You sat in line for your turn for the bathroom behind the other girls, while holding a conversation about the color of your skin. The way you spoke your words sounded like glass shattering. And I knew it was time that someone had that talk with you. About our skin. About our hair. About our bodies. Our Black and brown bodies. As the conversation turned intense with your repeated hand-gestures pointing to your skin with a face turned sad, I knew it was time for us to have the chat that I never had when I was your age. For so many girls of color, the first act of colorism committed against you becomes this rite of passage. This rite of passage into facing white-supremacy for the first time. You can’t name it at your young age. You can’t say what it is, but you know what it implies. It means that your blackness is not whiteness. Your blackness is the opposite of beautiful. Your body isn’t acceptable. You aren’t acceptable. Your black life doesn’t matter unless you are white. You will be subjugated to white-supremacist ideals due to your black or brown complexion.
In seeing the pain show through her round, ebony face, I wanted to just hug her. Hold her. Make her believe that my words of comfort will make the pain go away. Will make white-supremacy go away,but I knew that it wouldn’t. However, words were all that I had and will have for any girl or woman that is oppressed by this system. I will hold her body as if it was my own and let her know that her skin is not a badge of disgrace. That there is beauty in her color. There is strength in her African-roots. In our conversation, she told me that her friends and family members often talk poorly about her skin-tone and compare it to the light skin-complexion of her mother. In the eyes of this young girl, I saw myself. I saw myself screaming for help at her age. I can remember sitting with cousins and hearing the same rhetoric. I can recall a cousin telling me that the boys would love me because of my skin and hair. However, I was frowned upon. I was called a joke because I sounded “too-white to be black”. In the same breath, I can recall hearing a family member say that they can’t trust certain Black-folks because of their darker complexion. Furthermore, my life at school didn’t make it any easier. I can remember the white-kids in my suburban schools separating themselves from the black kids because black was synonymous with crime, poverty and ugliness. I was crime. I was poor. I was ugly. In many groups of black folks that I knew, my skin-tone was praised while it was hated by the white-folks. In a disarray, I had to learn how to simply love myself despite my experiences with colorism.
In having my own personal testimony to the destructive nature of white-supremacy, I knew that this young girl had much to learn. She had much to experience as a young, black girl in this world. I held her. I took her by her hands and told her that I know how it feels. I understand the pain. I get it. I’ve experienced it, but we must never allow the pain to take us away from ourselves. We must face the pain. Speak our pain. Name it. Never hold it in. In my experiences at my urban-school, I’ve seen and heard many girls of color (Black and Hispanic) undergo colorism in their classes. I’ve seen girls been made fun of due to hair-styles and hair texture. I’ve heard girls being hurt because of skin-color. Colorism is very much real. It hurts. It runs deep for many females of color, including the younger girls. I tell every girl that comes to me about this that they are beautiful the way that they are. That they are more than their looks. They are smart. They are funny. They are perfectly brown and black. They must not apologize for this.
In working in an urban-school, I have come to realize how prevalent colorism is for young students. We may not believe that race matters at the age of elementary-students, but it does. Students are experiencing racism, colorism and white-supremacy even in minority-based areas. For many girls of color, they fear to be themselves. They want to run out of themselves. They want to hide. They want to closet their skin and walk away from it.
However, I will never allow a student of mine to do this. I will never allow a student to tell me that their black and brown life doesn’t matter. I will never allow ugliness to roll off the tip of their tongues in relation to their skin or their hair. I will fight for them to love themselves. To call themselves their own. To say that they belong deeply to themselves. That they are deeply loved. That they are beautiful. And that they will continue to smile. They will never stop smiling. That their bodies and what it looks like will never stop them from living.