I grew up in a lower-middle class neighborhood in DC and went to the closest school within walking distance in the late 70s and early 80s,
All was cool as a child of African immigrants for me until the day in 5th grade that my mom came to school wearing her big, colorful, African “garrah” (a full-gown like dashiki) to drop off my lunch. It meant that my classmates (all black American) would then know I was from Africa and I knew that couldn’t be good.
Surely enough, shortly after, the kids, who were never taught of the great Kings and Queens and Dynasties that came out of Africa, started to tease me. What they knew of Africa, they saw on TV and mainstream media and it was nothing but jungles, and safari and starving children with bloated bellies. *ugh*
It was not a place they liked, would be proud of or would be happy to know that it is where their ancestors came from. As far as they knew, they were lucky to have been born in America, to have intermixed with Indians and slave masters and saved from having to have pitch dark skin and kinky hair.
You’d hear kids regularly exclaim, “I have Indian in me” to justify why their hair was silky or had less kink, and why they had more soft curls. It was a badge of pride and honor to be a little less African — to have “Good” hair.
I was never equipped with the confidence neither witty comeback to knock those kids who teased me back down to earth and reality. I was never given the tools to be prideful so I would just take it. *sigh*
Meanwhile, at home and in the large Sierra Leonean, African community where my parents socialized in, they too looked down upon African Americans - the lost children of the continent - the “Fambuls” (a derogatory word for African Americans in the pigeon English Krio)
You see, the mainstream media had a way of making African Americans look less appealing too. The images that would filter to Africa and all over the world were not positive. They were depicted as lazy, shiftless, criminals, welfare moms and of having low morals and class, and of not valuing education or school.
At home, I would spend time defending my African American friends from all the negative things I’d hear about them among Africans.
When my family later moved to a suburb of DC, I had to endure teasing there as well on the school bus.
Of the darker skinned kids who looked more like the Image of Africans on TV - coarse hair, dark skin, large lips and big nose, they’d get it even worse.
And there too most of the ribbing was coming from Black American kids.
So alas, today when I turned on my computer and got the news that the gorgeous, cocoa-skinned, short haired stunningly beautiful AFRICAN actress Lupita Nyong’o was named People magazine’s "Most Beautiful" in its annual "50 Most Beautiful" edition, I smiled deeply.
And while we shouldn’t need mainstream press to validate the beauty in the spectrum of human beings, unfortunately we do. It is still very much influential.
What and who people see in movies, magazines, TV shows and fashion runways celebrated and elevated DO matter and seep into audiences psyche and helps manipulate their own perceptions of beauty.
Ordinarily, one can say, so what, there are bigger problems in the world. None of this matters.
Tell that to the little African-looking kids on the playgrounds getting teased on the daily.
So a hardy *fist bump* to all the cocoa colored kinky hair girl on the playground and a *nay nay nee boo boo* to all the unknowingly self-hating kids on the playground who told her she looked African, her skin was too black, her nose was too big, hair to nappy and to go back to Africa!