Black and Beautiful

The other night I nearly made out with a white boy. I know, right? Wild. But I couldn't help but think to myself, Wow, this white boy is genuinely flirting with me? That's so strange. There were lots of white girls at this party and then there was me, a small black girl drinking lemonade in the corner. My head was going dizzy with thoughts as to why he was touching my thighs or putting his arm around my waist or kissing my cheek, but then it hit me. I've spent around fifteen years hating myself, my skin colour, my hair, my culture, and God herself for making me black, and all that internalised hatred from the ages of six to fifteen hadn't fully left my seventeen-year-old mind. I revert to those thoughts of worthlessness in the eyes of white folk. 

But where did my “black is whack” ideology come from? I was born in Ireland and surrounded by white, white, and white. All I ever knew was white, and sure, there were other black people in my class, but TV and films had taught me that only white people were capable of being doctors, lawyers, ballerinas, and astronauts—which led me to believe that they were the only ones capable of being successful. I thought if I could copy what my white friends did, how they acted, and what they ate, my skin colour would be ignored and I would be seen as successful and cool just like them. It got to the point when I was eleven or twelve where my blackness was questioned by my white peers:“Are you even black? How could you not like chicken? I'm white and I'm blacker than you!” and the one I loved the most: “I don't even see you as a black person; I see you as a white person.” Now that I think about it, those comments fill me with rage, but then, those comments were like Christmas had come early to me. Back then, I was finally being seen as the person I wanted to be: white. 

A year or two passed and my self-hatred was in full force. I even went the extra mile to state to a white boy who said the n-word that, and I quote, “I'm not that type of black person; I don't care if you say it." I wasn’t really aware of what the n-word meant, and I personally had never used that word before in my short life. But when I heard it being used, it was by both white and black people, so I saw no issue in the word being used by non-black people (one of my many mistakes). 

It was when I was 15 that my opinion on myself and my blackness changed. I was never really taught about the struggles black people faced and still face in school. I was aware of who Martin Luther King Jr. was, but it was a short half-an-hour lesson about his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, and the rest was a blur. So I was scarcely unaware of black history until I decided to educate myself due to the power of Twitter. Around 2014, feminism was a topic on everybody's lips; I had a rough overview of what feminism was, but I didn't fully comprehend it. I decided to do my own research on the history of feminism, and l was absolutely fascinated by its ideology and the several movements, but what most interested me was the complexity of intersectional feminism. Yes, feminism is to benefit women, but intersectional feminism acknowledges that women of colour, women with disabilities, and women who are part of the LGBTQ+ community are treated differently and unfairly compared to women with particular racial and economic privileges. This newfound knowledge didn't sit right with me. I didn't understand why there was so much unfairness in the world, so my reaction to this was wet, damp, and snotty. I cried and cried and cried, and then I cried some more. Feminism is a movement that fights for these women to be heard when the whole world is screaming over them, and in some cases, that's how I felt at the tender ages of six to fifteen. I felt as if the whole world was screaming over me telling me—rather directly—that black is wrong and white is right.

I no longer chose to believe in this narrative. I wanted to love my blackness and love my heritage, and with the help of Twitter, I learned more about myself and the person I wanted to become. Feminism on Twitter introduced me to what I never knew and later on decided to explore. My understanding of certain topics grew along with my own level of anger. I was angry because of the lack of representation or negative representation of people of colour in TV and films; I was angry because black people in America—young and old—are still being unmercifully killed by the police for being black; I was angry about unequal pay for women and how women of colour get paid statistically and significantly less than both white women and men in general; I was angry that the LGBTQ+ community was still being targeted. I was just so fucking angry at everything and everyone, but I decided to use that anger and share this information. I didn't want black girls to feel the way I once did about myself; I wanted them to love themselves unconditionally and know about their culture and love their culture, the way I now love my own. 

So, my best friends and I did assemblies in school about the importance of intersectional feminism as I knew a lot of my peers believed feminism was solely about hating men, when in fact feminism and men hating are two separate things. As the legend Zara Larsson once said, “I personally support both,” and I must agree with her. These assemblies resulted in a lot of discussions, a majority of them being negative, and those negative comments came from the boys in my year saying, “Women have so many opportunities in this country, yet they complain they need feminism,” or the fan favourite comment, “If women need feminism, we need meninism.” Even with these mixed fan reviews on our assemblies, we didn't slow down. We did more assemblies, and we planned on creating a girls’ group in school to talk about sexuality, race, prejudice, and the current social climate. As exams came, our plans ended, but our passion for activism didn't. 

Feminism helped me realise I am beautiful, and I'm so thankful for that. Feminism helped me realise that I was not alone in my feelings of hatred towards myself and my skin colour. Countless other black girls felt the same way growing up and have now grown to understand that their skin colour does not make them ugly; it makes them as beautiful as the sun and as daring as the moon. Feminism made me realise that nothing will stop black women, because we're strong as hell even when the world is beating us down. Even with this revelation and my somewhat educated mind, I still get moments of doubt, because as a human, I'm inevitably flawed, and those years of self-hatred are still somewhat there in the back of my mind. But I never allow those moments of doubt to be anything other than just that—moments of doubt. I know now that those thoughts are false and nothing will ever make them true, nothing. I made a promise to myself at the age of 15, that being black and beautiful would no longer be a shocking revelation to young black girls or boys, and I would do my best to bring awareness to our beauty through art and activism. Amandla Stenberg said it best: "My blackness does not inhibit me from being beautiful and intelligent. In fact, it is the reason I am beautiful and intelligent. And you cannot stop me." 

By Halima Jibril
Visual by Halima Jibril

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