First off I would like to start by saying that this whole project is amazing; “Dark Girls” was really eye opening and I love that everyone is getting the opportunity to share their experiences.
The first time I ‘experienced’ shadism was the day I was born. Obviously I do not remember this happening, but my mother remembers it vividly and I hate how sad it makes her. When I was born, I was pretty pale, with straight, black hair. When the nurse went to check on me, she gasped when she saw my Mongolian spots. She had assumed that I was white. She turned to my mother and asked her if she knew that I was half black. It’s bewildering to think that even as a newborn there was something about me that let other people know that I wasn’t really one race or another.
Stuff like this happened throughout my childhood; women asking where my mother had adopted me from, and other nonsense like that. It never really bothered me, because growing up my parents both loved me unconditionally and never mentioned that I was different to any other kids. I was happy, my family was blended and beautiful, and that’s all I ever knew.
When school started I was teased for having frizzy, curly hair. Eventually my mother caved and I had it relaxed.
Having straight ‘white girl’ hair made me so happy! I loved the way it looked, and I didn’t care that I had to get my parents to spend over $100 every six weeks to make my hair look like that.
As soon as I started doing that it felt like people started treating me differently. I started ‘fitting in’ more with my white/non-black peers, but was ostracized by my black peers. In a small, un-diverse town, I did not understand why these children would not play or associate with me.
In high school was my first true awakening to shadeism. A girl (whom I had never spoken to before) told one of the new students I had befriended not to hang out with me because I was “too white” and did not keep my hair “proper”. To this day the latter statement makes no sense to me. Hair is hair, in my opinion.
University got even worse. I moved away to Ottawa, which is such a beautiful city, and I met wonderful people there. However I found myself coming across women who would like to openly degrade and threaten me in public because I must have thought I was “hot shit”.
I began to realize that people I met often would ask my race or where I was from before they would even ask my name or tell me theirs. It was like a mystery to them that they just had to know! “Are you Brazilian? Indian? Jamaican?”
“Where are your parents from?”
“No, before then.”
In all honesty I can only for sure tell them that my mother is Portuguese. My father and everyone on his side of the family are also mixed. I could not tell you where in Africa my great grandparents were from, no more than I could tell you what specifically we are mixed with. Such a huge family is hard to just break down in to black and white.
Recently, I went to a family reunion, and it was amazing being surrounding by my family, a group of people who all looked like me! I finally realized that that is what I belong to. I do not belong to a definition, or a race or a shade, I belong to the Morgan family. It’s big and it’s beautiful. My mother’s side of the family always makes me feel this way too. I actually identify with Portuguese culture more because I was brought up this way.
I always like to laugh at myself when someone tries to pigeonhole me into a category; I think about my father, a medium toned, bald, ‘black’ man, who speaks fluent Japanese and has sixth dan (degree) black belts in almost every martial art.
I look at my younger sister, who actually is close to passing for white, but still is told that she is black and to never forget it. I look at how beautiful she is, and how her shade does not change that.
When I think about what has even happened to me in the past week… a co-worker of mine told me that I was not as pretty as I think I was, and to that I leave her with this.
Another woman’s beauty is not the absence of your own.
My shade, my heritage, and my family does not and should not change how I am perceived, just as I would not want to tell someone that they are only what I see standing in front of me. We are so much more than that. We are so much more than skin!