Black by Nature
By: Stella Mpisi, 1st Place Adult Essay Division
I cried myself to sleep. In the morning, when I looked in the mirror before school, I hated what I saw. I pulled the skin at the corners of my eyes to make them look smaller; I pinched my nose as tightly as I could to make it look less flat; I laid my hands flat on my hair to make it look sleek; and I scrubbed my face with a luffa with rage hoping that my skin would look lighter… but none of this worked, and so at night I cried myself to sleep.
Nine years old. I was only nine years old when a group of black kids at school started calling me “black by nature”. The nickname quickly caught on, and many more kids soon found it amusing to call me by the name they deemed suitable to describe my dark skin. I didn’t understand that it was discrimination; instead, I unconsciously believed that there was indeed something wrong with my dark skin. The nine year old in me battled to comprehend why I had to look the way I did while my peers had skin, hair and noses which were “acceptable”. Why had Mother Nature deprived me of my mother’s long hair and fair skin? I didn’t have answers to my questions and my self-esteem soon died. Every time I walked passed a group of kids who yelled “here comes black by nature” I ducked my head in shame and fought to hide back my tears. I was only nine years old.
Acceptable. What made lighter skin acceptable? Why did the boys at school laugh at me while they praised the light-skinned biracial girls? Why did the light-skinned girls mock me and tell me to stay out of the sun otherwise I would “become darker”? When I reached high school and had my first “real” crush on a boy, I envied the girls who had fair skin. They got all the attention, whilst none of the boys seemed to even notice me. At fifteen years old I tried to chemically lighten my skin for the first time. The instructions on the box of the bar of soap I had bought with my hard-earned money told me to wash the soap off my face after 2 minutes; I, on the other hand, left it on for 10 minutes even though I could feel it burn. I wanted to be liked and I wanted my skin to be acceptable; but instead I burnt my skin, and my classmates laughed at my obvious failed skin bleaching attempt. Why wasn’t my skin acceptable?
Melanin. As I eased into adulthood, I realized that it didn’t make any sense to be judged solely based on the quantity of melanin on my skin. Although I realized that my childhood memories were those of discrimination and low self-esteem, I still felt like there was something wrong with me. I understood the concept of melanin, but I didn’t understand why Mother Nature had given me so much of it. Why did my abundant melanin place me at the bottom of social hierarchy? Even though I was no longer a child, I still felt intimidated by lighter-skinned women. After years of being told that I was ugly and “too dark”, it was difficult to remove the shackles of a complex of inferiority that ran so deep that it had become a part of me. On the surface I told myself that my skin tone did not define me, but deep down I continue to resent it and to envy my peers who had less melanin.
Colorism. From the young age of nine years old, a cloud of discrimination constantly hung above my head and I cried myself to sleep. I was alienated by my peers simply because of the color of my skin. I was unconsciously led to believe that lighter skin was more acceptable. But what is acceptable skin? What amount of melanin does one need to have to be deemed acceptable? … Mother Nature made me who I am and today, a nickname which once planted a seed of anger and self-hate deep inside me is now a name I realize is a truth that makes me the strong, intelligent and beautiful black woman that I am – I am Black by Nature; I am me.