“You’re pretty for a Black girl.”
For a Black girl.
One of the very first books I read was a short story about Ruby Bridges. Shortly after, I began my first day of kindergarten at a predominately White school that was about 30-45 minutes from my mother’s townhouse in St. Louis, Missouri. I was in a program called the Voluntary Interdistrict Desegregation Program.
I was always so very excited to finally be able to ride the school bus. To my surprise, that first day of kindergarten would be the first day of a countdown until I never had to ride that bus again.
I’m an only child. I was a very quiet, shy, only child. I would answer your questions with either a head nod or shake, requiring you to look at me each time you were looking for a reply.
My school bus was full of students who liked like me, but my school was not. Somehow, I always found myself lost in the middle.
There are some characteristics about yourself that you don’t know are different until someone else points them out, or until you’re around people who have different self-aspects. The way you walk and talk are among those things.
On my first day of kindergarten, I realized I spoke differently than the other kids on my bus. The way I pronounced words were different. My lingo was different. There was slang I didn’t understand. It was my first day of kindergarten when I realized that the way I spoke was, “talking white,” and it was just one of the many reasons I wasn’t accepted by the kids on my bus.
I wasn’t sure how to change the way I talked, so I simply stopped talking. Being shy and feeling different was soon interpreted as being stuck up or arrogant, further giving the kids on my bus a reason to tease me.
The bullying got so bad that my mother had the bus driver ensure I sat in the seat right behind her — which of course only led to more teasing.
My friends at school — the ones who didn’t look like me — were my safe haven. Hearing them say things to me like, “you’re pretty for a Black girl” or “you’re different from the others,” was a compliment to me. I was so naive to not realize how offensive and racist those comments were. A blend of self-hate, ignorance and the desperate urge to fit-in fueled that mindset.
My mother always made sure I knew who I was. She would tell me time after time that I was different than my friends. Everything from coming from a single-parent household, to that leading to a one-parent income, all the way down to the color of my skin. “At the end of the day, you’re still Black,” she would remind me. She would remind me of this whenever I was singled out for talking in class. “She’s not talking to herself,” she’d remind my White teachers.
I never thought my friends saw me as any different. I could never understand the fundamental differences. To a young me, slavery was so many years ago, and my friends were colorblind.
Mind you, I went to a school were the only mention of Black people in our history books was Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X and slavery. I believe there was a sentence or two about W.E.B. DuBois and George Washington Carver. So, if you asked me about Black history, all I could tell you was that MLK was peaceful, Malcolm X was violent, and a Black man did cool stuff with peanuts. Now, of course I’ve since educated myself on these things, but picture this mindset.
Everyone says this, but my mother is the smartest person I’ve ever met. School came easy to her. She never needed to study. She came out of the womb with handwriting that looks exactly like the letters you trace in preschool. She’s something else, y’all. On her first day of school, she came home and told her mother 1) Her name is spelled wrong and needs to be corrected and 2) She needs a middle name, just like everyone else. Low and behold, My grandmother changed the spelling of my mother’s name and threw a middle name in there, too.
Smart people don’t always realize that other people don’t just “get” things like they do. My mother never realized that she needed to explain things to me in depth, and I never knew the questions I should’ve been asking. My cultural exploration was self-discovered.
I got to middle school, and everything about my usual school dynamic changed. I suddenly realized that I was too Black for my White friends. Everyone began forming their cliques, and I wasn’t apart of any of them. The friends I grew up with became girls I awkwardly passed in the hallway.
Sixth grade me? I found Black friends. I found Black culture. The Phat Farm shoes and light up belts? Oh, I had them. I found the Black character on every television show being my favorite — I realized there’s usually one Black character.
I wasn’t shy anymore. I was able to recognize racism. I instantly began seeing it everywhere. I wasn’t afraid to tell people when they were being offensive.
Allowing the words, “you’re pretty for a Black girl” shows your prejudice. (Y’all know I’m a grammar freak. No, that “your” was not a mistake. “Your” as in you own that prejudice of yours.)
You’re simply revealing to the world that you don’t think Black girls are pretty. My face is suddenly a shock or breath of fresh air to you. You literally cannot believe that my facial structure is attractive to you, because you have a notion in your mind that all Black women aren’t aesthetically pleasing. Why can’t I just be pretty? Period. Black people are always said to be using the race card, when White people can’t just let us be individuals, without relating us back to every other Black person in the world.
My self-exploration of who I am, where I came from, and ultimately finding self-love within Black love was a journey.
Little queen, be sure to find yours.