By: Alyssa Lorraine
Sometimes, to be a black girl in high school was to be a dimmed light urging to brighten, to shine, and to radiate. No, I’m not talking about having lighter skin; although I did want that for a long time. I’m talking about living up to a potential that you sometimes didn’t know you had, and feeling like your bulb has gone dim; like you’re providing enough light to see your way through, but not enough to live and just be you. I was that black girl in high school, and boy did it do some damage.
It took time, patience, a lot of reading, and reassuring, but I’ve learned from this part of my life. The self- loathing I developed in high school, painful and constantly haunting, had essentially helped me to see a little light I had in me—a light that was barely hanging on. I needed to replace my bulb, flip the switch, and shine bright like I knew it could. It just took me until going to college to do so.
At fourteen years old, internalized racism was a foreign concept to me. In fact, I didn’t learn about it until my freshman year of college four years later. Until then, all I knew was that my skin color was unattractive to many of my peers, and I didn’t know why. I knew that my hair wasn’t long or straight enough and that my body wasn’t appealing enough to the boys who’d made those first couple of years diabolically hellish—Yet I so desperately wanted them to like me.
I knew that people would automatically assume I had a bad attitude or that I was loud or rude. At fourteen years old, I was reminded of these things every single day until I graduated from high school but it wasn’t like people were bullying me every day until my heart couldn’t take it. After a couple years, the anti-black girl defamation had become subtle at school and entirely way too visible on social media.
The memes, the tweets, Facebook posts, and jokes made about black women had set it all into perspective for me: I was just simply never going to be enough. My skin color, my body, my hair would be nothing compared the women opposite of me.
That little light of mine was barely flickering. It became too hard for me to see anything in the distance. I’d been consumed by self-hatred and internalized a monolith of black girls that was damaging. Something dark and antagonizing came from this thought that I was placed in a box for simply being a black girl.. I mean, looking the mirror was inherently brutal, but I’d developed this “token black friend” complex over the years.
It was something I was admittedly proud of and used to escape any associations of me not being a stereotypical black girl. I allowed myself to be called “big black girl” as if it didn’t sting, but believe me; it stung. I’d become the Oreo friend, the white-black girl who spoke properly and cared about school.
I ate that stereotype up as if it’d actually been a pack of Oreos. I wanted so badly to not hate myself that I went as far as finding any sort of way to associate myself with being white or white-acting just so that people would see something other than my dark skin. I tried to convince myself that I was better, in every sense of the word, than the girls who had darker skin than me.
And worst of all: I allowed myself to believe that only certain black women could be beautiful like Beyoncé or Rihanna, or Naomi Campbell—as if black women with beautiful bodies, flawless skin, and music or modelling careers were the only black women who were worthy of love or having sex appeal.
I felt as if black girls like me would never mean anything in the regular world; we’d be invisible in this world that was surprised and mesmerized at the sight of “pretty” black girls. Don’t get me wrong, I hold no grudges. I don’t blame anyone for making me feel the way I did back then; I don’t even blame myself anymore.
When I came to finally understand the social stigmas of my black skin, I was a freshman in college. I’d been so blindsided by the perils that nothing could no longer insult me. I was numb. I knew my place in society. Or so I thought. The black girl slander surfaced on my social media like clockwork. I’d felt as if I had to work twice as hard to even be seen in my academic surroundings. I’d felt as if no matter how hard I worked, I’d lose to someone prettier or more approachable.
Essentially, I felt alone not knowing that so many of my fellow sisters felt the same way and were going through the same struggle. At the start of my turn around, my former major in college required that I take a class on diversity, so I explored the Women’s and Ethnic Studies section of classes until I found something that I liked. I didn’t think anything of it; in fact, it was merely just to get the requirement over with. I chose Women of Color: Image and Voice, and at the time, I didn’t know that class would change my life entirely.
We read work from Bell Hooks, Audre Lorde, Angela Davis, and so many more. I’d learned that ‘Women of Color’ was a phrase for any group of women who not only had melanin in their skin, but spoke a versatile number of languages, lived in various cultures, and even experienced oppression in multiple ways. My eyes were forced open with an education I didn’t know existed and had wished I’d received long before I went to college. The other women in my class were intelligent, inspiring, and had their own stories.
For the first time, I felt safe discussing my own experiences with other women who experienced the same or worse. Within the short semester, I’d finally felt like my black skin was something to be proud of. I’d learned how colorism had triggered the dimming of my light inside of me, the history of our people that had essentially been unwritten in our class textbooks, and the misconceptions of black people in our society had waged a war on our lives.
I also learned how Eurocentric beauty standards excluded us from being represented as anything other than negativity and adversity. This was all coming down on me like a severe thunderstorm, yet I didn’t want to get out of the rain. I needed more. I wanted to make a difference; I wanted to contribute to the dismantling of the anti-black-girl defamation that paralyzed my own self-love. Studying feminist theory, racism, classism, and just about every –ism at the brink of systemic oppression had become a passion of mine.
Since then, I’ve focused exclusively on unlearning what high school taught me about being a black girl and seeing myself as my own person and not the person I want people to believe I was. The class gave me a microphone to use my voice, create my space, and uplift other black girls who were shot down by the standards of our blindsided society. For that I am eternally grateful. This class I chose specifically for an elective requirement was the reason I changed my major and minor to English and Women’s and Ethnic Studies.
I’m writing this to not only share my story of redeeming my light, but reassuring other black girls in high school (and before high school): YOU are beautiful. YOU are enough. YOU will be that writer, that astrophysicist, or that nurse. YOU don’t need validation. YOU will succeed. YOU are loved and YOU will find love. YOUR skin is not a fetish or a hot topic; YOUR skin is a gift. YOU are magical. YOU have a voice. And WE are here for you. It’s time we change the outcome of The Doll Test and challenge the system that robs us of our dignity. Now, we must continue to embrace our shades, and unapologetically shine our bright lights and not let anyone cast a shadow over our self-love.
Unlearning the anti-blackness I faced and sometimes still face up close and personal, has been the biggest challenge of my life but also the most rewarding. I can look at my skin and know that I deserve to love it. All of my sisters—light or dark—deserve to love theirs too. I’m proud of all the work we’ve done thus far, the platforms that exists to protect us, create our black girl spaces, and give us a reminder that we are not invisible.
I am ever so thankful for this awakening because without it, I’d be as lost as day I was on my first day of high school. I’m twenty-one years old now; I still have miles go, but I can look into the distance and use the light which takes me there.