My difference has always been there. And what my difference led to was a dislike of who I was and where I was from. There was a deep sense of denial that Africa is where I was born and dark skin is what I have. I moved to England at the age of 5 and was raised by a white family, and to me, that wasn’t weird.
But what was weird was when I started school and the teachers wouldn’t let me have my hair in braids or cornrows because it was too fashionable for school. What was weird was that these teachers failed to accept that my hair needed different treatment, different care, than what they may have been aware of. So we had to write letters to the headmasters to ask them kindly, please, let my mother care for my hair in a way that was necessary.
But that wasn’t possible.
I then grew up to chemically straighten my hair, to keep it straight like my friends, because I no longer liked my difference, because it was an inconvenience and it was messy and unconventional. So I removed my curls until there was not a crimp in my hair. It made the teachers happy, and people around me didn’t ask to touch my hair all the time because it looked similar to theirs.
My difference was still there, but I became numb to it. Until I grew up more and I went to uni and people would ask about my culture and I had no answers to give them because, just like my hair, it had been ironed out of me for many years so I could fit in.
Then, when I started dating, I always heard the line, “You’re the first black girl I’ve ever been with…” They never forgot that line. They reminded me of my tokenness regularly. So I stopped, because I felt like I was a trophy, like people only pursued me for that, and that made me hate myself more.
And when I moved to the other side of the world, and people shouted, “GO BACK TO YOUR OWN COUNTRY” as I stood alone at a bus stop, I wondered, Does he mean England or Africa?
Then, after years of hatred, I grew to love myself day by day and became a model. I realized the things I got picked on for, like big lips, long legs, and dark skin, were now wanted. Magazine covers wanted it, or so I thought. But I was wrong again—they didn’t want it at all.
They needed it. They needed us for diversity.
And now, in 2020, we are part of inclusion programs because to include us means you aren’t racist. To include us means we can have the same things as all of you. To include us means you are fair. To put us on a magazine cover means you accept us and you think we are beautiful.
But why do we need your acceptance?
Why do we need your inclusion programs?
Why does where I come from need an integration program for you to understand that if you just treated us like everyone else, these things would cease to exist?
So now, when we march, when we scream, when we stand up, it’s because we have had enough of your diminutive levels of racism that aren’t always violent, that don’t always end in killing, but that always lead to oppression.
And with every statue removed, with every story told, with every dinner table conversation had, we are paving the way for our black children to only read about this in their school history books and wonder how on earth this is what humans used to have to fight for.
And I bet our ancestors can’t believe where we are now.
“They’re lucky Black people are looking for equality and not revenge.” – Kimberly Jones