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An article recently in an online hair magazine asked whether we had allowed bi-racial women to hijack the natiral hair movement. The resurgence of natural hair ‘movement’ in the early 00’s was a space for black women, specifically black women who had been told and taught that their kinky, napppy, coily hair was not enough to collectively celebrate their beauty. as time has gone on, the article notes that natural hair products and gurus are largely bi-racial  or light skinned women with looser curl patterns. The most popular youtube channels are of women who are either bi racial or, regardless of shade, have a curl pattern that suggests some proximity to a non -West African lineage. There are entire product lines that seemingly have as their main selling point the notion that you can buy a certain curl pattern, namely a pattern that suggests that you could plausibly have “Indian in your family”. Thousands of women with the kinkiest of hair textures drown themselves in a variety of curly puddings,  looking for the magical formula that will transform them from Lupita to Alicia Keys.

The article was somewhat controversial, which I find laughable and similarly upsetting. We are still as a community unable to acknowledge our blatant obsession with venerating mixed race people, more specifically mixed race and light skinned women, at every oppotunity, even to the point that we  confine black representation in black owned and controlled spaces to light skinned or mixed race women.

The natural hair movement is just one small part of a larger destructive w(hole). I can’t count how many times recently I’ve rolled my eyes at a thumbnail or trailer (because I refuse to watch most them for a variety of reasons) of yet another film or show where the black female romantic interest is, as per usual, no darker than  a brown paper bag or has wavy hair and features that conform to a European standard of beauty. Inevitably there will be a sidechick dark skinned friend who is always there in every film  as the wing woman and proverbial mammy for the light skinned woman to be comforted by. It’s imperceptible to some but glaringly obvious to me, that in the UK in particular (less so in teh US perhaps) dark skinned black women are pushed out of spaces and black female representation in media is almost exclusively mixed race.

I don’t blame the women themselves for it. On the contrary they are as light skinned black  or mixed race people, both victims and beneficiaries of a vicious system of colourism that we can no longer blame exclusively on white people for creating and promoting when we also uphold and perpetuate it in our own community. As dark skinned women, we have been emotionally and mentally disenfranchised from ownership of beauty – we are told that for us, it is only a commodity that we can purchase instead of owning innately while at the same time seeing others celebrated for features we naturally own. However, we cannot wait and expect others to do the work of acknowledging our worth.Whilst appreciating that society is invested in creating a narrative that we are less desirable, we cannot wait for society to change and beg for inclusion. Mainstream media will do what it wants but in our own spaces we must demand to be at the forefront and refuse to be under and unrepresented.

We are scared of being exclusionary maybe because we know the pain too well of being excluded. We do not want to be seen to be saying to mixed race or lighter black women with loosely curled hair that they do not belong, that they can’t sit with us, that they are not one of us.They too experience racial prejudice and profiling.  Rosa Parks, with her near straight hair and light skin sat on the bus and endured abuse for our sake too.But even her presence in the civil rights movement was one of privilege – lighter skinned black people had access to education and social circles that their darker brothers and sisters were more frequently denied access to. It’s not a wonder that many of the leading civil rights activists in the early and mid 1900’s passed the paper bag test. But it is no longer 1952 and it is backwards to demand justice and equality from those outside of the community while continuting to uplift the race based hierarchy inflicted on us by them within our community. This is not a work of exclusion, but one of inclusion. Dark skinned women, who make up the majority of black women are being disproportionately excluded from black controlled spaces. It’s beyond ridiculous.

The reason why we allow ourselves to be erased from our own spaces is because many of us simply do not yet believe in our own worthiness. We empty our pockets to give our hard earned cash to Miss Jessie’s in the hope that their curly pudding will allow us some proximity to the racial ambiguity that is continually celebrated in and outside the community. Whiteness is still so aspirational for us that in many aspects of our lives, beauty aesthetic being only one of them, we desire to assimilate to it.

Black women are berated for so many things,and I don’t want to add to the list by screaming “you don’t love yourself enough, why don’t you love yourself, your kinky hair, your round nose, your full lips??!!! Why don’t you love yourself??!!” We know that it is hard to love yourself when so many things militate against that love, but is possible. And its difficuly does not negate its absolute imperativeness. We must learn this love, for the sake of ourselves, our children, the men we love, even the black men who don’t as yet love our or their own blackness.

It is possible. I know it is because I’ve done it. I absolutely love my skin colour, I absolutely love my curly, coily hair, that does not look like Tracee Ellis Ross’s (although her hair is beautiful too). I genuinely think I’m beautiful, and it did not happen overnight. It happened with some good contact lenses, youtube tutorials and a relationship with God that gave me a God-fidence that defied anything any magazine, BET show or ignorant man can say to me. It also happened with looking at a few pictures of beautiful women who looked like me on Instagram and Pinterest and rarely, on TV. It happened through my Mum and the fabulous women I saw in my every day journeying who had a sdilent confidence that refused to be diminshed.

That is why I demand to be seen and I demand to be acknowledged. I demand to write and tell other women, to remind myself, to create a memory, that I am present and I am more than enough.I won’t be silenced by those who claim that speaking about this is redundant or divisive or hateful, becuase I know I am motivated out of a great love for myself and for others. I write this because, in the words of Zora Neale Hurston, “If you are silent about your pain they will kill you and say you enjoyed it”.

I am a dark skinned black women. I refuse to be erased.

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I can’t remember the exact day when I decided that it wasn’t my job to ‘break stereotypes’, but it should be marked as a day of rejoicing. It might have been somewhere between the time one of my consultants in medical school emailed me back to say of course I could have a day off to speak to the girls at my old secondary school because she understood why I would want to inspire those from less privileged backgrounds (I went to a private school), or the time my work colleague tried to fist bump me when I offered to check some blood results for him, but either way, the day came when I refused to participate in the lunacy any longer.

Growing up black and middle class, you’ll often experience that many  white people will treat you like a unicorn or at the very least, a mongoose. Something rare and unfamiliar. They are curious. What school did you go to? How are you so well spoken? Is the rest of your family like you? How have you managed to arise from the ashes of your inevitable council estate experience to the glorious present? View Post

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I am so completely and utterly bored with discussions about colourism in the black community, and I’m sure many of you are. #teamlightskin, #teamdarkskin, #teamyawn.

But here we are again. Why? Because it hasn’t gone away  and unfortunately the biggest barrier to dealing with colorism in the community is that most black men are either in denial about their colourism, or in denial about how negative the impact of colourism is.The proverbial hamster wheel keeps on spinning because the hamster will not get off the wheel and admit that it’s not going anywhere. Black men keep spinning their wheel, and in 2015, in the year of Lupita, we are still having this conversation.

I was chatting with my Mum yesterday on the phone and telling her that while I was examining  one of my patients that evening, she stopped me and said,”You really are so beautiful”. Looks aren’t everything but they’re something, and it really touched me that although this lady was sick she took the time out to compliment me in the middle of a stressful shift. When I thought about it, what struck me is that most of the compliments I’ve had about my appearance have been from white people. I regularly get complimented on my looks by patients and colleagues and at first I found it rather unsettling. Mainly because I don’t really think of myself as particularly more beautiful than the average woman with good concealer, but also because up until the age of 18, I genuinely thought I was ugly.

On further reflection, I can remember that most of the negative comments I’ve had about my appearance have been from black men. From being called downright ugly to being told I was “just average”. I don’t have an agenda to make black men look bad – my Dad is a black man, my brother is, the majority of my male friends are, and my preference is that my future life partner will be too. But if I truthfully relay my experience , although I have faced numerous instances of racism and discrimination from white people, the majority of the instances where someone has said the words ‘you are beautiful’ to me, that person has been white, and if they have been black it has been other black women.

I have no doubt that at least part of the reason for this is that I am a self identified dark skinned, milk chocolate woman. (Ironically, also the lightest person in my immediate family, to who my Dad once sniffed his nose at and said “well, you’re not realllly properly dark skinned so you wouldn’t understand”. I look back and laugh only because it exemplifies the often complex and ridiculous obsession black people have with the various wonderful hues we come in.)

As a dark skinned woman I already know that in my community I am not at the top of the totem pole when it comes to desirability. I’m not suggesting that the majority of black men don’t find dark skinned women attractive at all. My Dad is married to my Mum, who is also a dark skinned woman, and my brother has also dated dark skinned women. Unfortunately though, for some men, a light skinned woman who looks like Shrek (who is someone’s beautiful treasured Queen – so no shade to her) is more eligible than an average looking dark skinned woman.

The most ridiculous thing about this is that a lot of black men will either stay denying the colourism that is so prevalent amongst their counterparts with throwaway phrases like “a pretty woman is a pretty woman innit“, or “if you have self esteem then men will be attracted to you” (which is manifest nonsense – Precious can have all the self esteem in the world, but many men will still find her unattractive), or suggest that it’s not that big a deal – ‘it’s just their preference’. Ironically, many of these dark skinned men have a good chance of having a dark skinned daughter even if her mother is light.. I often wonder if, when their dark skinned teenage daughter is upset by her constant erasure in mainstream AND black media or being overlooked by teenage boys her age for her light skinned friend they will use the same redundant phrases to console her as they do for the dark skinned women their age? Will they tell her she needs more self esteem? Will they tell her that in terms of the problems facing the community, colourism is the least of our worries? Will they tell her to suck it up because it’s just their preference? If they have a light skinned daughter, will they appreciate her being treated as a trophy and objectified by younger men with the same attitude they had?

On Twitter, it’s sometimes horrifying to see how colourism and the objectifying of light skinned women spreads even to babies and young children. Grown black men will post pictures of lighter skinned babies with very disturbing statements about how they want their daughter to look. It’s never their sons they want to be light, it’s only their daughters – which effectively suggests that they want to create daughters that appeal to their own sexual preference. It’s just weird, and it shows how deeply rooted it is in some segments of our community.

What I don’t want to suggest is that every man who dates light skinned women does so because he is colourist. I applaud equal opportunity daters – men who date light, dark and in between, because they really do believe that a attractive woman (inside and out) is an attractive woman. And I know men like that. There are also men who simply will have light skin as an honest preference (although I do think it’s extremely difficult  to separate honest preference from the constant onslaught of colourism in society).

So what can be done?

Maybe controversially I think black women actually have a bigger part to play in this. Sadly, more black men are brought up by single black mothers  than in two parent households. If we want to deal with this cancer in our community, we cannot leave the formation of our children’s mindset on colour to chance. A healthy view of colour in a white supremacist society is the result of deliberate effort on the part of the parent. Yes, ideally black men should be equally involved in this but realistically they probably won’t be as much as women. So as black women (or white women with black/bi-racial sons) , we can make conscious efforts to promote positive images to our sons from an early age. It isn’t just a male problem – if we are the main parents for these men, the clearly we are also promoting colourism even if it impacts more directly in a negative way against us.

Secondly, I’ve begun to realise that on a personal level when a black man admits that he is colourist it’s probably far more useful to approach the conversation with understanding rather than instantly berating him for his preference. Colourism is something that most of us have to unlearn, but some of us do that work earlier than others. If someone admits that they are colourist and knows that it’s problematic, it’s much more progressive than the majority of men who are in complete denial and it’s the basis for some healthy conversation and growth.

Black women, does my experience ring true for you or not? Black men, is my analysis unfair? Everyone else, feel free to chime in also!