Being a person of color, as we all know, isn’t easy in the slightest. There are things we go through growing up that aren’t really talked about. Things that aren’t as “in your face” as police brutality, racist remarks, or even the high incarceration rate that plagues our communities.
Assimilation is a problem you can find anywhere, something non-white people have been doing for centuries. In order to survive in a certain society people, all kinds of people, find themselves abandoning their usual way of living to comfort the dominant cultural group. Nowhere is this truer than in the black community. I mean we can go back to slavery, to the early 1900’s, we can even look at the culture we are living in today and see clear examples of assimilation.
Growing up a black woman has taught me a lot about the world. Thinking back to being about six or seven and going to the salon and having my first relaxer put in my hair. Soft, silky, and long. My hair was laid. I had “good hair” because that’s what everyone told me. My mom’s own hair was long and wavy, it grew past her shoulders and blew in the wind. I wanted her hair, my hair was nice but every 4-6 months I had to sit in a chair and get a relaxer. I have to admit; I’ve had a few bad relaxers in my life. Left on too long they created serious scabs on my scalp that thankfully have not affected my hair growth. A year ago I decided to abandon the creamy crack and go natural. I’m almost a year into my transition and I have to say I feel very much connected to my black roots. Not that that was something I was trying to do. Originally I chose to transition because I realized I don’t want to be bald when I’m fifty. Relaxing your hair every few months really does some serious damage to both your scalp and your hair follicles.
What’s important to understand here is that at times I reveled in people thinking that I wasn’t black, as if it were a compliment. Going to school in a highly diverse neighborhood allowed me to interact with all kinds of people. I remember many times in elementary and even high school where everyone would go around in a circle and say “what they were”.
Thinking back, it was absolutely ridiculous. Some people would name almost every ethnicity they could think of. Nobody wanted to just say they were black. Haitian and Trinidadian, also known as black. West Indian and Jamaican, last time I checked that was black. Dominican and Puerto Rican, yea those two…a lot of them are also black. What I’m saying by black is that somewhere in that melting pot you call your DNA is an African ancestor. Claim them, and respect them. Being mixed is a beautiful thing and honestly a lot of us are mixed, but it is so fetishized that it makes being black seem like a dirty thing to be.
Everyone was trying to highlight how mixed they were. Arguments over who’s hair was better, straighter, and longer than others. It didn’t stop there though, skin color mattered a lot then just as it does now. Just a little while ago Twitter was full of #teamlightskinned and #teamdarkskinned. Black people competing like it was 1768 and we’re about to be divided into house slaves and field slaves.
It’s leftover racial scars like that, that don’t allow us as a people to move forward. Treating black people with lighter features as if they do not belong to our community is a real issue that needs to be addressed. I’ve seen multiple Twitter posts addressing actor and activist Jesse Williams’ blue eyes and light skin basically saying that him being a major face of the Black Lives Matter movement is somehow wrong as he never faced the same oppression as darker skinned people of color. Most black people with lighter skin acknowledge their privilege as he has multiple times, the issue here is that there are so many people of all shades fighting for one cause and bringing up colorism is not helping in any way.
As I got older I realized that being black was amazing. I started to embrace my culture and felt much more connected to the black community than I ever had. Police brutality and race issues have never gone away, but I will admit that as a teenager stories of racism and police brutality were not as widely covered by the media. The problem has always been this disgusting, the only difference as Erica Gardner has said is that we have cameras. Technology has given our right to freedom of speech an enormous platform. It has also shown the world that there isn’t one singular example of what it means to be black. We are a multifaceted people and to be pigeonholed into one single descriptor does a serious injustice to the world as a whole. Understanding that we are complex individuals with problems and insights is much more of an intelligent observation than assuming we are all the same.