As I watched the inauguration celebration earlier this week, I was again struck by how far we’ve come and how much still looms before us. Perhaps even more so this year as 2013 marks the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s March on Washington and the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation.
Around the world we have fought against slavery, colonialism, Jim Crow and apartheid. We have made great strides in being able to go, do and be whatever our minds dare to dream, and yet have not made peace with who we are and how God made us. Free bodies, but enslaved minds.
It’s a paradoxical dilemma that is true the world over. Never has it been clearer to me than when I ran across a recent BBC report that highlighted the growing number of Africans, particularly women, being disfigured through the use of bleaching creams.
Featured in the news piece was an especially poignant story of a South African musician who bleached her skin because she wanted to be more beautiful and self-confident. She didn’t want to be “white”. She just wanted to see what it was like to live in lighter skin. Under intense criticism in her local community, she makes a point of saying she’s still the same inside. As I sat dumb-founded I thought to myself, some work on the inside would have made the work on the outside completely unnecessary. Oh the power of loving you!
As the segment comes to a close you see her posing with her two beautiful children, both of ebony hue. They are so cute you can’t help but smile. What must they be thinking now that their mom has redefined their standard of beauty? Will they ever be satisfied with the skin they’re in?
Unfortunately, Africa is not unique. Across many parts of Asia there is a pervasive belief that lighter is righter. And in Europe and many parts of America, white women and lighter blacks spend hours worshiping the sun to attain a “healthy glow” because pale doesn’t meet our programmed perception of perfection. We are free women, and yet choose to live mentally enslaved to a standard of beauty that ensures we will never see ourselves as enough.
Do you suppose Nelson Mandela fought apartheid so that we could disfigure ourselves in order to look more like our former oppressor? Did Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. march on Washington so we could kill ourselves trying to all be one color? What about Harriet Tubman? Did she risk her life freeing other slaves so that we could continue to devalue our own worth? Of course not!
We have to get a grip! There is only one race – the human race! The skin we’re in neither defines or confines us. Instead, it is a testament to the immeasurable and matchless creativity of our Creator. Be you ebony or ivory, you were designed in His image and for His glory. We are equal – no priorities or preferences – and endowed with the same rights, responsibilities and freedoms by our Creator. God has granted us freedom! It’s up to us to live in it.
I know some of you may be thinking that I’m over looking the obvious. Not everyone has the same rights. There are many places in the world where a certain skin color, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation is not only perceived as an advantage but it actually is an advantage.
While it may not be politically correct to talk about it these days, the truth is racism is still a very real and relevant danger throughout the world. I wish it weren’t so. I wish I were leaving my children and grandchildren a world free of hatred and prejudice, but the reality is until we reach Heaven we’ll be fighting some Hellions here on earth.
What I’m suggesting is not that we ignore that reality, but instead that we be mindful of the mentality that goes with it. That way we don’t free our bodies but leave our minds enslaved. How does that happen? It occurs when we allow someone else’s opinion of us to define us. We embrace their version of reality as our truth. Harriet Tubman’s reflection about liberating slaves was so insightful in this regard.
“I freed thousands of slaves. I could have freed a thousand more, if only they had known they were slaves.”
True freedom requires mental liberation long before the physical. That means until we learn to accept ourselves as we are, we will always be a slave to someone else.
Let 2013 be the year you free you! Shake off the chains of old thinking that say you are less than, and accept with love and appreciation the person God made you. Kick open the door of the cage you’ve been living in, and walk boldly forward knowing that you are beautiful, you are strong, and you are indeed enough. Be free, my sister. Be free!
Loving on Me as I Love You!
Kelly Inambao says
Superb! This is the kind of writing and social commentary that this world lacks and needs.
Thank you so much for visiting the blog and for taking a moment to leave a note! I pray God uses this article to liberate our minds and set us free. Please feel free to share with others. I appreciate your support. Peace and Blessings!
Kenna Williams says
Thanks for sharing, Katrina! Brilliant as always. Continue to let God’s light shine through you and your encouraging words.
Thanks for the love and encouragement! Please share with your networks as you see fit!
Very well stated but can we also apply this same line of highly enlightened thinking to fake hair. What’s with the wigs and weaves??Make me understand why that’s any different? It’s just as bad or even worse than bleached skin and is a manifestation of the same inner conversation, no matter all the excuses, i.e., “I Am NOT good enough.” Keep up the good work Katrina.
Hey, thanks for stopping by! You bring up an interesting question. While I have no scientific data to support it, I’ll have to disagree. Why are wigs and weaves different? Well for starters they are temporary and in general, not physically harmful. Both skin bleaching and sun bathing can have long-term negative health effects – including cancer. “Fake hair” is more in line with make-up, perfume, jewelry or nail polish – an enhancement, accessory, or accoutrement. There are many reasons women wear weave, wigs and extensions. On a practical level, they are often easier to maintain than natural hair. For a busy woman that has a job and family a precious few minutes saved can be important. I’m personally wearing weave now because I haven’t made up my mind how I want to wear my hair next. I’ve put my hair into hibernation while I decide. Another friend of mine developed male pattern baldness in her 30’s. There’s just no hair there so she wears a wig so she can have a professional look for work. Another friend works out 5-6 days a week, has a demanding job, and a busy family. Her weave is for convenience so that she can stay healthy and focus on her priorities. And I have a host of friends that wear wigs because like their clothes, they like to change up their look. To me, these are more preferences than they are self-esteem issues. These days women use weave and wigs like men use cuff links and cologne.
But, this is just one girl’s opinion. Would love to hear from others! What does everyone else think?
Thanks for posing the question! Keep saving lives. Kat.
Doreen M Grant says
We are still struggling to love ourselves completely. Bleaching our skin, wearing weaves/wigs, chemically treating or straightening our hair, coloring our hair blond, ginger, or red, wearing blue, green or hazel contact lenses is all the same thing. The standards of “beauty” have been totally distorted for us but the worst part is that we have bought into it. We have technically evolved and feel as if we have to “cross over” to fit into the “acceptable” definition of beauty, eroding our own sense of self and sense of worth. I often ask myself why the thought of loosing my hair to cancer treatment bothered me more than having a mastectomy? My hair would grow back! My boobs would never….and yet I cried for days when I looked at the bold head in the mirror….I even resented my husband for saying I shouldn’t worry because I was still the same person without my hair <:). I bought every kind of fake mane to hide the shame – unfortunately, the erosion on the inside was inescapable. I know now that the life event was not why I felt this badly about myself – there was self- loathing and an over- the-top commitment to pretending to have or be what I really wasn't way before. The wrong social practices have severely eroded our senses of self- respect and there are very few us who are willing to admit this. Thank you Katrina for your insight and perspective on self-love. Learning still, to love myself more.
Thanks so much for your insightful comment. It’s an interesting dilemma, isn’t it? Where is the line when enhancements or personal expressions of creativity become replacements for positive self-esteem? I wonder…guess we’ll just have to keep walking down this path, together!
Doreen M Grant says
Oops, just saw your last comment. Was typing my response to your original post and Dr.GP’s reply.
No…it’s totally okay. I love that we all express how we feel. It’s the only way we continue to grow. Who knows? Maybe it’s all on a continuum…
Doreen M Grant says
Laura's Love says
Wow, thanks for your thought provoking commentary
Shaking off 2012 and lovining me and trusting god 2013! Mush,
It’s all in the mind….I can tell you that you are beautiful, even more beautiful than I am, both in and out. But what matters at the end of the day is how you see yourself. You are not going to feel beautiful unless YOU accept the fact that you really are beautiful…just the way you are. Some years back I went to the hair salon and had my hair braided. The type of hairstyle I had on was called ‘secrets’. Everyone who saw me said I looked beautiful and that should have obviously been enough but it wasn’t. I felt anything but pretty and thought they were just saying so for saying sake. In my mind I wasn’t as pretty as they claimed. And so that same night I took out the hair after spending the entire day braiding it. Years later I decided to redo this same hairstyle and this time I felt like the most beautiful girl in the entire world. It was the same me with the same hairstyle with the only difference being that over the years I had matured, as in I now had a different mindset and a clearer view of who I am and as such had finally come to accept me for me…flaws and all…and so nothing anyone said, compliment or otherwise could have made me think or feel any different. I also feel a bit disturbed whenever I see women bleach. And I do agree with you that it all begins with the mindset. There is always some untold story behind that act of bleaching, that violent behavior etc. No one does anything for nothing. There is always a reason behind every action. Sometimes I wonder if we need more psychologists in this world of ours as most of the problems we currently face could possibly be solved if they were tackled from the right angle….the mind. In the mean while it wouldn’t hurt to smile every once in a while and to be a bit more positive as we go about our daily activities.
Very well said, and I completely agree! Thank you so much for sharing your personal experience. It illustrates beautifully the growth we all must experience to find peace and fulfillment within ourselves. Please share the blog with your friends and family, as you see fit. Thanks…
Kelly Inambao says
One thing I liked very much about this article is that it addresses personal mentalities or social perceptions that are (being) promoted as universal cultural norms. It lays emphasis on relating one’s outer being to one’s inner being in addressing the essence of one’s whole being — quite thought-provoking in a world where reality is expected to mean only that which one sees as commonplace to mean unavoidable, where one is expected to be swayed by the loudest voice in the crowd, and not lulled by the majority of voices in a crowd; or persuaded to see as ‘standard’ the tangible, visible material being on the outside, and not the incorporeal, unseen realm of one’s inner self: the world of thoughts, perceptions and emotions.
I liked what Dr Parham added to this conversation, which is an often-overlooked fact… The inescapable truth in that is that as long as we choose to address issues of skin-colour preferences, bleaching and so forth, in the black community as endemic, we would also need to address any other issue that concerns how, and why, some black people alter their looks: Is it just a fashion trend? Or isn’t it nothing but a devious promotion of light skin over dark skin (whether as “acceptably African” or as “as less African as possible”)? Do we do that for ourselves or for others, perhaps for our jobs, to ‘climb the ladder’, to feel we belong to others maybe, social acceptability? … Who is ‘WE’ and who are those ‘others’? Or maybe it is only an ephemeral fashion trend that, after all, most other people follow? Are we really being honest with ourselves? Or mustn’t we just turn a blind eye to it and accept ourselves as the sacrificial lambs of fate?
These issues are tough to deal with because in all reality it is hard, if not impossible, to change someone or (especially) the way someone thinks. Thoughts are invisible, even if skin colour or a hairstyle can be seen. Telling a black person bleaching their skin or wearing weaves, hair-extensions or foreign hair, to stop it would most certainly be seen as intrusive — generally speaking. It would quickly be perceived as trying to teach someone how to live, in a free world, or picking priorities for them. In principle, one cannot change people: It is ultimately people that change themselves, especially in matters of individual mentality and social perception.
My opinion is that such differences are part of what continues to not only devalue or diminish the black or African phenotypic identity, but in fact also encourages disunity among black people, including Africans (in Africa): The biggest danger in this, though, is that in the long run we might all end up living in a quasi-fantasy world where we see ourselves as being cursed to rot in hell for eternity because we are black, where we are the villains and devils of society, the black sheep of the family, servants in our own households, while others are heroes and angels: Or where we outwardly affirm our satisfaction in being ‘black’ or having dark skin, but perhaps, in the secrecy of our minds, wouldn’t really want to be as dark as any African can possibly be, after all; where we could stand proudly on any podium to scream about black pride and black consciousness, and yet most likely shriek in shame of blackness, in the solitude of our minds.
We need to have such honest public conversations, and articles such as this one are a good step in the right direction. But we must always be sensitive of how the majority of people concerned may perceive our contributions to these discussions, or how effective they would really be, even if we mustn’t either hurt or play to other people’s sensibilities… We must desist from sanctimonious admonitions or ‘carpet blaming’, and work from a caring premise that lovingly assumes that most (black) people have wounded souls that need healing… It is only when we start to take an interest in these matters and act on every single one of them, and in unison, that any positive change will begin to be seen and felt. This also requires a lot of creativity! Until then, the path on such a journey remains thorny and twisted; the methods used remain largely ineffective and may even be dishonest, biased, hypocritical and frenzied.
“How does that happen? It occurs when we allow someone else’s opinion of us to define us. We embrace their version of reality as our truth.”
Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I too believe it is a personal journey to self-acceptance, not just for black women but for all women around the world. Let’s let the Loving on Me community be a place of healing and strength for us all to forge ahead. Peace and Blessings!
This was an incredible and well written blog. From experience, I’ve seen some of the most beautiful (inside and out), accomplished and brilliant women remain enslaved. Many don’t even realize the constant need for reassuring and approval of their beauty is so transparent. For far to many years, I was this woman. Although I grew up surrounded by amazing and beautiful women of all hues, I never considered myself “pretty”. My sister, with her flawless golden skin, was the pretty one. It wasn’t until my late 20’s that I began to really see and appreciate gorgeous women with brown skin like my own; who held high positions in society and even higher self esteems, that I became more bold and believing of my own outer beauty. One of the girls I’ve mentored since age 3 is now a stunning 18 year old, but at 14 she had severe self image issues and self loathing because of her cocoa complexion. The effects of this enslavement is devastating and I agree, together we have to work to be free and help set our sisters free.
How fortunate that this young lady has you to mentor her! I pray we can be a light for more young girls so they grow up knowing that they are beautiful, loved, and full of possibility. Thanks Arika! Love you.
Doreen M Grant says
Janet M. Brooks says
Chains that continue to bind us are locked in our heads. Black women’s weaves, perms, bleached and pressed hair, and even bald heads do not define who and what we are, we do! This conversation regurgitates annually. Why? When are we going to free ourselves mentally, spiritually, physically, and begin celebrating who we are by our own definitions and standards, and be comfortable with our hair adornments.
I attended a conference at U.C. Berkley to see Angela Davis speak on the state of black women in America. She gave a profound answer to an attendee’s question, “What do you think about sisters perming and bleaching their hair?” She replied, “Sister, the state of your hair is the least of your problems!” Whether you strut an Afro or straighten kinky hair, own it and be done with it. Then you are truly free; I know I am.
Amen, Amen, Amen! Thanks for your insightful comments Janet. May we all reach this level of self-acceptance and love. Peace and Blessings…
Frederick Haynes says
Brilliant! If we applied the wisdom from your blog we would experience a true emancipation! Keep up the great work!
Thank you for always being such a source of encouragement and inspiration! I pray the words God gives me continue to be a blessing to others.