By Trinity L. Hall
“A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.”- Marcus Garvey
I love being Black, however, that love didn’t always exist. When you grow up with as much melanin in your skin as I have, you notice early on that you are different and find that your skin complexion is often the butt of cruel jokes. The ‘you so Black’ puns and references to tar and charcoal became repetitive in my daily young life. To their credit, my parents attempted to reaffirm that I was beautiful, smart, and worthy. My dad would call me his doll baby, but I often wondered who would want to play with a doll that looked like me. Their attempts to shine light on the darkest parts of my conscience were rebuffed by the jokes and the heartache they brought.
My heartache was intensified by the fact that I was often one of few minorities in my classes. I got along great with my classmates and our interactions were positive and fun; however, I noticed that I was different and took that difference to have a negative connotation. Add to that the extreme lack of diversity in beauty magazines, books, and movies I enjoyed as an adolescent and it’s safe to say that I struggled with self-esteem issues. I felt less than, and that feeling was reinforced by society and its visual standards of beauty and worth. It was difficult to see my Black as being beautiful when everything around me stated otherwise. This was painful in and of itself, but include the accusations of “acting White” that were constantly hurled at me, and it became too much to bear.
People would often ask me why I was so different from my siblings. It was discouraging because my siblings were cool and popular, so naturally I wanted to be more like them, but wasn’t. I was often asked how I could be so dark yet “talk so White.” Questions like these highlighted my differences; too dark to be comfortable around my White peers and “acted too White” to be comfortable around my Black ones. I was never quite sure who I was or whom I was supposed to be. I assume most youngsters go through some version of this during adolescence, and can relate to the loneliness and despair it can have on a young mind. I thought of bleaching my skin, though never tried it for fear of the unknown. Instead, I prayed about it, which is what I was taught to do when faced with a situation too great to bear.
When I was 12, I began saying a nightly prayer in the bathroom mirror, “God, please make me a couple shades lighter by morning.” I prayed to be normal and not stand out so much. Obviously, He never granted those requests, He often doesn’t when I ask for something that I think I want, but He has something better in store. Instead, He sent me on a journey. I was tired of being different, feeling alone and less than. I needed a lifestyle change. So when the time came to choose a college, I knew I wanted to attend a Historically Black College or University (HBCU).
My college choice shocked a lot of people, including my family. But I needed to be around people who I thought were more like me. I wanted to learn from them and their experiences. I wanted to know what it meant to be Black by studying not only the Black race but the Black culture, in hopes of ultimately discovering who I was. My new classmates were extremely diverse. Each class included people from all over the nation, as well as several different countries in Africa, the Caribbean, and Europe. Though we had much in common, our ways of thinking often differed. Our views were shaped by our life experiences and upbringings.
I had to learn to listen to the experiences of my peers who grew up in the northern inner cities, the southern states, and from other parts of the world. Some of their experiences were vastly different from my upbringing in the most rural part of the second smallest state. But we listened and learned from one another, even if we couldn’t relate or understand. Some of my views developed as a result of those conversations. And while I may have still disagreed with others’ viewpoints, I continued to listen, never negating their beliefs or views, as that would be nullifying their personal truth. The campus was a safe space to hold open and honest conversations. These conversations challenged me to think beyond myself, but also helped me find my voice and speak my mind. As a result I gained confidence. I learned a great deal from my peers but also about myself and my culture. I received an education that went beyond the contents of a textbook.
My knowledge expanded beyond the ideological debates between Martin Luther King, Jr and Malcolm X, to include Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Dubois. I studied the philosophies of Frederick Douglas and Marcus Garvey. I read works by Ms. Angela Davis and Mr. Huey Newton. I marveled at the courage and strength of Ms. Claudette Colvin, Ms. Rosa Parks, Ms. Mamie Till and Ms. Ruby Bridges. My knowledge about Black entrepreneurs, inventors, history-makers, and even my ancestry had significantly developed. I found that my culture was much too vast and great to be contained in a 28-day celebration. I gained an abundance of pride for my culture. My education ignited a passion and shed light on who I am.
I graduated with not just a degree but a deep and genuine appreciation of the Black race and culture. I know who I am and I love myself. I know my worth and am confident and secure enough to be the only person like me in a room. I no longer feel less than. I see my being different as a positive feature. I’ve embraced my dark skin, as it carries generations of persistence and greatness that deserves to be celebrated every time I look in a mirror. Am I ever discriminated against, stereotyped, or made fun of? Yes. But regardless of what others or society continue to believe, I know I am magical and that I rock. The journey He sent me on allowed me to find the beauty in my Black, and I am sincerely grateful He did not answer my earlier prayers. If you don’t understand or cannot relate, that’s okay, but don’t discredit my experience because it is different from your own. Instead, let’s have a conversation.