I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well. Ps 139:14
I didn’t know dark was ugly. I knew my mother called me “Dark one” sometimes. But I knew more about my dad calling me his Black beauty, his dark mahogany. He loved me. I felt beautiful in his eyes. Also, the older I got, he told me I reminded him of his mother. When my paternal aunt came to visit and measured me for a dress, she told me I had small wrists like my granny. So I felt beautiful. I looked like my delicate late grandmother. (Though in reality in the photo we have hanging on the wall she’s very stout.😉)
As you know, I went to schools that were previously for White children. The first school I went to was a rebel school. They sang the banned African national anthem instead of the Afrikaans national anthem. And unlike other private (not run by the government) schools my mother tried at this school DID take me. (After an IQ test that surprised them. To this day I wonder if they believed the ‘Black people are less intelligent’ line and that’s why they were shocked at my results.) So there were no Black people to learn about colorism from. I got home from school and went straight into my homework, cooking, and reading. I didn’t roam around the ‘hood.
I was different. Hated by the White teachers and White parents of some pupils, I didn’t even think about Black against Black except for the fighting happening between the Zulu political party and innocent Xhosa people.
One of our Xhosa church member families sent their son to a university in what was known as Zululand. One evening coming back from church youth group, he was set upon by Zulu youths who beat him up so bad that he had to come home. All their dreams were gone. He came back paralysed and not even able to speak. That’s the Black vs Black hatred I knew. And the one that set spies and traitors alight on our streets. And threatened to attack us if we went to school on a Stay Away day. My dad never obeyed. My White headmistress would tell him to keep me safe at home and they’d keep my school work for me, my dad was not having it. We would drive through the eerily quiet street and he would stop at the red traffic light. I can’t explain the fear I had that we would be attacked by angry hoodlums. (Look up Amy Biehl if you don’t know what I mean. That’s what they threatened would happen to any Black person who did NOT stay away from school and work and shops.) It was terrifying.
I was different. Surrounded by different people, reading books that exposed me to a different life… I recall as a teen once, walking from the shops in the township I grew up in. Some random person shouted that I walked like I went to a White school. Don’t ask me! I don’t know! Or people would just yell that I was a white school girl. It was weird. So colour never came into it as they were too busy analysing how I walked. (Maybe it was the ballet!)
Until I met my ex sister-in-law. She made comments about how she’s ugly because she’s dark. I felt sorry for her because she was not ugly at all to me. And certainly not because of skin tone! Skin tone never factored when thinking of beauty, ever.
In high school, a statuesque dark girl came. She was maybe two or three grades below me but you couldn’t miss her. Her height, her short natural Afro when the others had braids. And her beautiful dark, dark skin. It was mesmerising to me. Her skin was flawless. And dark. Black. I wanted to tell her her skin looked beautiful but felt awkward.
Now that I’ve heard how bad dark people have it. Now that I’ve experienced colorism even against a three month old baby. Now that I know how cruel we are in general when it comes to appearance, I wish I had.
If I come across someone with features or hair I find beautiful that I especially know are ‘not’ lovely according to general Black ‘wisdom,’ I definitely will.
We all need all the positivity we can get.