In her speech during the Essence Black Women in Hollywood, after her first Oscar win, Lupita Nyong’o addressed the issue of skin colour so eloquently. She started the speech with a reference to her fan mail which starts, ‘I was about to go out and buy lightening cream when you came on the screen and saved me.’ This was about 7 years ago and we are still grappling with the same.
Close to two weeks after the fact and the protests still rage on in the name of the unjustly departed. And of course, we all have opinions on these things but the truth is that the world is being hit with the ugliness of this reality. It has been a rallying call for years but now without any other distractions (because coronavirus has slowed us down a bit) we can finally hear this loud and clear. And this is a
good great thing. We have started to examine situations particular to us.
As Lupita finishes that speech, she invites people on a journey of self-validation of their skin colour. The story you are about to read below (is that a little too dramatic?) is my own journey.
The clearer script of that because it might be hard to read ‘And I have no reason as to why I’m writing this, apart from the fact that it demands to be written, because it may come across as petty. I’m clearly looking for a little validity to tell me am not as invisible or forgettable as the world has me believing’
I have lived in postcolonial Africa all my life and I may not know that overt racial inequality (except how teachers were always more lenient with the foreigners than their own people…let’s not even get into that) as some have experienced it. But what I have definitely seen here is tribalism and colourism.
TRIBALISM. In Uganda alone, there are over 50 tribes. That means over 50 different languages and cultures that must find a way to come together and move forward. It is humanly ingrained to gravitate towards people who speak your language. You see a kinship even though they don’t expressly say so. Trevor Noah tells this in his book ‘Born a Crime.’ When you speak in someone’s language you speak to their heart and they react intimately to that. And I especially do. Once I know you speak my language, Lusoga, I’ll have conversations with you in that beautiful language.
I’m all for culture and tribes. I think they are beautiful in their own right and we always have something to learn from the different ones around us. A study of one gives us greater appreciation for our own…or at the very least deeper understanding. The problem comes when leaders in public spaces refuse to use a public language and some people are left out, when you dictate to your children whom they can associate with or even marry, when just based off an experience with one you stereotype an entire tribe!
Now, I don’t know if this is what happens in other countries, but we have certain tribes that we know are in power and every major office in the country. So much that my brother said in his high school…(note please high school), he has got classmates who tell the rest of them that they don’t need to read so hard because they have jobs assured for them in future. This sort of thinking, of entitlement without effort, swims around in the mind of young children.
How do we fight this? When does the teaching start and the hating stop?
But much as I celebrate the differences, I want to rise above this pettiness and it was so overwhelming in university. I don’t want to be held in by those divisive beliefs of ‘them’ and ‘us’. To free my mind of those ‘victim’ thoughts that cramp my expectations and experiences to fit those who think they should dictate every one else’s existence.
COLOURISM. We somehow find ourselves enamoured by the lighter things. And probably with that indoctrination we attribute the same to skin colour. That if someone is lighter, they are immediately more beautiful and...better? We can say all we want about women that ‘bleach’ themselves but something drives them to it. No one is born with the perspective that their skin colour needs to change. It’s something society heaps on them.
Lupita talks about this in her speech and subsequent conversations. How she wanted to be lighter, maybe based on the media she grew up with and the perceptions of the people around who found her sister more beautiful because she was lighter. She prayed away her blackness and I can only imagine the despair she had fallen into to resort to that. I’m not sure I’ve prayed away the blackness but I definitely wanted to be lighter.
I’m usually the darkest person in any photo. Too dark that when I tell people my tribe, they always give that comment ‘but you don’t look like them’. And they never mean this in the nice way if there is one, well even then though, I’ve never taken it nicely. But this is a reality. As evidenced in that journal excerpt (yes, so I’m deeply insecure and trying to rise above it). Constantly requiring validation for a number of things including my skin colour.
SELF-LOVE. The awakening here is that it starts with you. YOU have to believe you are enough as you are before you ask the world to see you as that. YOU have to believe that you are worthy of the spaces that have been locked to you before you get the world to open them for you. YOU may not be able to control the world but you can choose your thoughts about your self. Let them align with the truth that you are wonderfully and beautifully made.
And I know self-validation is not as easy or as comforting as we would love to think. I can tell myself over and over that I’m a writer and wake up tomorrow and doubt the process. But if someone says it I’ll probably hold those words like precious diamonds in my jewellery box.
We are relational beings so we want to leave an impression on the people we associate with and we would like to hear the positive feedback to confirm what we have been telling ourselves. And that’s fine except if we make that our foundation. People’s opinions are always shifting that’s why you’ve got to trust your validation and your Creator’s validation a whole lot more.
I do understand that this is a journey and for some people it takes longer. So all month, this month, I’ll be exploring my journey as Black and Proud. I hope you come along for the ride.
With all the global reactions, it is clear to see that this is an emotional topic. I would love to hear your thoughts, maybe your own journey in the comments below…don’t be shy😉.