The Day I Realized I Wasn’t White

By: Alix Swann

In sixth grade, I got a relaxer. I wanted a one because to me, straight hair was the closest thing to being white that I could get. I thought I would look like all of my friends and like the girls on the magazines. I wanted to be white for such a long time. I have vivid memories of wanting to bleach my skin in the fourth grade.

I admired Michael Jackson and his decision to do away with his black skin. Good thing I couldn’t order skin bleaching materials online when I was that young, because I definitely would have. And knowing that I would have gone that far pains me. It pains me an extent no one could ever imagine—I wanted to give up the gift of melanin.

In the fifth grade, I heard the boy I liked say he didn’t like black girls. I told myself I wasn’t really black because I didn’t act black. I told myself I was good enough for him and soon enough he would realize I wasn’t actually black.Why do little girls think like this?

Fast-forward a year, to middle school. I didn’t have many black friends. I was in a gifted and talented program, which meant I was in a diverse school, but I was never around people who weren’t white. My group of friends included eight white girls—with one ½ Asian and one ½ Spanish.

And then there was me. I thought I was just like them, with my bone straight hair and proper grammar. I scoffed at the black kids I would occasionally see in the hallway or in gym class. But there was one thing I didn’t catch onto until later—I could never be like my friends. Once I got a relaxer I thought I’d be happy and be the same as all of my peers—but no. I was the same token black friend—just with straight hair. I was happy enough for a while until one day I wasn’t.

In eighth grade, I got braids as a protective hairstyle. One of my friends said they were ugly. And guess what? I agreed. She said they made me look ghetto and like all of the other black girls in school. I told her I hated them and I was never getting them again.

Soon I became unhappy. And I couldn’t pin why. I thought it was with my friends, or with my family, or with school. When I really thought about it, I realized it wasn’t any of those things. But one night I realized I was unhappy with myself. I wasn’t happy with the mindset I had and I wasn’t happy that I wanted to be white.

Part of this discovery had to do with my Girl Scout Troop. My troop is based at a black church—which meant all but one of the girls in the troop were black. These girls had similar goals in mind—to advance themselves in this brutal world. And being around a group of black girls served as a type of healing—I realized who I really was.My relaxer was a part of my identity back then. I thought it would solve all of my problems. But I realized too late that it wouldn’t.

The realization took a while. I didn’t know how hard I worked at being white. It took a burden on my identity, on my soul. I realized all of the things I brushed off as if they were nothing. The looks I got in history class whenever anyone mentioned slavery. The “your hair isn’t short—are you actually all black?” or “why do you talk so white?” None of those things held any significance to me.

Now I am growing out my relaxer—no more burning my hair straight. And yes, I still straighten my hair sometimes. But now the straight isn’t so that I look more white—its simply because I like the look.

The damage that the relaxer took on me—physically and mentally—serves as a reminder that a message needs to be spread to all of the little black girls out there who think they need to be white. We need more representation so the little girls can see how beautiful their natural hair is. Looking back, I wish someone had told me how crazy my mentality was and had showed me how beautiful my hair really was.

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