Growing up I hated being black. I blame the mixture of the environment I grew up in with my own thoughts. Growing up in an area that is predominantly Asian I often got mixed up with the the way I viewed myself. Comments of my skin tone filled my childhood, being called “burnt”. Hearing comments like this made me wonder how much easier it would be if I was white, or even just a different race. It would be so much easier just to blend in with all those around you and not have to deal with all the nonsense of being black. I recall scrubbing my face hard with soap and water hoping my darkness would go away.
I went on Google trying to find remedies to lighten my skin, I tried lemon juice and baking soda and none of them worked. I even tried to buy bleaching cream to lighten my skin. In 3rd grade we learned about the different continents, when we reached Africa I recall my teacher showing pictures of skinny kids, dirty clothes, and bad teeth. I was the only African American kid in my class, my teacher began to question which part of Africa I came from.
That’s when I denied I was African, I told him I was American my young mind didn’t want to be part of a negative stereotype. I didn’t think I’d grow up worrying that I may not be able to attend a certain school because of where it’s located in the world and how my skin color may trigger some kind of injustice towards me. I didn’t think my parents would have to tell me that there is still a possibility the white children may look down on me because of my skin color. My mother often braided my hair and would try different styles. Students at school were often fascinated as they had never seen nappy hair or hair that isn’t blond and flows behind my back, I would get questions like ‘can I touch your hair’ as if I was an animal. I wanted to look like my classmates so I started to straighten my hair just to fit in with the rest. My mother just assumed I just wanted to make it easier to style my hair.
When I was 11, I took my first trip to Eritrea. When I arrived, I was disgusted and shocked by how poor everything was, I had never seen so much poverty. My cousin was wearing my old clothing that no longer fit me. The entire city smelt of sewage, maybe even worse, the people, the stores, the pets and the vehicles were covered in a layer of dirt.
The living environment was terrifying, the restrooms were simply holes in the ground, the lower class had no bathtubs. People bathed in the local river or brought water from the city’s well and boiled it. Perhaps I couldn’t stand to see how some people lived while I had grown accustomed to a life of luxury in America? Despite my initial disgust, my summer in Eritrea became the most memorable 3 months of my life. The neighborhood kids all knew each other and had created tight bonds, since their childhood. Not only was everyone tightly bonded; everyone was kindhearted and treated each other like family. In Eritrea, I felt as if I belonged, everyone looked like me, everyone accepted me and nobody ever treated me like I was different. I felt more at home in this filthy foreign land, than I had ever felt at home in my cushy American home equipped with the most modern commodities.
Moving forward, I entered middle school and I met other black girls who took pride in their black culture. I realized and learned that being Eritrean and coming from a background that was beautiful and unique was nothing I should be ashamed of. A lot of the time I feel like my skin color is something that I have no control over, but I am judged as a result.
Looking back, I would ask my younger self “who told you that dark skin is ugly.” I realized that the only reason I hated my color was because the world was teaching me to. Now I choose to love myself and skin. By no means do I want to be white. I am beyond proud of my color and am grateful for everything my ancestors went through to get me in the position that I am today. I am overjoyed to say that my family, alongside many others, fought for their rights and looked for a better future. I thank my parents who have not lost even the smallest bit of their Eritrean heritage, after years in America.
Thanks black celebrities (Beyonce, Serena Williams, etc) for being proud of being black. Thanks for friends for loving all of me. And thanks life for teaching me to push to love myself. Acceptance is a lifelong experience. I think the best way to love yourself is to battle your inner self and empower yourself.