Saturday, January 28, 2012

Racing Within. . .

When it’s time to rise and shine, my first thoughts aren’t ‘I’m a woman,’ or ‘I’m a black woman’ or ‘I’m too short and wished I was taller!’ No, those aren’t my first waking thoughts.  Once my body adjusts to movement, I’m usually in gear to get ready for work, and start thinking about the weather, and what is on my plate for when I reach work.  So why do many of us walk around with this “woe-is-me” attitude about ourselves?  Is this what you think about when you first get up?  Sounds ridiculous, but many do—why?

Here’s what I’m NOT!
The color of my skin.  I am not the pain my body feels.  I am not what you see in outward appearances.  I am not my clothes.  I am notjust’ a woman.  I am notjust’ a light skinned woman.  I am not my eyes, nose, lips, ears or hair.  I am not my chosen career path.  I am not what others think they know of me!

But I AM!
An intellectual.  I am a thriving, deep-rooted soul which forces me to live out my dreams.  I am a proud being from rich African heritage.  I am humble.  I am strong.  I am weak.  I am emotional.  I am a blessed child lent to my parents from a God.   I am human.  I am a sinner.  I am a constant work in progress.   

Explain to me why when you look in the mirror all you see is the image staring back at you?  Just how deep do you look at yourself?  If you don’t see past your reflection, you don’t know much about yourself at all.  Which brings me to a very interesting topic today?

Being a woman of color, my family made it a point to make sure I didn’t grow up wearing my ‘color on my sleeve!’  I was taught and still told by my loved ones that I’m a beautiful person.  I was taught and still possess, self-esteem, and I display as much.  I was taught to respect myself, as well as others, but most importantly, to love myself, and I do whole-heartedly. 

Those things seem pretty simple, right?  Unfortunately, there are many people I know who don’t feel this way about themselves.  In fact, their each and every moment is spent degrading themselves, beating themselves down, and hating who and what they are, all for one major reason—the color of their skin.  It’s so sad, but for some black people, they can’t see past their skin tone!  How you view yourself has a great deal to do with your upbringing.

I am often complimented on my looks, and although I greatly appreciate them, when I see myself, I don’t see what others see.  The beauty I see comes from within and I suppose what you’re viewing is what I possess inside.  What I find so captivating is when I post my pictures on Facebook or Twitter, I read the comments and I smile.  But what I’m smiling at is the face they see is my mother’s face.  The older I get, the more I look like her.  I see my father a great deal, but my facial structure is my mom.  She is a beautiful woman inside and out.  So would it surprise many of you to learn that my face, which is almost a replica of my mother’s, has dark brown skin?  She’s been told, at various times in her life, “you are such a beautiful woman to be dark!”  The first time my mother told me that, I had to fight back the tears.  What the fuck does her being ‘dark’ have to do with her natural beauty?  I can feel myself getting angry just knowing people have said that to her!

It outrages me to receive racism from some white people, but to have racism within my own race, is just a devastating blow—one that packs a punch so hard, you almost can’t bounce back from, and unfortunately, many black people don’t!  This is why so many of us have complexes and are mentally scarred.  Anytime you learn firsthand about racism from your own family, how do you think that affects the mind of an impressionable child?  To have two siblings, one being dark and the other light, and seeing the light skinned child get more out of life because he is considered the beautiful one, whereas the dark child is told he’s worthless.  Talk about emotional scarring at its best!

This is why I can’t wait to see the independent film, actor/director, Bill Dukes, just produced entitled Dark Girls.  If you haven’t seen the clip, you may view it right here on Mello & June, It’s a Book Thang! book blog.  The clip is a little over nine minutes long, but well worth the watch.  My soul cried hearing the dark skinned women tell their horrible stories of how they were and still are treated today because they aren’t light or fair skinned.  And their stories resonate for me because my mother has told me some horrific stories about her own experiences with her dark skin—from family and friends alike!

I know the demons that haunt my race, and I know where this evil stemmed from—slavery!  I’ve read a great deal on my history, as well as being taught about my heritage from my family.  For me, I don’t see color of individuals—that’s how much it doesn’t matter to me.  When I think of my friends, I don’t think about how many black or white friends I have.  I just have friends.  Isn’t that the way it should be?  Because let’s face it, if you’re keeping a count of how many different colored friends you have, what exactly does that make you?  Certainly not a friend!

Unfortunately, I’ve dealt with racism from within, which may come as a surprise to some because I’m supposedly the “fortunate” one for having lighter skin.  Let me be the first to tell you, light skinned people deal with racism too!  I remember when I was in grade school; there was a dark skinned girl who kept picking with me.  She continually called me “yellow,” and it was getting on my nerves.  This was such a shock to me because I never referred to anyone by the color of their skin, and to have this schoolgirl calling me ‘yellow’ was very hurtful.  For days she would call me this, until one day I had had enough and I returned the ignorance in kind by calling her “a black spook!”  I was sick that I called this girl that name.  I wasn’t brought up to be mean to anyone, especially not call another person out of their name, but she kept bringing my skin color into it, so I felt she deserved it back.  And the funny thing is, I felt like shit having said that to her.  How could I call this girl “a black spook,” when I went home everyday to a mother who was the same color as she?  I was devastated for calling her that.  She has no idea how that scarred me.  I went through a lot of emotions having said that to her. Hell, reflecting back on it now, brings sadness to me.  We were two black children saying mean and hurtful things to one another.  Thank god my mother helped me through it.  Needless to say, once I brought her color into our stupid banter, she never called me anything but “Kim,” which is what she should have done in the first place.

Often times I would get picked on because I had what black folks consider, “good hair.”  My hair was longer than most of my childhood friends, and pretty straight, so immediately, that brought about jealously among the girls.  All the women in my family, on both sides, have long hair.  And our hair is fairly straight.  I never thought about it, but boy did the girls I grew up around have an issue with that.  I remember my mother visited my school for some type of orientation, and a very good friend of mine, who is also the same complexion as my mother, was in my class.  When the teachers took the parents around, some of them pointed to my girlfriend thinking she was her child, and when my mother said, “No,” pointing directly at me, “that’s my baby over there!”   I was so happy to see my mom, and I waved to her, not knowing what the conversation was among the parents.  I noticed some of the women looking at my mother funny, but I had no idea why?  When I went home that day, mom told me what the parents assumed, which almost always happened because my girlfriend was the same complexion as she, but I'm not.  I never think about my mother's complexion--not ever!  The only time I'm reminded of it is when someone makes an ignorant statement about my mother's beauty, and then adding the insult by mentioning her complexion, and that immediately sets me off!  She's my mom plain and simple, and her color means nothing to me!  I love her for her, and that's that!  I'm honored to be her daughter and blessed to have her! 

When I was born, some people thought my mother was watching someone else’s baby because there wasn’t any way a woman that dark could have a baby that light.   No one ever took into account that my father was the exact opposite of my mother.  He was what black folks consider “high yellow!”  He was so light, the kids in my neighborhood thought he was white.  So with the mixture of my mom and dad, my brother and I came out tanned, although we were very fair when first born, and then browned up as we got a little older.  This is not uncommon among black people.

My father hated his skin color.  He said he was called every type of bright-light-damn-there- white name you can imagine.  He hated that he could see his veins in his arms and legs.  He didn't like that kids teased him for being so white looking.  He had major complexes due to his skin color.  And I’m sure some dark skinned people may find that hard to believe.  Every person who is lighter or of fair skin isn’t all happy-go-lucky to be that way either.  He truly detested his color--so much so, he prayed when my parents were pregnant with me his child wouldn’t be his color or my mother’s color, but to be an equal balance between the two extremes, because he felt if  I came out either or, I would be picked on because of it, just as they had when they were children.  (Sorry dad, I still got picked on regardless).  But, lucky for him, my brother and I did come out tan/brown, but when dealing with black people, that isn’t always the case.  Do you see how deep color goes for black people?  My dad actually prayed about it.  I am certain he isn't the only black person to have done this.  We are the only race of people who can go from white to being as black as coal.  My race spans the entire color chart.  So when two black people reproduce, it doesn’t mean the child will be the color of its parents.  There are many factors to consider such as, what family dynamics are in the parents’ background? 

I think what bothers me most is that our skin tones have to be debated at all.  What's with this whole light skin/dark skin battle?  I’ve been accused of trying to look white, talk white and act white.  Hmm, it took me many years to get my head wrapped around this whole white concept.  Let’s see, my mother is dark skin and my dad is light skin, and I’m tan/brown, so I’m trying to look white?  I received an awesome education and I show it by the way I speak or write, so this makes me talk white?  I carry myself as a lady should, and I love fashion and I dress accordingly.  I wear different hair styles and because my hair isn’t what black folks consider “nappy,” I’m not displaying my true heritage?  My hair isn’t nappy, so. . .what would you have me do?  This means I’m not a black person, really?  Why is looking the way I do, speaking the way I do, and acting in an appropriate manner considered being white?  What exactly are my people saying about me, when some say you’re acting white?  What?  Are blacks supposed to be nappy-headed uneducated horribly mannered people?  Perhaps this would please some of you and make me a “true” black person then.  Do you hear yourselves?! 

Why is it I’m accused of thinking I’m better than everyone else because my skin is lighter than some?  I never said anything of the kind, you did!  I got to be acting white because I’m educated, as if my people are supposed to be dumb and ignorant—wow!   And if some black people do happen to have nappy hair and decide to get a relaxer or perm, why are they not being true to themselves?   Why do you have to be accused of being ashamed of it because you don't like the way it looks on you?  I don't like certain songs, does that mean I'm not a lover of music?  There are some books I don't read, does that mean I'm not an avid reader?  Why are these things such an issue with my race?   Damn, with problems like these, who the hell needs racism from outside?  It’s really sad that these things go on, but go on they do!

I learned early on that my physical being is not what I am—I am so much more than what you see!  I was taught these things from my mom.  And if anyone would understand how to look past your physical self, it would most definitely be her.  I feel sorry for those who were raised not to understand their self-worth, regardless of your skin color.  For some, they will never fully grasp what it’s like to really love yourself for what you truly are.  I’m so blessed to know who I am sincerely.  I pray that one day my people won’t put so much emphasis on their color, but more emphasis on raising children who love themselves, so they can, in turn, love others.  We need to break this horrible cycle and start positive new ones.  Ignorance hinders growth, and it needs to be nipped in the bud before that ugly seed festers in our children’s young minds.  Black adults need to learn how to love their people without using color as a hateful tool against the other.  I don’t know about you, but my creation was no mistake.  I’m exactly what I’m supposed to be from head to toe, and whether others agree with that, is not my problem—but yours to deal with!  I embrace me fully--flaws and all!

Know what you are and be mindful of how you address other people of color!  We’re a beautiful race, and we need to stop allowing hatred and ignorance to divide us.  Education is always the key!  Unlock your inner soul and see who you really are!  You might discover something great about yourself!

Kimberly Ranee Hicks, Author/Poet
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Photos of Women (outside of my pictures) are courtesy of Young Brian on Facebook!