Real Talk: Boobs, Braids, and Black Lives

I’ve never thought of myself as beautiful, or pretty. Everything that has to do with my physical appearance has a negative thought and a wish that it was different. Some of them are things that almost all girls my age had felt at one point in their lives. But, even if I could miraculously lose forty pounds, I still wouldn’t be happy with the way I looked.

I first became self-conscious of my body in 6th grade. It was P.E and everyone was changing into their gym clothes in the girl’s locker room and one girl asked me why I wasn’t wearing a bra. I was a late bloomer, and at the time, there wasn’t really a need for one. I was so ashamed of my lack of breasts that I changed in the bathroom stall for the rest of the year. But soon enough, that problem was solved during puberty and I got over it. On a scale of 1 to 10 that was about a 3 on the traumatizing experience scale.

The same year, something more traumatizing happened, though I refused to acknowledge the impact until years later. I was sitting in my science class and working on the assignment with my head laying on my hand when a boy across from me screamed and said that there were alien symbols on my head. Confused, I looked up and then he started to laugh. I ignored him and put my head down again, only to hear him say again that there were alien symbols on my head, laugh and proceed to tell everyone around him. Finally, I realized that he was talking about my hair.

In middle school I would wear twists in my hair, and to make them my mom would part my hair in sections leaving the part patterns on my scalp. Because I didn’t have a perm, my mom and I would spend hours on the weekends fixing my hair for the upcoming weeks. I thought that they looked nice, and it took a lot of work considering that I was a fidgety little girl with thick curls and a tender scalp.

After that, I remember begging my mother for a perm so that I could have straight hair like all of the other girls. I didn’t just want to fit in, I wanted to disappear. My curly afro didn’t just make me stand out from the white girls, it separated me from other black girls too. I remember one friend, who was black, say to me, “Why don’t you just get a perm? Everyone else has one. Your hair is so long, and it would only get longer with a perm. You would look so pretty.”

Before I go further, this isn’t about natural hair versus permed hair. Everyone has the right to do whatever they want, as long as they feel comfortable in their own skin and are happy with the way that they look.

This is about the fact that I felt less than the people around me because I didn’t have straight hair. No matter how much I straightened my hair, it would never lay flat like the hair of a perm or someone who had naturally straight hair. I remember looking through Seventeen Magazine searching for hairstyles, yet not one of them could be reproduced on my coils. I looked at hairstyles especially for girls with curly hair, and every time, I would see fair skinned girls with loose curls that could be undone with one run of a straightener.

Then, I grew out of it. I started wearing long braids that took hours to install. And at last, I felt as if I had tamed the beast that was my hair. If I couldn’t perm my coils, then braiding them was the next best thing. But when I looked in the mirror, I still wasn’t happy.

It wasn’t just my hair that separated me from everyone else and made me want to disappear; it was also my skin.

Some would say that I was blessed with good skin. I’ve never had bad acne on my face. People tell me how smooth my skin is. How soft it feels, how lucky I am to not have to wear a lot of make up because of my even complexion and lack of acne scars.

When I see myself in the mirror, all I can think about is my pigment. In the summer I strive to stay indoors, I slather on layer after layer of sunscreen because I don’t want to get any darker. I don’t see the lack of acne; I don’t see how smooth my skin looks. All I see is a too brown face with a too wide nose and a set of too wide lips.

All I see is my non-whiteness. All I see is a face that has to deal with injustice, racism, fear, hurt, self-loathing. All I see is a disadvantage. I see the fact that because of the color of my skin, I will never be good enough for some people. I will never be pretty enough, if at all to some people. I will never have the chance to be an individual, and not a statistic, not a spokesperson for my entire race, not a liability to some people.

There will be doors closed in my face, bridges that I cannot cross, positions that I will not have the chance to fill because of my skin. My accomplishments will be undercut as handouts because of my skin, and not because I worked just as hard as the person to my left. My passion will be written off as anger as I am forced into the category of “angry black woman”.

As I grew up, I tried to grapple my identity and force it to comply with society’s ideals. I dressed a certain way, I tried not to talk a certain way. But it wasn’t enough. I realized that no matter how hard I tried, I would always be too black. That no matter how many A’s I got, how many student council meetings I attended, no matter how many good things I did, somehow being the color that I was would still put me at a disadvantage.

Then Trayvon Martin happened. And like broken flood gates countless of black men and women poured on the news feed, brutally murdered. I tried to ignore them, thinking that it could never happen to me. Never in my community. I was a good kid. I didn’t get in trouble. Suddenly, being a good kid wasn’t enough to cover the fact that I was still a black kid.

I tried to write off my feelings as being over sensitive. I am not one to draw attention to myself. Contention is not something that brings me joy, or fulfillment. Like I’ve said over and over, a majority of my friends are not people of color. But I couldn’t stay silent anymore.

BLACK LIVES MATTER

My life matters. My sister’s life, my mother’s life, my father’s life matters. This isn’t a cry for attention. It’s a cry for action. This isn’t about raising one race above the other. It’s about raising our hands together for humanity. It’s acknowledging that the system is broken and needs to be fixed. It’s placing accountability on those who have had no one to answer to until now.

How long must I be afraid for my life simply because of my skin’s color? How many other young girls must grow up feeling as ugly and worthless as I did because all around them black is portrayed as bad?  How many people must die before we open our eyes as a country and create a unified front to combat a system that was designed for the benefit of one race at the expense of another?

I have tried and tried to distance myself from these instances of police brutality, but they just keep happening. I keep seeing people that could have been MY friends, MY family slaughtered. And for what, because of the way they are dressed? Because of preconceived misconceptions rooted in racial bias and stereotypes? The last time I checked, being black wasn’t a crime that deserved an execution.

Let’s get one thing straight. I don’t hate police officers. My best friend’s father is an officer, and is good at his job. He upholds his position with dignity and respect. As an RA I’ve had to work with officers and I have always had positive interactions. I have friends who want to be police officers, and I support them wholeheartedly. The problem is not the law. It is those who are enforcing it. It is the fact that there are individuals within law enforcement who let personal prejudice and bias affect the way that they serve, and that those people are not being held accountable.

I am not saying that cops should not do their jobs. We need them to maintain order and safety in this country. What I’m saying is that we need to stop criminalizing the victims and pulling up every past misdeed and mistake that they have committed in order to justify the wrong actions of an officer. You don’t tell someone that has been raped that maybe if they didn’t dress the way that they did, and maybe if they didn’t get a ticket four years ago, or fail to pay for child support or were a prostitute that they deserved to be raped, or that the person who raped them was within their right to do so.

This isn’t about their past crimes. By killing these people, you are robbing them of their right to the judicial system. You are taking away their right to have fair trial, with a jury of their peers. By killing these black men and women, you are giving yourself the right and the power to decide whether or not they get a future. You rob them of the chance to make amends if needed, to change their ways or to change the world.

And so, I will repeat myself.

BLACK LIVES MATTER

As in

BLACK LIVES MATTER too.

BLACK LIVES MATTER and so do white lives.

BLACK LIVES MATTER as well as the lives of all races.

BLACK LIVES MATTER and until we acknowledge this, address this, and move to fix the injustices committed against black lives, this country will not progress.

Martin Luther King Jr. said it best, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”.

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