By Amaya Lewis
Web Content Contributor
In society, when people first look at or meet one another, most people form a conclusive judgment within the first few seconds of interaction. For me, I know that feeling well. As a biracial American mixed with black and white, my darker complexion makes me an easy target against racial prejudice.
When people look at me, they don’t see me, but rather my skin color; they see my pigment as a representation of everyone else that looks like me, passing me off as a negative stereotype that has forced me to work harder to gain acceptance. This racial prejudice was very apparent in my hometown, where I was one of only four black students in the entire high school. I am more than my skin color, and I am more than a stereotype.
I am tired of being pigeon-holed, yet it has fueled my passion to speak out for the rights of all people, being cognizant of injustices for those being deemed different or less than by society. My racial identity has defined me and fueled my internal self-hatred for years, but I’ve finally come to realize that my blackness is beautiful; I am proud to be black.
Growing up as a biracial girl, I lived with an all-white family, completely unaware that I was different than them. However, once I became enrolled in school, the fact that I was different was brought to my attention for the first time at the mere age of five. My class was celebrating the fact that Q and U were always together by having a wedding, and my crush at the time had been picked to be the groom, Mr. Q, and he and I both wanted me to be the bride, Miss. U. While wrapped up in a world of veils, bridal dresses, and miniature tuxes, nothing could dim my excitement for the big day; at least, that’s what I thought.
As the day came for the bride to be announced, a girl, who I had always considered my friend, boldly announced to the whole entire class that I couldn’t be the bride because I am black, and the boy was white. Instead of standing up for me, my teacher allowed the girl to be the bride, leaving me to come home crying to my family, questioning my entire identity, and promptly starting my unending battle with self and societal discrimination. That day was the day that I realized that for the rest of my life, people will always make assumptions about me based on my skin color.
For years after that fateful day in kindergarten, I went through a period of self-hatred toward my skin color that only continually worsened with every racist comment I received. I would always try to straighten my hair, tell my nana to mark white on any formal documents wanting to know my ethnicity, and wore thick sweaters in the summer to avoid tanning any further. Everything from what I wore, how I talked, and what kind of music I listened to was all tailored together to denounce my blackness. In my mind, if I erased my blackness and used my whiteness as a shield, maybe the comments would stop; maybe people will no longer see me as “the black girl” at school, and just start seeing me as Amaya.
To even have the word “black” mentioned in reference to my race sent me into an internal frenzy, often leaving me clamoring to quickly correct anyone that identified me as such. I had developed an intense, bubbling hatred of my skin color, going as far as to spend countless hours scrubbing my skin raw and bloody in efforts to “clean my skin”. I felt trapped within my own body, feeling as if I was constantly in a battle with the DNA that runs throughout my veins.
I wanted to escape being black, not realizing that I was only hurting myself in a futile attempt to get away from the negative comments that would always hurt me. As Meghan Markle put it, “Just as black and white, when mixed, make grey, in many ways, that’s what it did to my self-identity: it created a murky area of who I was, a haze around how people connected with me. I was grey.” That’s how I felt. My mind, my life, my identity – it all felt grey.
Upon turning 16 while entering my third year of high school, I finally took a step into the world of social media, having not previously explored it much before. During this time period, I went through a small interval of what I like to call “racial self-reflection”. I watched and saw beautiful, handsome, powerful black leaders in the public eye not worrying about straightening their hair all the time, what type of music they liked or what type of clothes they wore.
They were unapologetically themselves and were killing the media game. I watched and listened as various women preached love for their natural hair and the melanin they were blessed with, showing the beauty in the very thing I had deemed unattractive; that society and my classmates deemed unattractive.
After seeing this, I couldn’t help but ask myself, “What am I doing?” To me, in that moment (as cliché as it sounds), all those years of hating the color of my skin, my hair, my facial features – it all seemed silly to me. I limited myself all because I let some racist comments control my perception of what being black was – what it is. In my small town of 4000 people, there was no one there, not even my own family, to tell me that my skin and hair were okay, but rather that it was ugly and/or “difficult to manage”.
When I was a kid, there weren’t many black figures in the media that showed me that it was okay to unapologetically live my life, which is why I truly believe in the importance of representation. As a kid, the most black representation shown was one where black people were slaves, the comedic relief, the background or side characters or the ones who died first in horror movies.
Not to mention there were rarely positive images displayed in the news towards black civilians, furthering the racist propaganda against black individuals, while simultaneously worsening the self-esteem of black boys and girls like me. It was hard for me to grow up in a society where my skin became the thing that defined me above my personality, talents, and abilities. Nevertheless, it has taught me that I don’t have to reject one thing to accept and appreciate another.
As Audre Lorde said, “If I didn’t define myself for myself, I’d be crunched into other people’s fantasies and eaten alive.” Others may try to define who I am, creating hateful labels that allow my identity and mind to feel grey, but I’ve finally gotten enough strength to make my own label. I am both white and black, my genetic makeup’s a rainbow, and that, to me, is beautiful.
A few years ago, I read a quote that basically said when life gives you a thousand reasons to cry, show life that there are a thousand more reasons to smile. My story of learning to love myself and the DNA I was blessed with is not rare, as there are many others, biracial or black, that had and/or still experience self-deprecating thoughts towards their hair texture and skin color. However, I want to change that. I want to show the beauty in the very thing people tried to say there is no beauty in, demonstrating to children that their skin and hair aren’t a limitation, and the shade of their melanin doesn’t equate to their value, beauty, or worth.
I remember spending several nights crying because I allowed comments about my skin color to define me; but now, I’m defining myself. Of course, that doesn’t mean I won’t be subjected to labeling by others, because, as Panama Jackson in the article “My Mother Is White, I Am Not”, “Everybody hates being defined by people who don’t share their history or reality, but we all do it in so many other ways. We are a label-centric culture; that is not likely to change soon.” However, it does mean that I won’t allow the way I’m labeled by others to define me; only I can do that, and I say that me and my blackness are beautiful.
Featured Image by Sharon Hicks.
Written by: ktsw899