…. Graced the front page of a 1966 Ebony Magazine article. “Are negro girls getting prettier?”, meaning negro girls aren’t usually?
As the knot in the pit of my stomach began to quadruple in size I flashed back to a 8th grade bus ride I had while attending Snelson Golden Middle School in Hinesville, GA. My hair was still in a red and black weaved up-do that I sported at the past weekend’s homecoming dance. Not exactly sure how I was feeling that morning, but I don’t, for the life of me, remember feeling bad or anything. Not exactly sure if I was expecting something out of the ordinary – I just remember it being a typical Monday morning. What I am certain of is that I didn’t expect to be greeted with a backhanded compliment from one of my white, male classmates. “I like your hair. You’re really cute for a black girl.”
“Uh, thank you”, I responded dry and confused.
“I’m really cute for a black girl? As if, black girls aren’t usually the cream of the crop?”, I asked myself.
A usual bubbly and upbeat Ashley was the quietest passenger on the way to school that morning. I was silenced. Appalled. But could I really be upset? I mean, he did say that I was cute, right?
Even then as a 13-year-old prepubescent teen I didn’t know how to feel about the young man’s comment. My whole life I’ve been reminded of how pretty I was, and besides being teased by the black kids in my Lawnside, NJ summer-neighborhood for having bucked teeth and dark hair on my upper lip, I never really doubted my prettiness or worthiness until then. You see, my Lawnside crew never dissed me for the color of my skin – everything they teased me about I knew could be fixed one day – but being written off because I was black? I never felt that kind of worthlessness before.
Fast-forward 13 years and survival of countless insecurities later, I come across the former Ebony Mag headline. All of the women on the cover are light-skinned with (horrid) straight wigs. I tried to imagine how a headline like that would make other little brown girls feel. To grow up during a time where no one on the cover of magazines or leading ladies looked like you. To internalize that you’re somehow “bad” or “unworthy” because of the skin color you were born into. To recognize that your hair, which grows from your head, is deemed as unsanitary or unprofessional?
You want to hear something even more heartbreaking? A magazine that was created to serve as platform for women of color delivered a backhanded compliment to their viewers. Granted, I wasn't successful in pulling the 1966 print from the worldwide web, I can't imagine that it lead to negro women basking in their deeply-pigmented glory.
But, not only are negro girls ugly, they're not human.
Although our headlines aren’t as blatantly disrespectful as this, we (black people) have been conditioned to believe all of this to be true, and are still working to train our brains, and the rest of society, to believe the opposite.
Still working, and still fighting.
Fighting to be visible and not written off as Angry Black Women when we have the audacity to share our opinions. Fighting to be respected and to not have our bodies deemed as sexual fetishes.
Recognizing that society will only consider your birthed, physical features "beautiful" when they're surgically implanted on someone of the whiter-persuasion is one of the frequent torments of the black woman.
Today, with the help of social media and cultural / ethnical appropriation, white women with negro features are the cream of the crop – black women with negro features are disregarded.
Seems to me that society will consider everything about the negro girl "pretty", except for, said, negro girl.