“I wish I was white!” This was the exclamation from a close friend of mine when I discovered her crying in the library in elementary school. I don’t remember our conversation after that statement, but I’ll never forget the confusion I felt. I was in shock. Here was my beautiful chocolate friend, who I’d always admired, upset about the skin she was born into.
See, I grew up with parents who always reminded me to be proud of my blackness. My parents, who were both active in the civil rights movement, told me every day how beautiful I was, how smart I was, and how black I was. They showed me movies like Roots, Imitation of Life, Stormy Weather, A Raisin in the Sun, and Carmen Jones. We danced to music by Earth, Wind, and Fire, James Brown, Stevie Wonder, The Isley Brothers, The Temptations, and Marvin Gaye. We watched shows like The Cosby Show, What’s Happening, 227, Fresh Prince, Good Times, and The Jeffersons. They told me stories about Emmett Till, the Greenwood District, Marcus Garvey, Sally Hemmings, HBCUs, the Black Panther Party, and the 4 little girls who lost their lives on September 15, 1963. What I didn’t learn about black history in history class, I learned from my parents.
I never had the desire to be anything but black. Black was beautiful. Black was strong. Black was natural.
It made me sad that my friend had a desire to be white. Honestly, I can’t remember her reasoning, but I don’t blame her for feeling that blackness was hard. Being a black girl/woman in this country is extremely hard. The history of oppression in this country did not stop with the end of slavery in 1865. We live in a country that was founded on the idea that black means less. Images of beauty center around European standards of beauty. Black women are paid 39% less than white men and 19% less than white women. There are laws written to allow black women to wear their hair naturally without experiencing discrimination at work. Black girls are more likely to be penalized and over sexualized for wearing the same clothes to school as other girls. Studies show that black girls are punished more severely than white girls in schools — leading to suspension, expulsion, and jail time.
I’ve had a lot of people tell me they don’t see color and they feel this is the unbiased way to think. But this is flawed thinking.
Color-blindness removes my identity as a black woman.
It removes the things I love about being black. It removes my unique experiences — good and bad. It removes the bias I’ve experienced. It removes the community of safety that I’ve built with other black women. It removes the lessons I’m teaching my black daughter about taking pride in who she is.
So, when you look at me, I want you to see me in all of my blackness. I want you to see the melanin in my skin, the curve of my body, the curls on my head, the breadth of my nose, the thickness of my lips. I want you to see the history of my ancestors who survived horrible, unmentionable acts with valor and tenacity. I want you to see the strength I’ve gained by the experiences I’ve had as a black woman in this world. I want you to see all of the times I’ve been called a nigger. I want you to see all of the times I’ve been followed around a store. I want you to see the times when scared white women locked their doors as I passed their car.
I need you to see both the beauty and the brutal parts of being black. I need you to see me.