned. It’s been an uphill battle to get to this point but hopefully I continue to improve. I don’t want my insecurities to ever rule my life again, but I realized that it’s perfectly normal to feel this way from time to time. Something is bound to get to me."

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