When I was eight, my little cousin came to live with us, she was four. I remember being very excited because I am an only child. I was thrilled at the thought of having someone around all the time that I could play with.
I also remember feeling very proud and boastful because my little cousin was fair skinned with long straight hair, and soft wisps of curls that would frame her face. We were inseparable. I was always combing her hair or playing in it and she never complained.
Somewhere in the back of my little eight year old brain I realized the stark differences between us. Her father and my mother shared the same parents, yet we looked very different. My infatuation with my little cousin was because I secretly wished that we looked more like family than we did. I wanted to have straight long hair with soft wisps of curls framing my face. Instead I had darker skin, thicker, shorter hair and a big forehead.
No one ever believed we were related. There was always an explanation of our family’s background that came along with any introduction. I don’t remember feeling jealous or hateful towards my cousin. In fact, it was quite the opposite. I loved her even more and wanted to show her off to everyone. However, she wasn’t some prize that I won at a carnival.
I realize now that I was in-love with the “idea” of what I thought I should look like. My eight year old self believed she was beautiful because she didn’t look like me. Even then I knew her beauty which I desired wasn’t from her “blackness” but whatever else she was mixed with (though her parents are black Jamaicans like mine are). However, due to slavery and the introduction of indentured Chinese and Indian slaves to the island, there is a mixing of people that can produce variations in families even if both parents are “black”.
I think this concept of beauty (lighter is prettier, whiter is better) is as prevalent today as it was when I was eight. Our children are conditioned from a very early age on what beauty is. No matter how much we try to instill in them how beautiful they are (which my mother did with me all the time), they still end up feeling inadequate about their appearance.
Very often you will hear people tell a mixed-race couple that their children will be beautiful. I, myself have said this. I very rarely hear that said to, or about a non-mixed couple.
So what exactly is being implied?
I’ve had many conversations with people about this very thing and it comes back to the same point. If you have the appearance of being mixed, whether it’s your complexion, your hair, having a smaller nose or lighter eyes, someone in your lifetime will approach you and rave about your beauty. However, they often follow up with asking (more like stating really), you must be mixed or something in order to be this beautiful. Which implies, if you were all black and not mixed there’s no way you could look the way you do.
Having to defend yourself, your heritage and your appearance from people who have already placed you in a box can be very exhausting. The statement, “you’re just too beautiful, you can’t be all black, you must be mixed or something” suggests your beauty comes from the part of you that’s not black.
Is black not beautiful?
Media and society at large, have a depiction of what beauty is. Most of us don’t feel as though we fit into those ideals or standards of beauty. My opinion is, if you don’t fit into those standards, create your own!
When I asked Sarita to be a part of my natural hair pictorial documentary, this subject was an issue she identified with personally. I asked her to tell me what negative compliments she had received and was tired of hearing, “you must be mixed or something” was one she had heard quite frequently.
Sarita, (Rita or Riri) is 33 and is a Merchandise Cordinator/Stylist (Atira’s Closet).
Sarita has been perm free for six years and says, “I decided to go natural for many reasons…I was tired of getting burns on my scalp from perms, paying for perms and the chemicals it self.” I asked a few more questions about being natural, her responses are below:
1. What do you love most about your natural hair? What I love most about my hair is the versatility, I can do so many styles with it.
4. Least favorite compliments/things you wish people would just never say? “You have good hair tho mine can’t do that,” “It must take you all day to do all that hair,” and “I love your hair, what are you mixed with?”
Written by: Kareena C.
Edited by: R.A.C.