To celebrate the relaunching of my blog, I thought it was probably best to revisit my first ever blog post, titled “Growing Up Black.” The piece was an honest attempt to summarise the complex anxieties of an insecure little black girl. I’d like to rewrite and also flex on my improved writing skills, so here goes.
My biggest insecurity as a child was the colour of my skin. From a very early age, I believed there was something inherently wrong with me, locked away in the pigmentation of my skin. I was black. No, I was brown.
I was black. The only black family on the street, aliens who had descended from a foreign land, our tongues moved in a different way to theirs. We were black. Black in a white majority street in the Midlands, black in a white majority church, black in a white majority primary school. Black. And in the words Zora Neale Hurston, ‘I feel most coloured when I am thrown against a sharp white background.’
Don’t get me wrong, although I was a part of a minority group, I did gain genuine friends from other minority ethnic groups who loved and cared for me. But my best playmate, as a child, was anxiety. The only reliable friend. She would play tag with me, chase me till the ends of the earth. That was a pinky promise.
The bullying didn’t help. Big lips. Big nose. Big head. Kinky hair. You’re ugly. You look like a beast. My own teacher compared me to a dog. Don’t you think the little black girl knew this. I was different. I was wrong. I was black.
I hated myself. I hated my hair. I hated my skin. The only solution was to be white. It’s normal for children’s imaginations to run wild. Mine led me to believe I could be white. Long, blonde hair. White is beautiful.
So what changed?
I don't know. There is no direct, linear answer to this question.I just started fighting. Fighting against myself and society. Falling and failing but getting back up to fight again.
It was learning and researching. It was doing the work to learn about my culture and other people’s cultures. It was asking questions and educating myself. It was checking myself and being checked by others. It was cutting my hair. It was crying. It was shrinkage. It was depressive thoughts. It was hair masks. It was panic attacks. It was sitting in the sun and not getting scared that I was gonna get ‘too dark.’
It was all of the above and no of it at all.
But one aspect I learnt quickly and wrestled with, was finding out I was not the only one. Many other little black and brown children went through the same thing. Research has shown that children from as early as 3-5 years understand and categorise people by race and already show racial bias. Similarly, if we look at the Doll Experiment conducted by Dr Kenneth Clark, in which he found white and black children negatively categorised black dolls, we see that for decades/centuries whiteness is preferred.
This is a factor of supremacy: to be superior, the inferior must know and internalise that they are inferior. This was the path laid out for us, the path we were expected to walk down. A rites of passage. It was the ritual which indoctrinated us into a white supremacist world.
What was abnormal was to deviate from the path, to deviate from the anxiety that holds us in our place. For a black woman, to love herself in a white supremacist world is an act of defiance. How dare you, how dare you love yourself? How dare you have the audacity to love your melanated skin?
However, although I had found these people to identify with, they could not do the journeying for me. People have a misconception of self-love, they believe that in discovering yourself, it’s like a Rom-com where you, as the main character, ride into the sunset with yourself, while a power ballad is playing in the background.
I thought this too.
Refer back to the initial post and you’ll see I described the journey of self-love like waking up. Starting a new day, a blank slate, turning a new leaf. I decided to love myself.
But it is not like that.
It was a shadow. A shadow, who’s presence lurks in the darkness and makes you paranoid, but once you turn on the light, you realise it’s just a pile of dirty clothes on a chair. Non-threatening, simply paranoia. But soon it morphed into a larger shadow, confidently lurking in the daylight. Its presence more prominent and burdening. The sensation was overwhelming and I could no longer avoid it.
One night, I realised. It was me. The younger Sarah. She had been following me around for so long, cast away and hidden in the shadows. When I asked her why she was here, she explained to me simply:
“You never loved me.”
You see, I didn’t want to remember her; the embodiment of insecurity. I didn’t want to remember the racism. I didn’t want to remember the bullying. I didn’t want to remember the past.I wanted to remember myself, the way I moulded myself to be. On this journey of self love there was no time for bad vibes.
But it’s necessary. Self-love is actually an awful road to travel down; it requires you to meet all past versions of yourself and unlock memories you didn’t even know you had. For me, it meant continuously reconciling with my younger self, relearning from my past and learning to love her. It’s a long journey with no apparent ETA. But it is necessary.
Necessary and difficult, especially for a child living in a society which loves, adorns and humanises people based on pigmentation. If there are two things to take from this blog post it is this:
To all the black and brown children who grew up not loving your skin, your skin colour was never the problem. You and your existence was never the problem. Continue to fight and live in defiance.
In order to evolve, to grow from the pain - sometimes - we must go back in order to continue moving forward.