People only see what they want to see, and if you only see X, then you’ll only understand it as X. When I was younger, I would like to argue that it was easier for my friends to understand me if they didn’t acknowledge the color of my skin. The truth is, the color of my skin adds a level of complexity that I don’t think any of my friends were willing to understand. It’s not because they didn’t love me, I think it’s a challenging topic to bring up and even more challenging to comprehend when you’ve never experienced problems like prejudice, discrimination, and racism. Not to mention, we were all young adults at the time.
Growing up, my circle of friends was anything but black. Vietnamese, Chinese, Indian, Spanish — everything but black. When I say black, I mean mocha-skinned, kinky hair, cute full nose type black. I can count on one hand how many black kids attended my school, elementary school, middle school, and high school.
All my bullies were white chocolate skinned girls (biracial girls), basically Becky with the nice hair. I never understood why another girl, who has a black parent, would feel it was okay to bully me because of my skin tone or my hair texture. However, the constant comparison to my lighter counterparts from my peers made it very clear to me that I was different, and not exactly wanted as a black female.
I remember going to school with box braids and being called Medusa. My bullies were ruthless; with my head facing the blackboard, they snipped away at my braids. On the other hand, when a white chocolate skinned girl wore braids, the reception was overwhelmingly positive. She was exotic, enticing, and her hair was fun and playful. “Why don’t you look like that?” “Why is your hair not like that?” are two of the many confusing questions I received as a young woman. The treatment wasn’t the same. Furthermore, I don’t think anyone acknowledged these biracial girls as black girls.
These beautiful white chocolate skinned girls made it their duty to separate me from them and to be honest I wasn’t the only one. I remember another girl from my school, a beautiful dark chocolate young woman. She was busty (she hit puberty early) and voluptuous (polar opposite of me). Despite these attractive attributes about her, the lighter skin girls made fun of her lips, her hair, her hips, her skin tone (darker than mine). They snickered behind her back, and one day in class, they called her a gorilla, followed by someone else calling me a monkey. Ah~ middle schools, such complicated days. As hurt as I was, the math just wasn’t adding up. Why go so far to separate yourself from a mocha-skinned black girl? What was so horrible about being a little darker? Indian girls didn’t get this kind of treatment, so why us? Most importantly, what did my friends think about the comment made towards me?
Throughout all the bullying, I couldn’t help but wonder if my friends saw the discrimination and prejudice too. I remember trying to bring up the topic, and it felt a little awkward; the air was so thick it would make fantastic butter for toast. Their collective reply reiterated how much they loved me and that I’m a great person. I should’ve felt satisfied with that answer, but I wasn’t.
The problem is their reception is an acknowledgment that they weren’t willing to have that awkward conversation. It’s easier to squash the topic and reiterate sweet sentiments then it is to face the fact that I’m a black girl that’s facing black people problems. Being black in North America is complex; black identity is complex. It’s not a topic to be danced around, you’re either in it, or you’re not.
I remember in university, my best friend at the time, who happened to be Chinese, invited me to study with her and her friends. It was the first time I met her friends since she started her program. I won’t lie, that was the last time I hung out with her friends, and here’s why:
Although it was easy for her to see me without color, it wasn’t so easy for her friends.
Did you get that? You can only ignore an issue for so long before it starts to affect you. When we were in high school together, it was easy to overlook the color of my skin. However, when you’re the only one in the room who doesn’t see color, then the problem starts to surface. Her friends were very uncomfortable with me, but were very comfortable around my other friend who came (Vietnamese). I could sense the uneasiness in the room, and it didn’t help that they moved away from me when I sat next to them. When I talked to my best friend about it afterward, she was upset AT ME. “Why wouldn’t they like you? You just don’t like them!” she said. I don’t think we talked the same way ever since.
Discussions about prejudice, discrimination, and racism aren’t easy to have, but if you love your friends, you’ll talk to them about it. Deflecting the topic will only work for so long. People only see what they want to see, but it’s not enough if what you’re seeing is half of the truth. The truth is, I’m a black woman, and I will face discrimination and prejudice. If you see me, then see all of me. I know I’m a good human being on the inside. I know the type of person I am when skin tone isn’t involved. However, the fact of the matter is we live in a society where skin tone does matter. Identity does matter. Representation does matter. You cannot not see color. If you stay blind to it, then you remain blind to all the problems that come along with it. Face it. Swallow the truth. Then proceed.
If you have friends of color, make yourself available to have that kind of conversation, if or when your friends are ready to talk about it. It was a relief when I finally had people who I could talk to about what I was experiencing. I never realized that I was hiding half of my life away by not having this conversation. If your friends are deflecting the topic, then maybe re-evaluate your relationship. It doesn’t matter what your skin tone is, if someone is a friend, they will take the time to listen to what you have to say. Transparency is key to all relationships.
Liked this column? Then check out: The truth about “making it work.” and don’t forget to follow for more great content :) ❤
Much love ❤