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Who Taught You to Hate Yourself?

“The most disrespected woman in America is the Black woman. The most un-protected person in America is the Black woman. The most neglected person in America is the Black woman” — Malcolm X

During my brief period in Montessori school in Eagle Rock, California, I befriended a group of white girls my age. We were around four or five years old, and I don’t remember much about being around them except the day they exiled me from the wooden playground castle. There were two heights to the castle — a lower one and a higher one. As a curious tot wanting to get to the high end of the castle, I made my way to the steps and was blocked at the entrance by three pairs of mary jane flats and white skin. I looked up, wondering who had stopped my attempt at climbing to the top. The group of girls I befriended were standing on the entire surface area of the higher end of the castle, arms crossed, eyes darted at me. The girl in the middle spoke, “You can’t play with us because you’re brown and you have weird hair.” I didn’t understand. I was confused. I didn’t know what that meant. I mentally made a note of what the girls looked like. Shiny blonde hair, blue eyes, fair skin, freckles. None of the features I possessed. I suddenly felt very small. I was too dark, my hair too kinky, my eyes brown. I didn’t match with them. I was the odd one out.

That night I went home and doused my entire body and my scalp with baby powder on the kitchen floor. My mother walked into the kitchen and asked me what I was doing, angry that I had wasted an entire container of the expensive baby powder from Target. She was ready to physically discipline me, grabbing my arm, before asking, “Why did you do this?” to which I replied, “I wanted to be white like the girls at school. They said I couldn’t play with them because I’m brown.”

Ever since that happened my mother has been oblivious to race, and my father has watched me silently, but vigilantly. Not interfering on my growth as a young black woman, but not advising me either. I was like a social experiment to him. Of course he protected me in the ways he could; he switched me to private school, where I would (hopefully) not have to worry about my race being a factor in education if he was going to pay $7000 a year for my schooling. My mother could not understand. She was an immigrant, and a new one at that. She moved to the states only a year before I was born, and hadn’t even spent a decade surrounded in American culture or politics. To this day, she still doesn’t understand. But I don’t resent her for it.

I’m sharing this because young black women have gone through and will go through an experience where their skin color, their black features, their black existence will not be enough. Young black women are forced to grow up faster than young white woman because historically we have been seen as breeders, as bodies, as empty shells. Is it such a surprise that history created a system in which black women are regarded as a means to an end? Young black women that show glimmers of their intelligence are skeptically acknowledged. Young black women that use proper grammar and enunciation are told they “talk white”. Young black women that live in predominantly white neighborhoods, are judged for supporting the white community and questioned about their ties to their culture. Young black women date white men and are chastised for sleeping with their aggressor. We are made to accept backhanded compliments and handouts because the things we do “right” are seen as attempts at being “white”. And yet the things we do “right” are still not enough.

Young black women are higher targets for rape and experience sexual assault at a higher rate than white women.

Young black women are still achieving feats that label them “the first ever black woman to _” yet young white women have had these opportunities handed to them since they were born.

To America, young black women are bodies to use, abuse, and discard.

America uses young black women as models of what they don’t want their young white women to be. And nobody is there to tell young black women that they must protect themselves from the world. We are meant to learn it on our own.