Colorism/Shadeism Project

My Sister, Osaorion: Learning to Love the Chocolate Skin I’m In

 

Well, I was born in Middlesex and raised in East London; Hackney to be precise. Growing up I never had any problems with the colour/shade of my skin, because I was comfortable with the colour as both my parents were black, and Nigerian. Despite saying this, when I was in primary school, I would always want to be mixed with something, not necessarily in race, but nationality. I grew up around many different races of people: black, white, Asian and people of mixed heritage. Even though I knew there was a difference between me and an Asian child, it wasn’t a barrier to my social development, because I maintained the thought that we are all one, all equal and all part of the HUMAN race.

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In early 2007, my family and I relocated to a new part of the country, not far from London – but it was totally different from where I was coming from. We moved to Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire. In the beginning I didn’t see a problem with this; what child, at the age of 9, would be bothered about moving house? I surely wasn’t! All I knew was we were moving to a bigger house, and I was going to have the opportunity to see my closest cousins a lot more regularly. Another thing was that I liked the way my cousins spoke in a different way than I did. All the slang I knew, it was peculiar to them, and I felt to fit in, in Hemel Hempstead, I needed to speak like they did.

After moving, there was the enrolling into a new school. I would have much preferred to attend the school that my cousins were attending, bearing in mind, one of them is my age. However, it was too late and I had to settle for a nearby school, called St Albert’s. This was a Catholic school, and as you can imagine, there weren’t many black children in the school because of the area it was in. In fact, I was the only black child in my year, and I started in the middle of year 5. So imagine a 9 year old, moving to a completely new location, which contrasted greatly to their previous location, then ending up in a school with no one like you. At this stage in my little life, I started to notice a difference between me and other children in my school and my year especially. On my first day of starting at this school, I cried my eyes out, and begged my mum to take me back home. Now that I look back on it, I didn’t cry because it was my first day, I cried because I knew I was totally different from the children I was about to spend 5 – 6 hours, 5 days a week with for another year and a half.

I was shy, and it took me a while to make friends, but eventually I did. There was one boy in my year, and thank God for him, because he made the rest of my primary school life a little easier. That was because I was able to relate to him, because he was half Nigerian and half French. I was so happy, and we had so many jokes and it made me comfortable. During that year and a half, I genuinely thought I was a white girl in a black girl’s body, because I wanted to fit in and not stand out. I started to think my hair was the same texture as a white girls, and I liked that feeling, even though I knew it wasn’t a true or good feeling.

Time went by and it was time for me to go to secondary school. Now everyone knows the transition from primary to secondary school is HUGE! To make things worse I wasn’t going to the secondary school my friends from primary school were going to, which was a Catholic secondary. I was going to a completely different school on my own not knowing anyone. So I had to start my friendship making all over again, and similarly to the previous situation, I was the only black girl in my year. Even if there was one, she was mixed race and she didn’t really emulate both sides of her race; she kind of had one race she was more comfortable with and that was her white side. So here I am, a black girl, in a school full of white people, that don’t understand my culture or my race. One time, I had my hair in braids and a white child said, “Why do you have worms on your head?” For a long time after that statement was said I hated braids, and I wanted to have my hair relaxed, in a weave or in pick ‘n’ drop braids, because that was what all the other girls hair looked like and I wanted to be the same.

When I got into secondary school, I began to notice everything around me because of the way the teachers encouraged me to be perceptive in my work, so I took that home with me. My mother has a less broad and straighter nose (similar to a white person’s) and I remember saying once, “Mum can you cut your nose off and give it to me?” Thing is, my nose wasn’t even big, people at school would say I had a small nose, but I still wanted to have my mum’s nose. I also disliked my lips and my hair. At this stage of my life, I can sadly say I didn’t like my skin shade (I would have preferred to have a lighter complexion), and all the features I have come to love now, I hated.

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Around year 9, I didn’t like a lot about myself and also around this stage a few of my friends were having issues with themselves. So I felt me not liking parts of myself was normal, however my disliking was more extreme… it was more of hatred as I wished I was someone else, with a more desirable and acceptable skin tone, with what I considered to be beautiful features. Year 10/11 came and I was growing into myself, very slowly, but there was still some desire to be a lighter shade, like my sister. I always kept thinking to myself, “what if I had a white dad or a white mother, would I be more beautiful?” towards the end of year 10, I remember there was a boy, telling me this “You’re pretty for a black girl”. Now back then, I was happy because a boy had said I was a pretty, but I didn’t realise how much of an insult it was, to say, most of the girls in your race aren’t pretty, but you’re an exception to what I find pretty.

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At the end of year 11, there was prom, and in the months running up to it, I am ashamed to say, I had tried soaps, creams and toners to lighten my skin tone, especially on my back. I didn’t realise that with someone of my skin tone and lighter or darker, there are areas of the body that are naturally dark and light. However, on the actual day of prom, something changed. I stepped out of the car in my ‘highlighter orange’ dress, and I had a scarf around my shoulders because I didn’t like my arms. I came out and I remembered my mum saying to me, “You’re beautiful, and you don’t need to cover up”. So I took off my scarf, and in the background, close to me, I heard someone say “She’s chocolatey”. Now obviously I knew I was being referred to because I was the only black woman there, with chocolate skin. And why did this change things? Well, who doesn’t love chocolate? Even if you have an intolerance to it, everyone loves chocolate, and this put a smile on my face because I inferred, that I was desirable and beautiful. From that moment onwards I learned to appreciate the skin that I was in.

Even now, I still struggle with self-acceptance, but that doesn’t make me want to do and think things that I used to when I was younger. The way I changed things for myself was by not listening to what people on social media had to say; especially those creating the shade wars of ‘Light-skin vs. Dark skin.’ I also stopped allowing immature people to tell me or others what’s desirable and what isn’t all based on the shade of my skin colour. Furthermore, I stopped allowing my songs to belittle the shade of my skin and others. For example, not allowing the likes of Chris Brown and Trey Songz to make me feel as though I’m in a totally different race, to someone who has black parents like me but is just lighter in skin shade than me. Not letting a ‘role-model’ like A$AP Rocky, to tell me what lipsticks suits me and doesn’t suit me, just because I’m dark or light. I have realised there is nothing wrong with my skin colour, it’s what happens in my brain, that makes me believe that there’s something wrong.

Now I’m 17 going on 18, and I love my race and skin colour. Even though there are still people out there that always want to create a barrier within a race, I have learnt to work with what I have, and enjoy it. I am unique because of the melanin in my skin.

Love Osaorion xo

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