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Growing Up Black.

Originally upload: 4th September 2018

When I first started writing online content, my first blog post was titled Growing Up Black. It was the first time that I was exposing and admitting that my biggest insecurity growing up was the colour of my skin. I recently revisited this first blog post and decided to correct some of the grammatical mistakes as well as pay respect to my early work as I rebrand and renew my blog. So here’s to firsts:

When I was a child my biggest insecurity was the colour of my skin.

The house in which I remember growing up in was on a street of primarily other white British families and my parents being immigrants and also being black meant we stuck out like a sore thumb – and I knew that that was something that I wanted to hide. Even though the kids on my street accepted my sister and I and were actually good friends with us, I was never able to shake off the feeling that I believed they were somehow better than me. They were more beautiful and more successful than black people, they were more beautiful and more successful than me. It didn’t matter if my ability was equal to the white girls in my class, I knew and believed that they were better than me. I knew I was different and for me that difference wasn’t a good thing.

Because I already had this damaging belief about myself, reinforcement from others only hammered the nail further into the coffin. Unfortunately I was a part of the statistic of kids who are verbally abused in school. I was bullied for being different; my big lips, big head and big kinky hair. Sometimes all I ever wanted to scream was ‘don’t you think I know that!?’

That reinforcement and self-hatred stayed with me like a dark cloud over my head that I’d grown accustomed to. It policed how I acted and how I interpreted my actions in the eyes of others, especially when it came to seeing myself through the eyes of boys.

Secondary school, oh the wonders of secondary school… Puberty and hormones and periods and growth spurts and hair growing everywhere. It’s a confusing time. But I knew when it came to relationships I assured myself very early on that the reason I would never have a boyfriend was because I was black. I'd never seen boys gather around a black girl as they did with white girls. I never counted myself as beautiful because I was black. All the guys that I liked throughout secondary school all ended up with girls that were the complete opposite of me: white, petite and popular. With all the rejection and confusion filling my head I remember constantly praying to God that if He couldn’t make me white like the models in the magazines that He could at least make me lighter.

This was the climax of the insecurity, the point where I decided that I would have to take the power into my own hands. I had to assimilate, I had to become as westernised as possible, disown all traces of my Kenyan culture and as much as my blackness as I could. I refused to allow anyone to say my last name which told people that I was foreign. I refused to listen to my parents speak in our mother tongue and tried to tone down their extravagance so they wouldn’t embarrass me. I chemically relaxed my hair regularly to tone down my natural afro coils. All this I did because I was ashamed of myself but hiding who you are is exhausting.

I can’t tell you the day that everything changed, I can’t tell you when I realised that this perception of myself was damaging. But I can tell you it was like waking up, slowly but a natural and almost expected feeling. I stopped looking at what I thought people saw, to actually looking in the mirror and seeing who I really was. I listened to my friends, of all ethnicity, tell me who they liked my lips and my features, I grew into my big head. I even realised that although boys are nice to look at, I didn't really need one and there is much more to a relationship than just the physical appearance. I listened to the words of Martin Luther King and let them invade my soul so that I would know and believe that I craved to be judged by the content of my personality rather than the colour of my skin. Those were the people that I wanted to be around and those were the people who would find me accordingly.

I fell in love with black women. I saw women like Maya Angelou, Solange, Issa Rae, Harriet Tubman, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie even Beyoncé as women who made it; not because of their appearance, but because they had something special about them which the world needed to see despite what was said about them. And that meant I could make it too, whatever I wanted to do. I saw the magic for the first time.

I had to see the world and the small beauties within it to really see myself, I had to see the differences and complexity of other people’s cultures to appreciate my own culture. I had to see the beauty within my own hair to really love it. At the time that I first wrote this blog post I was transitioning to become natural and cut off my relaxed ends because they were a symbol of my self-hatred. I can happily say that now I’ve been natural for almost four years now and it’s a decision I will never regret.

I learnt from an early age that the world wouldn’t be fair for me but I was only further damaging my path into the world by blocking myself. It’s a lesson I’m still learning now but if I couldn’t see me for myself than I’ll look to others to define me and I’ll never be happy.

You are who you know yourself to be.

You know your own truth and no one should be able to take that away from you.


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