Looking back, I realise just how naïve I was when I was younger. When my little sister was a baby, I really believed that the destructiveness of shade prejudice would never touch her. After all, this was the nineties, and hardly anyone believed in that “good skin”, “nice hair” nonsense anymore, right? Furthermore, I was convinced that the love and assurances of my mother and I would make her so confident in her blackness that she would never be swayed.
Well, of course, my illusions have been shattered over the past six years of my sister’s life. Practically from the time my sister and her mates could talk, she has been inundated with negative ideas about skin complexion, hair texture and eye colour. The ridiculous and outdated notions she comes home telling me her playmates told her make me want to spit nails. White people are prettier than black people one little girl told her. Another informed her that there is no way we could be Africans, because Africans are black and ugly, and we are brown and completely different. She has been envying those with longer hair and asking to get her hair straightened. The self-doubt and confusion I see in her eyes make my heart want to break. She’s only six years old! Every little six year-old girl should believe that they are beautiful.
It isn’t fair. We try so hard to make sure my sister knows that all shades of black are beautiful. To ensure that she didn’t grow up with the idea that blond hair and blue eyes was the epitome of beauty, we made sure she had only black dolls and stuffed animals. I taped the Ms. Universe show for her and reminded her that the two most recent Ms. Universes- the symbol of beauty and femininity ‹ are black women as dark as her and myself. We took her with us to the Emancipation Day walks and the first Heroes Day celebrations. Whenever something about black history or black heroes/heroines is on T.V., I encourage her to watch it with me. Most importantly, we’ve explained to her the stupidity of the reasoning behind shade prejudice.
Yet, the struggle continues against those who would cause her to doubt herself and her beauty. It makes me wonder- how is it, that even in the twenty-first century, these destructive ideas can still be so deeply ingrained in the minds of black people? Where is this self-hate coming from?
Part of it is tragic tradition. Parents have passed these ideas down to their children and they in turn have passed it down to their own offspring and so on, so that even now young children are being fed these ignorant notions. Another generation doomed. This tradition is reflected in the media. On TV, whether it is in advertisements or on TV shows, distinct preference is shown for those black people with lighter skin and straighter hair.
Not only that, the impression little black girls constantly receive from both the print and electronic media is that to have straightened hair is to make oneself beautiful and part of the mainstream. On the other hand, black women with natural hair are viewed as slightly eccentric, bohemian, rebellious. But beautiful? Hmmmm…
It’s so sad. I feel like I’m losing the battle. I didn’t think that I’d have to fight it in the first place, and I never thought it would be so hard. What can I do? How does a sister fight the forces of lightness?