“Who taught you to hate the colour of your skin? Who taught you to hate the texture of your hair? Who taught you to hate the shape of your nose and the shape of your lips? Who taught you to hate yourself from the top of your head to the soles of your feet? Who taught you to hate your own kind? Who taught you to hate the race that you belong to so much so that you don’t want to be around each other? You know. Before you come asking Mr. Muhammad does he teach hate, you should ask yourself who taught you to hate being what God made you.”
The above is an excerpt from the speech by Malcolm X – an African-American Muslim minister and human rights activist who was assassinated at only 39 years of age. He is of no doubt one of the most influential African Americans ever and this was from one of his most powerful speeches. Beyoncé later went ahead to incorporate this in her new album “Lemonade”. Basically, the speech unwaveringly carries a strong message; a strong question, to be exact – who taught you to hate yourself?
A friend of mine asked me one day, ‘what if as black people, our skins are gold and we just don’t know it?’ How ‘bout we think of it this way: What if African hair was the cool human hair we so desire to have? What if our skin was gold and the whites are dying to have it? What if our accents were so damn good that we teach the whites how to sound cool like us through slightly cocky tutorial videos? Truth is we I am guilty of this and so would the next 50 generations to come. For some reason, I wonder who made the switch. Who set the threshold for what was cool and what was not and fed it to us? Who deceived us that full-thick hair was crap, and scanty-hungry looking hair was cool?! If you ask me, I would tell you that I was born into it. “This is the trend.” “Plain is cooler than prints.” I have no idea why.
An attempt to demystify this would take us back to the same old wrong beginnings that we have held on to. The sad realization that our minds have gotten accustomed to this weakness that lies in our past. ‘Colorism’ is a term coined by Alice Walker that explains part of the self-hatred that we live in today. Colorism is a situation where forms of differential treatment results from social values associated with skin colour. During the days of slavery, work was assigned to African-Americans based on colour; the lighter ones as house servants and the darker ones worked in the field. Then, there was the brown paper bag test that defined if you were too light or too dark and ultimately if you were going to be allowed to enter sororities and fraternities or rich clubs.
The issue today, simply lies in our definition of beauty and perfection. These highly subjective terms have been given definitions that are so far away from who we are. We have chosen to continue in the ugly ‘Old Testament commandments’ given by the masters to the slaves as the guiding principles we use to define ourselves. In essence, because we have chosen to follow in the same rules of colorism, we now carry out the paper bag test on ourselves. So we believe that if we are not a certain colour, or our hair does not look a certain way, or our voice does not sound a certain way; we are substandard or less than perfect. This has then be passed on from generation to generation as the modus operandi. Until we break ourselves loose from the deranged limitations we have imposed on ourselves by virtue of our ill-favoured past, well, there is no advancement.
You know what they say about changing a bad habit- you have to replace it with a new one. To unlearn hating ourselves, we have to learn to love ourselves. How then do we love ourselves? We have to go back to the beginning. Change the object of our desires and role models to those you are like us but love themselves anyway. We need to see the perfection…the gold that lies within us and carry that aura around till we can sense that we are seen that way.
We have to move our definitions of beauty from the blurred lines we are used to, and have a second shot at clarity. Clarity in a truth that we learn to believe, making us grow and teach same to our kids. That we stop using social media counter productively and use it to our own advantage by making others want to be like us. Finally, we need to stop using terms like black beauty or ebony in our pageants and set one standard definition for beauty and that is ‘Real’. Then would we become the crowned kings and queens that we really are. #LoveYourself