I was in high school during the civil rights movement of the sixties. The high school I went to was predominantly Black and was as racist as any white high school I could have attended. I was bullied daily because my melanin was too dark. Which made me not only Black but, in the bullies’ eyes, it made me ugly as well.
I remember going to class and boys jumping out of the shadows pretending to shoot at me because I was a ‘bear’. That’s what they called the darker skinned kids, especially the darker skinned girls. All I could do was pretend it didn’t bother me as I continued to walk to my class, knowing when the bell rang and classes changed again, it would be a repeat of the same.
This was never more apparent than at school assemblies on Fridays before a football game. An assembly was always held in the auditorium to choose a king and queen for the game the next day. It had nothing to do with academics. Which meant that if you were a darker-skinned student with the highest GPA in the school you still wouldn’t be chosen. Every week the school elected their idea of beauty, the lighter-skinned kids with so called ‘good hair’.
I made it through my junior year of high school. I should have been excited, but instead I was hit with a debilitating anxiety caused by the fear of going back and being bullied another year. When I asked my mother, a single, working mom of four—two girls and two boys—if I could drop out of school, she didn’t question me. My mother was a dreamer and the strongest person I knew. She stood on the bus stop every morning, in all kinds of weather, to provide for us. She knew me and knew it had to be a good reason. So, she allowed it. As my classmates were graduating from high school, I was taking GED classes.
The trauma of my high school experience would resurface at different times in my life. One that stands out the most is an incident that happened when I was an early childhood educator. We had foster grandparents in our classroom, retirees who volunteered to come in and love and nurture our students, some of whom didn’t have active grandparents. One of our grandparents, an African American woman of a lighter complexion, favored one of our little students because in her own words, “she was cute to be a little chocolate baby.” As if being dark and cute made her some sort of unicorn.
The other students noticed grandma was not spending as much time with them as she was with our ‘chocolate’ student. At three, four, and five years old, they really didn’t see color—except they knew they were all brown. I made sure our class library had books about children who looked like them. Books like Amazing Grace and Bright Eyes, Brown Skin. So, they had no idea of the colorism going on in their classroom.
One day I had had enough and pulled grandma to the side to tactfully explain that she was there to love and nurture all of our little students, regardless of their color. My words were probably wasted because you can’t change someone who doesn’t see an issue with their actions. She was a dinosaur of colorism—something I knew all too well from my school days.
It took me more than fifty years to accept that I’m not what happened to me and I’m not what someone else said about me. It’s been a journey and it hasn’t been easy. I have encountered other bullies of one kind or another along the way, but the impact on me has become less and less. I earned that GED and went on to college. I’m now a retired early childhood educator with a beautiful family who loves and supports me.
It’s taken a long time, but I have come to know that I’m the daughter of a King, and, at seventy-four years of age, I finally see the beauty in me that He sees in me.Leave a Comment