“I wouldn’t have to teach my people to love themselves if they weren’t being taught to hate themselves first.” -Unknown
Back to the South
I recently traveled home to visit my family in Birmingham, Alabama. I’ve always been aware of Birmingham’s role in the deeply-rooted history of racism in America. Still, returning to the City this time around felt different. While home, I made a point to re-visit the infamous 16th Street Baptist Church, where four innocent Black girls suffered and died in one of the most gruesome terrorist attacks in our nation’s history. My grief was palpable during this trip. But, at the same time, I felt so grateful for the resilience of my ancestors. I reflected on the messaging I was taught growing up in today’s society and how I’m intentionally practicing self-love as a black woman during this season.
Growing up Black In America
Standards of beauty
America teaches little Black girls fear, isolation, and subjugation at any early age. I remember being the only little Black girl in my dance class. I remember an extended family member scrubbing my knees with Ajax (a chemical cleaning agent) so they wouldn’t be “black.” If I had a dollar for every time I was called “pretty for a Black girl,” I could’ve retired by 20. And can you imagine being told not to play under the sun for too long because you would get “too dark”? I can. Believe it or not, this was my experience. And I could imagine this experience resonates with others as well.
Every aspect of my physical appearance presented a problem that needed to be managed. My natural hair was considered “nappy” so my hair was permed with chemicals until it was straightened to conform with European standards of beauty also known as “presentable” and “nice.” I remember the persistence of my curves, and how I secretly wanted to be skinny or light skinned with “good hair”, which at a time was the standard of beauty in America.
First, only, and different
I also remember working ten times harder than my white classmates in my Advanced Placement classes at an International Baccalaureate School. I was 1 of 5 Black students in my senior class (and experienced everything that comes with being “first, only, and different” in high school). Like many Black kids who grew up in the South, I still remember the first time I was called a “nigger.” I was 17 years old when a random white man screamed the ugliest of slurs at me from the comfort of his red truck. This was my reality. This was my childhood. This was my experience growing up Black in America.
Learning and unlearning
Being taught that I wasn’t pretty, that I would never measure up, and that I wasn’t good enough simply because of the color my skin has weighed heavily on me. I could change my hair, speech, mannerisms, clothes, education (e.g., I obtained two degrees from an elite undergraduate institution and multiple certifications as a health-care professional). But, at the end of the day, I was still a Black girl to society. All of my “excellence” and attempts to adapt to mainstream culture didn’t matter. And honestly, I shouldn’t have needed to earn the respect I deserve as a human simply because I am Black. I quickly learned that love and empathy for others is what humanity is missing.
Shifting the narrative
Black is beautiful
Thankfully, I am able to view my place in the world differently as an adult. I remain proud of who I am in majority spaces because it gives me another chance to shine my light. I had to learn, however, to practice self-love and be proud of myself for who I am at my core. I embrace my scars, dark knees, and elbows as a story to tell others. I am pretty, period (not just “for a Black girl”). As a matter of fact, I am beautiful. When I go outside, I live for the way tanning activates my melanin and makes my skin literally glow in the sun.
Natural hair, not “nappy” hair
I’ve been living the natural hair life for 10 years now, and I rock my coils and curls with pride. My hair is a tribute to my fullest self; it allows me to celebrate my individuality and diversity. I don’t believe in “nappy” hair. Rather than get caught up in binaries around “good” and “bad” hair, I have learned to love my texture and I give it what it needs to flourish and thrive. I work hard because I have a standard of excellence within myself and not because I have anything to prove because of the color of my skin. And, most importantly, I do not internalize racial slurs because I know I am a Black queen. Shifting the narrative is critical when you are persistent about self-love. P.S., I’ve linked a list of powerful quotes from Black women on Self-love here.
Black pride as a form of self-love
Black pride is a lifestyle that encourages, supports, and promotes the well-being, prosperity, and economic growth of Black people around the world. It is a set of actions, including supporting black-owned businesses, bringing attention to issues that impact the Black community, nurturing and protecting Black youth, and encouraging Black people to take pride in our history and legacies. In a previous post found here, I provided a list of ways to support and lift women higher, but I do believe these same principles apply to uplifting the black community too.
Black pride dismantles the hate and oppression embedded in the Anti-Black messaging I grew up with. By changing my internal narrative, Black Pride has shown me how to love myself in ways I never believed were possible as a little Black girl raised in the Deep South. There is so much beauty in being Black. It honestly makes me emotional when I think about people who have worked so hard to make Black folks believe otherwise. Pro-Black isn’t anti-white. Anyone who would deny Black folks the opportunity to celebrate and uplift our communities after centuries of oppression is part of the problem. All lives cannot matter until black lives do.
Black and I’m Proud
The resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement has given us all an opportunity to revisit the conversation around Black lives and what it means to be Black in America. The movement has many layers and activism can mean a lot of things. As for me, I commit to engaging in uncomfortable conversations with my digital community, celebrating Black culture and spreading joy, supporting black-owned businesses, and utilizing my platform to amplify Black voices and movement work. Black people can and should control our own narratives while using the gift of our collective experiences to uplift our communities and one another.
The only way we can begin to heal from so many wounds is to be able to love ourselves first. Pro-Blackness is a practice of self-love. Practicing self-love as a black woman fuels our resistance against systems of oppression. It teaches us to imagine and demand better ways of being for ourselves and our descendents. Only through unapologetic self-love and collective healing, we can walk in our truest selves, reclaim our humanity, and change the world. This is how I am choosing to practice self-love as a black woman in this season.
I hope this post inspires someone (no matter what color you are) to embrace who you are no matter what society says and no matter what’s going on around you. Dear human, remember this: You are fearfully and wonderfully made in God’s sight. You’re here on purpose and your very existence is necessary. It’s important for us to know who we are and to acknowledge our value as human beings.
How can you practice self-love and embrace the skin you’re in this week? I challenge you to encourage someone, to read about the current climate in today’s society, and create safe spaces to have more conversations like this. More importantly, let’s fight for justice for Breonna Taylor, a woman who was killed because of the color of her skin by taking action in some way here. Until next time, remember that self-love is the best love!