Growing up, I was the only black kid in my class – from 1st grade through 8th. Actually, I was the only Person of Color period (save for when when one other black student came and left for a year in 4th grade and another came and left during 7th grade).
My class was small – just 17 to 18 students at one time – and my classmates were nice. The class was too small to not all be friends, really, so by and large, it was fine – except the feeling of being “other.”
The questions I would get were the isolating factors.
“Why is your hair like that?”
“Why are your lips so big?”
“Why is your butt so big?”
“Do you tan?”
All questions I was asked repeatedly over the years. The problem was not only with the questions, but with my lack of answers – not for them, but for myself.
Because I did not see myself reflected in my immediate environment, my child mind did wonder:
“Why IS my hair like this?”
“Why can’t my lips be smaller?”
“Why do I have a booty already and curves when the other girls don’t?”
At least I understood that I do tan – and burn, even. So, I guess there’s that.
As confident as I was – and I was confident, being the top of my class and super outgoing and involved with everything – my insecurities about my racial identity were rooted solely in the fact that I saw very little positive imagery of blackness around me save for my own outside circle of friends and family.
TV shows weren’t showing it. TV News surely wasn’t. And the books I read all had white protagonists for the most part. People of Color – especially children- were largely depicted in unflattering ways if depicted at all.
In high school, there were more Black people and now finally Hispanic and Asian as well, which was refreshing. There still weren’t a lot at my school, but I was happy to finally not be the “only anything” in class. High School and beyond was really when I felt the coming of me – bold, challenging, assertive, and no longer insecure about my own personal pride or beauty.
I made a couple promises to my future self at that time as well, recommitting to those promises again in college, and again post college as a young working woman, and yet again as a wife and mother.
Those promises included making sure that my future children went to a school that was culturally and racially diverse, as well as being top-performing academically. I vowed that my children would never be the “only anything” in school and that any school that they went to would be representative of the United States at large. If the Black population of the nation was at 13%, then the school’s student body population would have to be at least that too.
The second promise I made to my future self was to bombard my children with positive imagery of their strength and beauty as Black people from infancy. I mean, I was reading children’s books with black protagonists to my baby when she was still in the womb and had an entire library of said books on the shelves before she even came home from the hospital. Beyond that, at this age – almost three – when her concept of beauty and self is still just forming – I make sure that all of her dolls are Black as well. While I truly believe all people on this planet are indeed beautiful and all women in particular should be celebrated, there’s such a lack of appreciation for Black women and girls’ beauty in this world, I want her perception of beauty to be planted early and by ME, not by what she will see in most TV commercials, movies, books, toys, games, etc. etc. Eventually, as she gets older, I am sure that my daughter will have a whole beautiful rainbow of colors from the palest white to the deepest hue of black, but for now – it’s all about the Black dolls alone.
I was so happy to come across Malaville Dolls yesterday – a line of fashion dolls in the vein of Barbie, but that celebrates black features, including big, fabulous afros and coily curls galore. Made in South Africa, the dolls ship all over the world for a $28 shipping fee and come in at just $20 a pop. I bought two yesterday as presents for my daughter and will buy more as they become available if my daughter enjoys them, which I feel like she will. I was never big on dolls, but my daughter? That’s another story! lol!
I am so happy that dolls like these and hashtags like #blackgirlmagic are investing in all of our children and teaching them that Black is indeed Beautiful and shouldn’t be maligned. I am also happy to see my white friends and other POC take to the dolls as well for their children, which is heartwarming and necessary too, and helps to balance out the singular image of beauty that we see for the most part. Kudos to them! It’s tough to think outside of your own experiences sometimes and parents who do this do just that. These movements of self love and these parents who embrace the universal beauty of all people, make it just that much easier for me to raise my daughter as the gorgeous little miracle she is, brown-skinned and coily, curly hair like her mom and maybe even her own child one day down the line…