Colorism Part 5: Learning to Love My Brown Skin

Posted: June 27, 2013 in Uncategorized
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By Bettie Beard

As I watched “Dark Girls,” I couldn’t help but reflect on my feelings when I was very young about being so dark compared to my mother and all my brothers but one.

My brother and I would complain about being the ‘black sheep’ in the family. My mother would always tell me that I was beautiful, but when we went anywhere together, I knew better because she would always get compliments about her beauty … AND her hair while I stood to the side. Occasionally someone would tell her “your daughter looks just like you” but I knew they were only trying to be nice.

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Throughout my elementary school years, if my mother came to school, I would always be embarrassed by students’ reactions when they called her pretty. I will never forget one girl said, “Bettie, your mother is so beautiful — why don’t you look like her?” I didn’t understand why that comment hurt until years later. It was cruel but children don’t know any better. The comments continued throughout the years and the one, which made me cringe most, was when people called my mother a “yellowhammer” because I considered it disrespectful and degrading.

I’m so thankful that I had the support of family, friends, teachers, and church family who not only gave me unconditional love but also encouraged me in all my endeavors and of course that issue of my being darker than my mom and brothers was put to rest. Not only did I learn to love and respect others, and myself but my faith and coping mechanisms were strengthened through the guidance and teachings, which I received. I haven’t reflected on this much over the years but the OWN documentary brought those memories back like it was yesterday.

The pain that girls of color experience today about their various shades of dark skin is still just as relevant as when I experienced it. While lighter skinned girls may not have the same exact experiences today (such as being considered ‘teachers pet’ or winning school contests or positions) their pain may be even deeper due to the promotion of lighter shades of skin through the multiplicity of mediums, which saturate our society today.

All youth need guidance as they try to reconcile their real life experiences with the inundation of corporate promoted beauty and image preferences because too many times everyone buys into what is sold through these mediums. This can cause some girls to develop a low sense of self-worth especially when their sense of self is exacerbated by negative physical or verbal treatment of them by peers, family and others.

Personally, I think that there is a need to address the way shades of skin impacts feelings and treatment of youth within the African American culture. Just as we address violence, bullying, racism, etc., a sound developmental foundation for youth must include addressing any serious issue which might help shape them into productive, healthy, caring members of society.

For any of my past Introduction to Sociology students who might happen to read this, you might be reminded of one of your first essay assignments, which I gave, each semester — “Is there Prejudice Within the African American Culture?” I promise you that that assignment was not tied specifically to my childhood experience but rather a compilation of studies, experiences, and observations.

Bettie Beard is a gerontologist and social worker with experience in the areas of education, healthcare, social work, aging, grant administration and grant writing, sports consulting, and community organization. Beard is a wife, mother, grandmother, daughter, sister, aunt, niece, and cousin with a huge extended family including friends and she enjoys nothing more than sharing time and love with them. She is interested in including writing, reading, cooking, politics and ministering to others.

Over the past several years, she has developed an interest in a natural and organic lifestyle, and while it is difficult to make that transition in a short time, she is seriously working on it. Because of this, she finds herself doing extensive research in the areas of alternative medicine as well as vegan and organic foods and teas.

Her eclectic nature and love of people and of life leads her to research, read, and write on a variety of issues and topics. She is a perpetual student of life!

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