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
Colette E. Dabney says
I’m so sorry for what happened to you in school. It was WRONG and no child should have to go through that. EVER! As a Black child growing up in the South, I did see some of what you talk about with the darker complexion kids. I was one of the so called light skinned kids but was also a chubby kid and a teacher’s kid (Both my parents were schoolteachers at other schools.) so the students and even some teachers picked on me too. The difference is I was taught compassion from a very early age, and I would have been your friend.
I’ve learned even as adults some of those people still haven’t changed and they never will. They’ll always need to be better than someone else because their inner self esteem is just that low. Some of the worse racial abuse I’ve seen and suffered in my life has been from my own people and it hurts. I stay away from those people in order to stay whole.
Like you I continue to support all young people and try in my capacity as an administrator at a major university to teach students, in our conversations and interactions, to see beyond color and embrace each other’s humanity and individuality.
Thank you for reminding me that I am more than what others think of me.
SE Adams says
Your story brought to mind something that my great grandmother told me. I was an only child for 10 years raised around my great aunts and uncles. Always considered an “old soul” and called cute all of the time. My great grandmother noticed that I was probably enjoying the “cute” title too much. One day she took me aside and told me. You are cute, but your looks will change in time. If you are smart and work hard only time and the Lord can change your mind. She stressed that I should try harder to be smart and never let anyone stop me from learning.
Thank you for sharing the long-held pains of your beautiful heart, Ms. Linda. I’m so sorry for the trauma of colorism that you were forced to endure at the hands of your Black classmates and others throughout your life.
It saddens and angers me to see that 150 years post-slavery, Black folks in today’s 21st century, even more so than whites, mindlessly delight in judging each other’s beauty (particularly the beauty of black women) primarily by skin tone. We have no problem calling out white folks for discrimination in any shape or form, yet we downright refuse to acknowledge the deep and lasting assaults that we needlessly inflict upon each other every day through the practice of colorist discrimination. Preferences for light skin and straight hair are passed down from generation to generation, from the fairest-skinned Blacks to the darkest-browned Blacks, and we as a people blithely accept it as a fact that light is better than dark. Sure, we loudly chant Black is beautiful, but we don’t qualify that by saying it’s not true if you’re “too Black.”
The damage that we do to ourselves by perpetuating this racist way of thinking is abhorrent. And the fact we are raising our Black children (especially our Black girls) to hold the same hateful biases against themselves ought to be criminal. I recommend anyone who cares about righting this issue read two excellent nonfiction books that examine the emotional trauma of colorism: “Don’t Play in the Sun: One Woman’s Journey Through the Color Complex” by Marita Golden, and “Same Family, Different Colors: Confronting Colorism in America’s Diverse Families” by Lori L. Tharps.
Ms. Linda, I’m so glad that you finally saw the light of your own Black beauty. Keep on shining in God’s grace and everlasting love. You are a true Queen, beautiful inside and out. 🙂
Evelyn Barbee says
Great story, but sad that we have to endure this treatment from our own
people. So glad that you persevered and have wonderful love ones.
Pamela Easter says
Very inspiring story!
Edna H. Hartranft says
Hello, this is so sad. I too was teased relentlessly about the color of my skin. It’s a reason I did not consider an HBCU because I felt it was just going to continue. It wasn’t until my junior year in college that I was comfortable walking past black men without fear of being called a name. I love who I am and what I look like. I pray this stops for we have enough to worry about as a people. We are a beautiful people of all hues.
I’m sorry you had to go through that. What an inspiring way to turn it around and help children.
I’m glad you’re enjoying your retirement with your family. ❤️🙏🏾
I can identify with this all to well. God spoke to me several years ago and told me that I was exactly who He created me to be. I was wonderfully and beautifully made. I had to learn that my identity was found in my creator. The one Who knew me before I was. It is still a struggle most days to not see me as the world sees me. But for the most part, I see me, the way my creator sees me.
great read thanks for sharing
I totally understand. I was bullied as well. Making an error in front of the class and also being of darker skin. It’s not been an easy life. It has followed me my 71 yrs. I too have come to terms with all of it. Thank you for your article.
Varna Roberts says
Linda! You are so brave. I didn’t understand that anxiety was swallowing me up in the 60’s and 70’s when I was in school.
I despised going to school, especially H.S., I was smart, talented, respectful, but I wasn’t light skinned, nor did I have “good” hair.
I was always experiencing some kind of illness. Now I realize it was because of the anxiety caused by mistreatment and bullying.
Your mother was your savior. Thank God for her.
I have been coming to terms with life in my past. I am grateful for people like you who share your stories and help the rest of us know we weren’t alone or crazy.
Love to you my beautiful brown sister.
This story brought back some memories for me and my school days also in the Caribbean. It’s so sad when adults open children’s eyes to colorism…I felt your pain reading this. Great piece.
Tena, The Wine Whisperer says
I am so sorry for your experience! I lived with words of high yellow and red bone! The pendulum continues! We have to embrace ourselves and show self love! It emits from within! Thanks for sharing ❤️💜
Helen Peterson says
Thank you for sharing. About to turn 74 this March, I still remember the damaging childhood huddles where we pre-and early teens put our hands in a circle and I always ended up JBJBABC: “Jet Black Jungle Baby African Black Child.” Learned to cope. My biggest regret now is that I didn’t realize and address the classism and colorism that my handsome, intelligent son encountered in DC public schools with many Black administrators and teachers who treasured the old order. Applause to all who fight for the glorious beauty–mind, body, spirit–of our chidren.
Jaime Hanson Thomas says
Mrs. Linda, thank you for sharing your experience! You are one of the sweetest people I’ve had the pleasure of meeting. It breaks my heart to hear of the trauma I’ve experienced from the hands of “our own”. Sadly, they lost out on a beautiful friend. Thank you for not letting them win!
Thank you for sharing your story. I know it was not easy to do. I’ve also had some hurtful experiences being the beautiful dark brown woman that I am. (Smile). The reality is that there are just some ignorant people in this world that may never change. There are also people who show love to all.
You are truly an overcomer and I love the fact that you now know your worth. Black is beautiful, no matter what shade.
Cynthia Daniels-Banks says
Linda, thank you for allowing us to see a snippet of your progress through the pain. You’ve let us witness you transform your hurt into a healing balm . . . For yourself and others.
You have reminded me, you have reminded us, that we are not invisible and that our LORD is still El Roi—The God Who sees us . . . and still loves us.
Thank you, Linda, for sharing. 🌹
Lisa Thompson says
Beautiful story! It really touched me!
rita Henderson says
lOVE THE STORY