The Structural Reality of Melanin Queens


     I work in an environment that focuses on young girls and helping them discover themselves as they grow. 

     Yes, that may be a somewhat dramatic description of being a manager at Justice, a tween clothing store, but I choose to use my position at this job to help build girls' self-esteems -- something I wish I could have had when I was younger. Any chance I get, I like to remind these girls of their value-- that they are smart, that they are kind, and that they are important (Ms. Aibileen had the right idea).

     One day, a young woman came in with her mother. She was about twelve or thirteen, and she had the most beautiful dark skin. When she came up to the register, I told her quite casually: “You are so beautiful, you know that?”

     At least I thought it was casual.

     Her mother closed her eyes for a good minute, then looked at me and said: “Thank you so much. You have no idea the insecurities she has gone through, particularly with her skin color.” I wanted so badly to be surprised but of course I couldn’t because children of color go through this battle every day. I looked at her and said: “Sweetheart, you are so incredibly beautiful, and before you walk out of this store I need you to know that. Black is so beautiful, and you are the perfect example of that.” Her mother was near tears as she took my hand and said: “Thank you so much. She really needed to hear that, and I’m glad it came from a beautiful young black woman like yourself.” 

     All who know me know that I am always talking about what it is like to be a black woman in America today, and though I obviously can’t speak for everyone, I can definitely reflect on myself and what I see, and what I have been seeing for quite some time are black women continuously being slept on - and trust me our kids are learning that. As a young teen, I kept my hair in a low ponytail every day in an attempt to control the tight curls on my head. Eventually I began to straighten my hair twice every week. Then I tried to avoid the sun for fear of it making me darker than I already was. I even surrounded myself with lighter-skinned girls because they were always the “cutest.” It wasn’t until quite recently--my first year of college-- that I began to question why I wasn’t embracing my natural look. But when I did, y’all, I was all up in the mirror like “Damn, babygirl, who is yooouuu?”

     However, it is often difficult learning to appreciate your own physical beauty as a person of color on a predominantly white campus.  You look different from your peers, and growing up, looking differently from everyone else was not a good thing. Don’t get it twisted, I know I’m cute -- I might as well be Beyoncè’s twin (I wish), but at the same time it feels strange to have an afro and melanin on a blonde-haired, blue-eyed campus. 
     However, these insecurities are not easy to overcome despite how much time passes and how things seem to change. There are people that tell me: “Everyone loves black women” and “black is in fashion,” and all I want to do is tell them to stop quoting Get Out and pay attention. What they are referring to is the social media posts on how much people “love chocolate,” and are “down with the swirl.” However, the disparity between social media and real life is drastic.

"You have no idea the insecurities she has gone through, particularly with her skin color.”

     I know many men - particularly black men - who like to say that they love all shades of black, but they always seem to pay more attention to white or lighter-skinned women. Now, I am in no position to judge what people like - I spent a significant amount of my childhood having a crush on Simba from the Lion King. However, from my perspective as a black woman, these men seem to put on a front to make it look like they’re “down,” and that is absolutely insulting. And when people are all talk about the beauty of black women but make no effort to actually appreciate us, I can’t help but feel like I'm some type of experience that they can use to support their claims that they appreciate us. I’m sorry honey, but I do not believe it, and I am too much woman for someone’s undecided child. 
     So, call this a personal story, a rant, or a potential experimental observation. I want to get in the minds of these people. Why do people see black women and white women so differently? Is it simply the color of their skin? Is it the preconceptions they may have about each race? How are other parties affected by it? I’m not a psychology major y’all--that idea was gone after PSY 1001. I’m just a black woman who doesn’t want to see anyone else screwed over by societal norms. 
     I hope this woke someone up.