By: Simone Ziel
I jumped over a lot of hurdles to finally come to the point where I can finally love my skin colour and culture. A lot of my friends say that they love the passion I have towards my culture – they love how I like to research and learn about my country of origin and black history as well as my growing collection of dashiki’s and Ankara shirts, skirts and dresses. However, I wasn’t always like this. In fact there was a point where I was the polar opposite – around the age of 8 to 9, I didn’t want to be black at all.
It started off when I was 8. There was a ‘weird and wacky day’ at school but I didn’t really want to dress up so my mum decided that it would be best if I had my afro out. I went into school feeling so uncomfortable; though my primary school – which was a 10 minute drive from my home in East London – had diversity, the school was predominantly white.
All the girls had really nice straight or wavy hair so I knew that I would stick out regardless, which would be a cue for them to ask me questions about how I got my hair ‘to be so big’. From then, I wanted straight hair – not just because it would be easier for when I am getting my hair done but because I thought it looked better than my afro.
I still lacked knowledge on my background. At one point, I kept on forgetting the name of my country of origin and where exactly it was located so until age 9, I told people I was from a country in the middle of Africa that speaks French; that country being the Democratic Republic of Congo. I was also a bit embarrassed of when I would get picked up by my parents’ and they will be playing Congolese music on full blast; I didn’t want my friends to think I was listening to weird music.
As I started getting invited to more birthday parties, I made an observation about most of my white friends at my school (as silly as this may sound) which was how big and amazing their houses were compared to my other friends who lived in my area or went to my church. Yes, I had friends who were of colour who lived in big houses but that was only a few people.
Slowly, all my thoughts, questions and observations were growing in my mind and were all joined together. What is the point of being black? Why was I born black?
I felt like all my white friends had better opportunities to be successful than I would, and there was evidence of that. I felt like my lighter skinned friends were more socially accepted than I was and, again, there was evidence of that.
Everywhere I looked: on TV, in magazines and in fictional novels, everyone that was admirable was white or of lighter skin. At such a young age, my innocent mind was fed lies that only white people can have ‘the good life’; so why should I be part of a rejected race?
That is when I received a wakeup call from my year 5 substitute teacher, a proud dreaded African woman. She was not ashamed of her roots. She would wear traditional Nigerian clothing and sometimes play music from different African countries while we were in class.
Some people thought she was weird at first but got used to it. As a whole class, we admired her passion for the mother land but she acknowledged that I never had that and questioned me about it. I think this was why she was my parents’ favourite teacher.
She made some sort of an impact in my life in terms of appreciating my background more. Sure, I grew to love being African but I only loved being African when I was around Africans and even then, I will try and shy away from it all. I learned that it is alright to build that bridge to connect my ‘African life’ with my ‘British life’.
More than a decade has passed and I have grown more and more comfortable in my dark skin. I believe I grew up around the time where only a few people of colour were being represented on a larger platform in a positive light. But times have changed. Especially with the Black Lives Matter movement and more opportunities for people of colour, there are more black people fighting against all odds to receive the success they deserve.
There are more black people being presented in creative industries like literature, theatre, modelling, film & television and fashion as well as successful business men and woman. All these strong people that young people can look up to. I wish I had more of this when I was younger – though I had my parents and other strong black people around me – but nonetheless, I can be that strong black young woman for someone else.