The MirrorJan 31, 2020 09:30AM ● By Kim Green
Among the first few sentences of Toni Morrison’s first novel, The Bluest Eye, she writes, “…Mother, Father, Dick and Jane live in the green and white house. They are very happy…”
The book centers around a little black girl’s desire to wake up with blue eyes. And with repetition of those simple opening words, Morrison drives it home—that is, whiteness—and its implications for the rest of us. Each time I read this childlike verse, my heart reacts to the inescapable truth that whiteness is what all of us should aspire to.
Just five years before Morrison’s book was published, this little black girl came into the world. A squealing newborn, my parents oohed and ahhed over me. But those first few inhalations and exhalations of fresh air would be the last ones I would take so freely. From that day forward, they would be forever labored, dragged down by the weight of my history, as my parents feared giving me too much hope in the white world that Morrison wrote about.
My father wasted no time telling me about the intrinsic inferiority that would come with my skin. With a twisted grin, he said endlessly, “Remember, you’ll have to work twice as hard as white people to be seen as half as good!” Every chance they got, they reminded me of the inevitable doom that comes with this skin. I soon learned that the weight of history drags us all down, one way or another. Bearing shame, regret and pain is not for the weak. It is the human condition.
My father’s words seeped into my cells and shifted the way I see myself and the world. I grew to overwork, overdo and overcompensate just to overcome. Just to earn my keep. Proving that I am “just as good as” became an exhausting and never-ending charge. I now spend a lot of time in the mirror—coming to terms with myself.
While the world refuses to let me claim my own beauty, I am grateful for my dark eyes that never aspired to lighten. I adore my proud protruding cheekbones and bountiful lips from which my words tumble. I applaud my resilient curls, twisted and locked into emancipated tendrils. These same embattled locks that are at the same time admired, appropriated and made unlawful in the workplace.
Until now. There’s been a seismic shift in the “white” earth. My sisters will no longer be forced to wear someone else’s hair just to feed their children. The right to wear one’s natural African American hair in the workplace is now legally protected in some states. The Universe finally gets it: authenticity is a right, not a privilege.
People of color live with the existential struggle to dwell comfortably within their own skin. Our features, hair textures, dialects, religiosity, humor and cultural dynamics are not always able or willing to blend. And, for that, we remain indicted. It is my hope that people not “of color” see that our deep yearning to change ourselves remains a universal conundrum. Our relentless unhappiness with ourselves continues to wrap us in fakery.
Regardless of what our parents may have told us about who we might become, without knowing, the message sank in, and the results are an angry world. Feeling inferior is a human trait. For people of color, people on the fringes, the disabled, the non-binary—anyone “less-than-white”—feeling inferior is the air we breathe.
As a mother of a 17-year-old black male, I bear the weight of fearful and ferocious love. My son says I fight him; if he only knew how I fight for him. My heart is plump with the hurts, love and expectation that define sacred otherness.
As an offspring of pain, I am endowed with Herculean strength, wisdom and grit to fight for what my heart desires, amidst a quiet roar of non-agreement. My humbled parents anointed my life with blessings and truth. My true beauty is the strength it takes to see it.
Author and coach Kim Green created Blank Page Consulting to work with clients who are ready for transformation in their writing or their lives. Reach her at BlankPageConsult.coms or 678-938-2777.