Black Like Me
“I hate you! I hate you!” I repeatedly said to the reflection in the mirror as I continuously scrubbed my face with a cloth doused in bleach. It didn’t matter that tears were running down my eyes from the strong smell of the bleach because those eyes reflected a vision I hated. It didn’t matter that I had spilled bleach on my grandmother’s bathroom rug and was probably going to get a spanking for it because I’d had spankings before and I knew it wouldn’t hurt for long. The only thing that mattered on that day in 1974 was the fact that I was only six years old and I would have done anything to get out of my black skin.
How did a beautiful, smart child who should’ve been out picking flowers and berries, worrying about absolutely nothing come to develop such a negative self image at the tender young age of six? Why, in the year of 2008 when we see so many positive developments in the black community are so many of our black children still falling prey to the “Willie Lynch house [email protected], field [email protected] syndrome?” And why does it hurt me so much? Because the people who did all the damage and are still too blind to realize it are BLACK LIKE ME!
My mother used to dress me beautifully. I would always have on the cutest clothes; ruffled dresses, lace bobby socks and patent leather shoes. My hair would be pressed within an inch of its life and sporting ribbons and bows galore. I would walk into church and some well meaning church lady would say, “Ooh, that’s a pretty little dark skinned girl.” But instead of hearing “pretty little girl, all I’d hear was “dark skinned girl. ” I never understood why I couldn’t just be a pretty little girl. Why did my skin color always have to come into play? Why was my chocolate skin always a factor? Why didn’t someone, anyone tell me back then that it was OK to be BLACK LIKE ME?
I grew up determined not to involve myself with men who were as dark as me. Sadly, I did not want to give birth to any children who would have to go through what I went through. I remember my younger sister telling me, “Tammy you’re prejudiced against your own color because all of your boyfriends are light skinned.” At the time I denied the accusation because I didn’t’ want to admit to myself or anyone else that I was being a hypocrite but…yes; Today I can say without hesitation, I was a hypocrite of the worst kind because I didn’t want my children to be BLACK LIKE ME!
After giving birth to a beautiful baby girl whose complexion was as close to white as it could be, 17 months later I had a little chocolate drop of a baby boy with the biggest dimples I had ever seen. I immediately fell in love with this little boy and fussed over him constantly. It was then that I realized that being black like me was beautiful; oh so beautiful. Yet, still I felt compelled to protect him from all the prejudices of the world. Whereas I let my daughter go places and spend time with my family members and friends, I kept my son close. I worried that his life would be harder and things would not come as easily for him as they would for my daughter whose light skin effected oohs and aahs everywhere we went. In hindsight I don’t think I told my baby girl enough times that it was OK to be light like her and ironically, she ended up longing to be BLACK LIKE ME…
It is a hurtful feeling when you hear someone say things like,”You think you’re cute with your little black self, or ooh you’re a little darkie.” Never mind they would follow it up with, “but you’re cute to be dark skinned.” Take it from a “former darkie,” the damage is already done. There’s no cleaning up ignorance when a child is involved. I guess I was one of the lucky ones, huh? At least I was “cute.” Imagine those who society just casts aside because they don’t fit the norm? What’s going to happen to them if nobody tells them it’s OK to be short like me or tall like me? If we don’t tell them, how are they going to know that it’s OK to be Caucasian, Chinese, or BLACK LIKE ME?
As I ponder the events that cast such negative shadows on my reflection of self, I go through an array of emotions ranging from anger to hurt and shame. My heart aches for the little girl that I was. But mostly I feel an obligation to speak out and tell as many people of color that it’s not OK to joke about and degrade children or anyone because of their skin color. Stop making such a big deal out of what color a person is. Skin color does not make them a better person. It only makes them different from you. We’re living in a country that some call, “The Great American Melting Pot, “and I say to that, “We all don’t want to be shaken, stirred and melted down to look like, act like and be like the next person. DIVERSITY IS A WONDERFUL THING!
Sticks and stones may break my bones but words may never hurt me…That is one of the biggest lies ever spoken. Words are potent and have the power to evoke change. They can build up or they can tear down. It is time to start building our children up by first solidifying their foundation with a strong sense of self! We have to teach our children to love themselves coming out the womb because we know anything built on a rocky foundation is sure to sink sooner or later.
Today, July 20, 2008 as I look at my reflection in the mirror as I did 34 years ago, I see the same dark skin and the same eyes staring back at me. But instead of trying to erase the shame of being dark skinned with the stench and sting of bleach, I relish the sight of my beautiful, chocolate brown skin, and eyes that don’t define me as much as they reflect my journey to now. I am a strong black woman who loves the person I have become and who rejoices in the diverse shades of beauty of my people of color. I want the whole world to know it has been a long road but I have arrived at that wonderful place where I am confident, comfortable and simply loving being BLACK LIKE ME!