By DENENE MILLNER
It was a playground ditty as melodic as Miss Mary Mack, but much more ugly menacing, even:
If you're white, you're all right
If you're brown, stick around
The message, which, sadly, was promoted and reinforced by my African American friends and family members, was clear: Little girls who looked like me, with my dark skin and my short, kinky hair, needed to play the rear to acknowledge and embrace the universal truth that no one with my features should expect to be seen, heard, or, by God, think she was cute. I spent a lifetime getting back receding and retreating and hiding, all the while feeling ashamed that my skin couldn't be lighter and my hair couldn't be longer and straighter. That I couldn't look more white to be more right.
It took me a long time to step forward to face myself in the mirror and actually embrace me. Dark skin, kinky hair, thick lips, black girl hips and thighs and booty. All of me. Indeed, it was my guy friend a true friend, not a love interest who coaxed me out of my shell. Look at you! he demanded, holding a mirror up to my face. You are beautiful, Denene. I can see it; why can't you?
Today, with a few more years under my belt, a lot more confidence, and a specific mission to make sure my two chocolate girl pies don't ever feel ashamed of that which God gave them, I can look in the mirror and really appreciate what I see. Shoot a touch of mascara, a little lip gloss, and a cute shoe is all I need to strut like I'm a supermodel on the grandest of catwalks. And walking right next to me are my two beautiful little girls both of them chocolatey and all natural and still, thankfully, oblivious to the black get back madness that haunted me for way too many years to count.
Still, I feel the need to do damage control whenever my daughters flip absentmindedly through my magazines or stumble across a questionable music video or even see a simple TV commercial featuring black girls, because it's all-too-clear that the white is right ditty is still very much ingrained in the mindset of the editors, producers, and ad agencies. Don't get me wrong: I think we've come a long way when we can turn on the TV and see African Americans in ads for popular products, stores, and services. But I kinda take it personal when practically every black female both child and adult in videos, commercials, and ads has brownish-blonde curly hair or long hair that stretches well past their shoulders, light skin, and hazel eyes, European features that make them look more other than black. It's not exactly screaming black get back, but to me and mine, it certainly whispers, closer to white is preferred.
Yes, we still have a ways to go in our media. But, don't just limit yourself to conventional media to seek representational images. This is one of the reasons why I read your blog and many others. Because, this is where I see many women of all hues, shapes and sizes. And where I see that natural and relaxed hair is celebrated. So, I've turned my daughter into a blogalista. Now she's only 5, but I use the internet as our main media source. I allow her to sit on my lap as I search the internet and we look at sights that celebrate being a black woman. And there are plenty 😉
I don't look to traditional media for positive images … I try my best to look at real life, in my community. Also, blogs are here to stay and what I feel are more representative of us as beautiful Moms, Dads and a people. I gave up on the media a long time ago.
Being overwhelmed by media induced images of what we should look like, how we should behave, what we should have and how we should dress and act isn't new, but the speed in which the "information" moves and affects those exposed to it is. That is why the need for us to counteract such illusions with the reality is even more urgent. Pointing out those in our family and community that embody the true and diverse beauty of our culture is now so very important and it is our individual responsibility to nurture and assure our community of children of their own beauty both within and without.
Great post. It actually pains me deeply that the media still hasn't accepted darker skinned black people. I've always been bothered by the ads featuring mixed, very light, or european-featured black people. Yes, they are a part of the community and should be celebrated too but not at the exclusion of dark skin mommas and their beautiful dark skin children.
As me, someone who often felt/feels that her skin color isn't perceived as attractive, I totally get where you're coming from. But as the mom of a bi-racial (and therefore light skinned, light eyed, European-ish looking child) I bristle a little. But, it's mostly because of *my* own issues, not what you've said.
There is a definite need for the media to embrace all shades of brown as beautiful. It's frustrating that looking through the pages of Essence etc. are the only times I see myself in the pages.