A few days ago, a friend of mine asked for my assistance in marking the test papers of some of her final year high school students. Of course, I readily accepted the opportunity; the paper had a creative writing section, and I thrive on exploring the thoughts of other humans. Sadly, the experience wasn’t as favourable as I would have liked it to be. I noticed a startling similarity among all the prose pieces. Every character that they cast in a favourable light, be it romantically or heroically, was white or was described with white features.
This wouldn’t have been a problem, if the students were of said complexion or heritage. However, I live in a society where the majority of us are of African descent. It shocked me that none of these students, who are at the threshold of adulthood, felt the need to include a character that resembled them in their pieces. Coincidence? Impossible. That would be like calling Antonio Martin’s murder an act of self-defense.
It is agreed upon that for most individuals, especially those that only dabble in creative writing, what they write is usually written from a place of rational fantasy. Life is idealized, and every desire, fetish and liking that they have is personified in even the smallest of details. What a person writes gives you a front row seat to their thought pattern. Granted, these high school students were not akin to Chimamanda Adichie or Langston Hughes in literary prowess, but they still managed to convey one particular idea rather strongly: I think white is the ideal.
This mindset is much older than my generation and much older than my parents’ generation as well. This thought is coming from the days of slavery, where our black brothers and sisters were taught to suppress their culture in favour of accepting the white man’s “morals”. Somehow, I thought that after so many civil right movements in our generation, after so many people have died in the name of racial equality, we would be a little bit farther in realizing the beauty and strength in the colour of our skin. But that isn’t so. Black 17 and 18 year olds in a predominantly black society still prefer the look of light skin over dark skin, the look of straight blonde hair over kinky black hair, the look of blue and green eyes over brown and black eyes. In the 21st century, about 100 years after Marcus Garvey founded the UNIA, an organization meant to reestablish Black Nationalism, black teenagers in his parish of birth still equate beauty to long straight hair, and milky white skin. In the 21st century, almost half a century after Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated because of his refusal to be silenced and mistreated by the White Man, black teenagers still think blue eyes are the prettiest. To the majority of the children growing up, beauty is achieved through perfection, and to them perfection equals being white.
What you think about most alters your reality. If these young people walk around revering the appearance of the same race that oppressed their forefathers, the same race that infiltrated their homeland and turned their brothers and sisters against each other, the same race that wantonly massacred their ancestors, what does that say about their view of themselves? They subconsciously view themselves as lesser beings. They subconsciously agree with every lie that the White Man has perpetuated about our race. They see our culture through the “blue eyes” that they love so much, they see their people as wild, vulgar, uneducated savages who must be controlled, oppressed and suppressed at all costs. They are ashamed of how they look and what it represents.
However, the truth of the matter is that children learn from their environment. A child will not just form opinions without some form of stimuli. No child will see himself with dark skin and wish it were lighter without being exposed to someone with lighter skin and observing the benefits that such one would receive in comparison to himself. A child is not going to want a change in appearance without first perceiving an “unsatisfactory” difference between himself and someone more “favourable”. That is where the environment comes into play. The sad truth is that to most black parents, what is left of our culture is a reminder of the inequality between white and black in society, and a reminder of all the burdens and unnecessary struggles that will face their children because they are of African descent. In an effort to “protect” their children from the stigma of being black, they force upon them white culture, they try to rinse them of their black roots and replace it with the White Man’s Ideals. They know what the White Man has done to the Black Man, and they don’t want a repeat, so these parents prefer to sacrifice their heritage in order to live “peacefully.” Sounds familiar? That is exactly what happened during Slavery. The blacks were forced to suppress their heritage, just to spare themselves the horrible backlash of simply being African. It is a cycle that continues today, whether we know it or not and so far it has only ended one way: with the White Man on his pedestal and the Black Man at his feet.
How will this cycle be broken if we do not come together as black people and consciously make an effort to herald ourselves, to exalt our history and heritage as the White Man does? There is much beauty in dark skin, there is much beauty in kinky hair, and there is much beauty in black people, in resilience, in strength. Nonetheless, in every race, the darker you are the less beautiful you are thought to be. (A case in point is Shakespeare’s A Midsummer’s Night Dream. Helena is made out to be more beautiful than Hermia. Helena’s description originally is tall and fair, blonde. While Hermia, is short and “dark”. Though Hermia is still Caucasian, dark is used as an adjective of lesser connotation. Nonetheless, Hermia has the affection of the two handsome suitors. Even Shakespeare knew what was up.)
I am positive that as the aforementioned students penned their stories during that examination, no flag was raised in their minds regarding the “perfect” fictional characters they were creating. No, the boys were simply bringing their dream girl to life, and the girls were simply imagining the girl that they wanted to be if they had the choice. Still, their mentality reveals a gaping hole in the structure of the black society, in the framework of our existence as a people. It pains my heart to watch us let the value of our heritage be diluted by the White Man’s Ideals.
I’d like to ask you a very pertinent question. What constitutes beauty in your eyes?