Skin Color, Nappy Hair, & Other Black Girl Hangups


Stop.

I’m serious. Whatever it is you’re doing, STOP IT RIGHT NOW and watch the video below. DON’T skip it, glance over it, say to yourself, ‘I’ll watch this later,’ or jump past it to read the rest of this post.

Just.

STOP.

WATCH:

Now….take a couple of minutes or however long you need to and just ABSORB what you just watched…

Digest what your eyes just witnessed.

Let the pain, shame, & other emotions you just heard travel from your ears to your heart.

And if you are feeling your eyes sting & burn from the tears threatening to spill down your cheeks-

LET THEM.

I did. I couldn’t help it. I couldn’t stop it. The tears are flowing, and my hands are trembling as I force myself to type these words. Tears flowing for the woman who said she asked her mother to put bleach in the water, for the girl who used to scrub her face because she thought it was “dirty”, flowing in anguish for the woman who sat, with tears streaming down HER face, the betrayal & shame she feels burning in her eyes as she recalled the comment her friend made about thanking God her baby “wasn’t dark!”.

My hands are trembling in anger at the man, well, he sounds more like a boy to me, who said he would NEVER date a dark skinned girl because she “doesn’t look right next to him.” Trembling in anger at the young woman who described natural hair as “nappy” & “disgusting”, but feeling empathy for her ignorance, because, I really can’t blame her. No…I don’t blame her…

I DO blame our society & culture for her ignorance though…I blame a media and an advertising industry who has sold us their institutionalized ideals on beauty and our culture for buying them at an ever increasing rate….I place blame on celebrities who give in to the pressures & demands made by these industries and actually allow themselves to have their skin lightened (I’m looking at YOU Beyonce/Sasha Fierce/whatever you’re calling yourself these days), & have their own “nappy” hair glued/sewn down, hidden under hair from women who are paid to give it away.YUP I blame them. Why? Because they would rather give in than stand out. They would rather “play the game” to make some money than use their gifts/talents/art form to encourage young black girls to embrace who they NATURALLY are. Because looking like something you’re not, because “blending in” is trendy-yes, this is why I blame them for her ignorance.

But more importantly, I blame us. And by “us” I mean African Americans, you know, “black folk”. I blame us because celebrities wouldn’t do any of those things if we didn’t tolerate it. Better yet, MAYBE if we weren’t so hateful against ourselves our daughters wouldn’t be spending THOUSANDS of dollars on things like “Remy”, and eyelashes, and lace fronts….Maybe if we didn’t hate ourselves, the people who sell these products wouldn’t be able to capitalize off of our self-hatred & shame. Maybe all the money we spend on trying to NOT be who we are would be used instead on growing businesses in our neighborhoods, putting HEALTHY food options on the table for our kids so OBESITY wouldn’t be an epidemic, and funding the arts & other education initiatives so we could THRIVE…

But who am I to think such things? I’m just a big lipped, big nosed, black girl with “nappy” hair. My heart ACHES for the women in the above video, my face burns with the shame they feel, my eyes sting with tears over their hurt. Watching it brought an unexpected flood of memories & pain from experiences & hang ups I had growing up and sometimes still struggle with as an adult.

I’m not what black folk would consider “dark-skinned”. Despite the deeply hued melanin burned into my arms from spending hours in the sun, I’m what most black folk would consider “high yella (yellow)”. I’ve been told my skin is “so pretty because it has a nice ‘golden’ look to it, not dark like other black girls.” I’ve born witness to men breaking their necks & falling all over themselves to talk to one of my black friends-who’s skin was even lighter than mine and hair was longer than mine too. I’ve heard black men have conversations about “red bone girls” they wanted to “get it in” with and heard jokes about the ones who “look dirty” or “look like roaches” because of their pigment. But even being considered “light skinned” didn’t keep me from wishing I had long, flowing hair like the white girls in my class, or worrying that if I stayed out in the sun too long I’d “get too dark”….and it wasn’t enough to save me from developing hang ups about my complexion, hair, eyes, or anything else when it came to black folk.

My father put a relaxer in my hair before I was 5 and I vividly remember clumps of my hair washing down the bathtub’s drain…and crying because I didn’t think there’d be any left once we were done. I didn’t even know what my own hair really looked like up until about 3 1/2 years ago when I made my first attempt at going natural. I spent YEARS straightening my hair, applying the creamy crack to it the instant I saw a wave forming. I could never let my hair be “nappy”. No way! Having “beedeebees” in your “kitchen” wasn’t cute and guys (especially) black guys wouldn’t want to be with you. Straight….and LOOOONNNNNGGGG. That’s how a black girl’s hair should be-that’s what I was taught. I remember being made fun of by the boys at recess because my hair was “greasy”, fielding questions from white girls about how I “got my hair to do THAT”, and debating with black kids, especially girls,about who must have Indian in their family or be mixed because they had “good” hair. I was brought face to face and challenged with the hair ideals I had grown up with and everything I believed hair should be when I decided to do THE BIG CHOP and go natural. The first time I lasted 6 months. I started working in Corporate America and caved to the subliminal pressure to conform-hair included. Afterall, natural hair didn’t look “professional”. However in July 2009, I gave up the creamy crack, and ditched those tangled, hairy, beliefs about my hair for good. It hasn’t been easy. Seeing myself, seeing my hair in it’s unruly, wild, tightly coiled, Ima-do-what-I-want splendor took some serious getting used to, but I forced myself to embrace it this time around and the process has taught me alot about myself.

Having natural hair has taught me ALOT about people too. Especially black people. The looks I got when I first cut all my hair off are just as numerous as the ones I get now that it’s an all out ‘fro almost 2 years later. I’ve had several (black) people ask me why I don’t “do” my hair. I’ve had women say to me, “but it’s so much WORK letting your hair go like that…don’t you get tired of it being so nappy?”. I’ve even had the pleasure of numerous black men look at me and my coif disdainfully. I even had a guy in one my classes ask me “Why did you do that {to your hair} ? You used to look so pretty. Now you just look….I dunno.” My favorite reactions and the ones that anger me come from how people treat me when my hair is straight versus when it’s curly or ‘fro’d out. The minute I walk into a class, pass by a neighbor, or walk around a store with my locks straightjacketed with a flatiron, the compliments flow like the tide! I’m virtually ignored however, the minute I let it coil up….It’s amazing that my beauty is tied up in how I wear my hair….REALLY?!

To this day I can’t watch The Little Mermaid without squirming in discomfort once this guy pops up on screen:

When I was in elementary school I had a solo part in our Christmas concert, my first ever. I LOVED to sing as a kid, so I was super excited and couldn’t wait to hear how proud my dad was of me afterward. Instead of receiving praise, I was told I look like that crab pictured above. I was told that I looked like I was singing “Under the Sea” because my lips, especially my bottom lip, was so huge. I was like 17 before he stopped calling me Sebastian….or “soup coolers”. (And for the record, the only black woman my father was ever married to was my mother-he’s remarried 5 times since….so yea…imagine what THAT would do to your perception of black women) Not only did I stop singing, I began to truly hate the way I looked…

I may not be “dark” but I definitely grew up with hang ups about my complexion, my hair, my eyes…about BEING BLACK period, and it just breaks my heart to see that this is still an issue in 2011. And it angers me when I look at black, “light skinned-long haired” celebrities who reinforce the belief in our own culture that lighter & straighter is better, prettier, & more desirable. It shouldn’t be this way, but it is because we believed the “house nigga vs. field nigga” hype White folks sold us back during slavery. We bought into the idea that if you look like ’em you can “pass” and have a better life. In the generations & time that have passed since slavery, we’ve allowed shame to dictate how we feel about each other & what we teach our children about beauty.

My question is: When will it end? What will make it change? Why are we so afraid of who we are?

Watching this video really helped me see that we haven’t come as far as we thought….

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3 thoughts on “Skin Color, Nappy Hair, & Other Black Girl Hangups

  1. Excellent post. I wish we as black people could just accept ourselves as worthwhile human beings, but it’s not easy. I plan to chop my hair off next week, and though I know the standard is long and luxurious, I am committed to accepting myself—all of me. I pray the best for you on your journey. Thank you for sharing!

  2. I watched this so many times this week and I still cannot conjure up all the words I want to say on this issue…you said a mouthful and I agree with it all. It is beyond sad. It is beyond sad that we cannot and won’t validate each other. It is sad that girls/women still have to carry this kind of hurt with them that affects our whole community yet everyone wants to pretend that its just them, that they should be doing something different and color is not really an issue…when you see the majority of entertainers STILL in 2011 picking every other group for wives/girlfriends but us then, yes we still have a problem

  3. You know, I am not part of this discussion really based on the way I look. I’ve always had golden brown skin. But I am part of this by having to share what I think. That video made me tear up. Seeing the pain that those women were in…. it touched me. I now see this in a whole new light. And even though I may not be “that dark”, I have always wanted to have lighter skin. But now I realize that it shouldn’t matter. We are all beautiful. And just because someone says something about you doesn’t mean it’s true. It’s an opinion, it’s what THEY think of you. But eventually, you hear it so much that you start to believe it’s true. But hey, it’s always going to be an opinion. The only person that can say if you are not beautiful is you. You are the one who dictates how beautiful you are. And I really thank you for posting this. It helped me see things in a whole new perspective.

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