I’ve been the Black friend for as long as I can remember. I grew up in white spaces struggling to proudly wear my cocoa butter skin among people who didn’t know how to see my value. At our Southern Baptist school, racism towards me was wrapped in good intentions, “biblical truths”, and “my parents just want what’s best for me” types of foolishness.
I was sweet, quiet, and easy-going, which didn’t fit the stereotypical Black person my peers saw on TV or barely interacted with in real life. To them I was different; I was educated. Good enough to be friends with, but to date? You already know the answer to that, Sis.
Sixth grade was the first time a white boy was bold enough to ask me to be his girlfriend. Whispers buzzed all through our middle school. He was a sweet kid and genuinely cared for me, but according to his mom (and some of our peers) the Bible didn’t allow whites and Blacks to date or marry. She used one of those Old Testament verses that so many people in the South believed, one you had to twist and squeeze and read with both eyes closed to get the tainted version. Needless to say, he was the last person to ask me out for the remainder of middle school and all throughout high school.
A few of my peers, their parents, and some of our teachers were not shy with their ignorance, either:
- “Would your mother allow you to date a white boy?” asked my friend’s mom.
- “The KKK was better known for helping battered women and providing resources for single parent homes,” claimed my economics teacher.
- “You live in the hood, so I’m not coming to your house.” (Even though our private school was one block up the street.)
- “It’s ok if I date him cause he’s mostly white.”
- “Well Black people aren’t suffering now, so why are they still complaining?”
- “You can stay over at my house, but my mom doesn’t want me staying over at yours.”
While we were memorizing scriptures to be more Christ-like, my peers were also learning how to determine someone’s value based on their racial and gender identities. As we grew older, it was clear which homegrown values were sticking and which verses on equality and love were being left behind.
These childhood experiences with racism were placed in my memory box but forcefully opened again during the last couple of years of racial and political tension. Like a broken dam, the waters came rushing in over my head, reminding me that no matter how much self-love I have, how accepting I am of others, or how ‘educated’ I speak, my skin is still a target for hate.
During this time, I tried reaching out to some friends for support only to be told that “everyone goes through hard times” and “white people deal with racism too.” I became disheartened when it seemed like those who claimed to love me were unbothered by the beliefs and systemic barriers used to devalue me and other minoritized groups. A deep loneliness nestled its way into my mind as those who were supposed to be there for me could easily dismiss my pain.
Part of the church continued to ignore the cries of the oppressed, praying to the blue-eyed, blonde-haired God they had made in their own image. But I decided to dig into this faith I grew up in. I pulled back every layer of theology I could find. I questioned this God who seemed to have an issue with my Blackness and my nerve as a woman to use the voice He gave me.
After two and a half years of unraveling my faith, I found God was nothing like the Americanized version from my childhood. Instead, I found a humble spirit who wants oceans and rivers of justice, who stands and identifies with the mistreated immigrant, the fatherless, and those silenced by racism, misogyny, and all other forms of oppression. And this son of God, who was born into poverty and whose race would have made him a victim of the Holocaust and antisemitism in America, chose to identify with me and you.
This book that was weaponized against me now lavishes me with dignity. Though many try to rewrite its pages to fit their prejudices, they cannot erase the truth that the oppressed and marginalized are seen and heard all throughout its story. It is our story.
Over the years, I’ve had to unlearn many lies about my worth as a Black woman. I’ve learned to live and breathe easier in white spaces while also making it a priority to find diversity. I’ve found safe friends who truly see and hear me. As I continue to learn how to love every part of me, I hope my journey can encourage you to do the same.
Wear your shades of cocoa proudly, let your kinks and curls flow, and make your voice heard. For you are a woman of dignity—made in the image of One who takes the burdens off your shoulders and carries them as His own. Your skin is not a mark of shame, but of bravery, faith, and a hell of a lot of grit and grace.
Sis, what does dignity mean to you? Where do you still struggle to believe you are worthy?Leave a Comment