Lies I Learned From Always Being the Token Black Girl

“Why am I chocolate, and everyone else is vanilla?”

My mom told me once that this was the first time I’d ever asked or been curious about skin color when I was young. I was three.

If you ask most folks of color when it was that they realized that they were of color or in other words — not white — they will tell you it was made crystal clear to them at a pretty young age. Stories of overt racism, harsh realizations of class distinction and other traumatic experiences often were the catalyzing factors for many people of color. Many will say that they always knew, it was never a question.

By contrast, many of my white friends shared with me that they didn’t realize that they were white or recognize the differences between races, until they were much older — many of them meeting the realization in puberty or after integrating into a diverse high school or higher education setting.

While this information didn’t come as a surprise to me, it did become quite telling for me when I recounted the many false narratives I was fedthroughout my prepubescent life, growing up as the token black girl in my friend groups and community. Narratives that became truth in my heart and mind, because well — there weren’t any others being told to combat them.

Your hair is your beauty, but you can’t have beautiful hair if it isn’t long, straight or blonde.

Sitting hours underneath a lukewarm — sometimes, too warm — hairdryer for what seems like hours. Tingling and burning sensations on our scalps from chemicals designed to straighten our naturally thick and coiled hair. Surprised stares, unsolicited questions and sometimes, hair grabs from white peers whenever our hair looked any different from its usual coif. If you know, you know.

I grew up hearing, “ your hair is your beauty.” Once I got to be a teenager, I started to speak up and question it asking, “But what if one day I go bald? Does that mean that I will no longer have beauty?”

I never got a response that satisfied me.

Was my hair only beautiful if it looked like my white friends’ hair? Or like the black celebrity who put a weave in for red carpet events and social gatherings?

In my sophomore year of college, I decided to go natural. I can’t say that it was all my idea. I had a good friend named Kionna — Kio, for short — who was also black, who I just thought was so knowledgeable about being black but also was a lot like me — often feeling out of place in the world and a little awkward in her blackness too.

Kio introduced me to the world of natural hair care and was always coming up with some new remedy to make her skin glow, her hair grow and her body healthy. I learned so much from her — including how to be irrevocably myself around other black folks and how to love the skin I was in — and I credit much of my great awakening (that is, to wokeness) to her and her friendship.

Once I went natural, I began, what I believe will be a lifelong love affair with my natural hair. Scouring Pinterest for ideas on how to style type 4c hair textures and texting Kio for ideas of what style I should try out next, all led me to coming to the realization that my hair is beautiful. Black hair is beautiful and at the risk of sounding lame — magical. Afros that transcended all concepts of gravity. Curls and coils that glistened in the sunlight. Braids that ornately decorated the scalp. All types of hairstyles that I never had the privilege to see growing up, right there in front of me, for the taking.

Sure, it’s been an uphill battle some mornings, trying to fit my puff into a small hair tie made for naturally straight and not-coarse manes, but it has been one of my greatest accomplishments. This year, it will be my seventh year au naturale and I have no intentions of going back.

If you’re not stick thin, with a slight frame and small boobs, your attractive rating is low.

My body has and never will be a size 00. That is the conclusion I have come to after years and years of useless pining over the slender figures of my white peers and school mates. Curves and boobs were only looked at to be ogled. No one really wanted to date the curvy girl. And not just curvy-in-the-right-places, I mean curvy all over. Thighs, hips, tummy — all of it.

I can vividly remember looking at my body in the mirror as an adolescent, watching the way my perky butt curved out freakishly (at least to me) from my body. I remember thinking that I was just weirdly shaped, abnormally so.

None of my other friends had a shape that even came close to my own. Most of them had small breasts, athletic (but not too athletic) toned legs and flat stomachs.

It’s funny to think about now how different standards of beauty are now than they were even a mere 15 years ago. I only wish I could have had other black female role models around me to show me that my body wasn’t an anomaly of some sort, but instead that it was a work of art. A piece of my genealogical history and something to be proud of and own.

Today I am still dealing with the repercussions of society’s constant nagging to be leaner, be sexier, be this and that…

I think many of us women of color are. Thankfully we’ve seen an uptick in the amount of women of all shapes and sizes, all colors and backgrounds sharing their pride to be who they are at any size. While I’m still a work in progress, I’m so glad society’s whitewashed opinion is not the narrative that I choose to listen to or tell myself any longer.

The opposite sex will never look twice at you, you’re just too different and that scares them.

People stick to what they know. That’s at least the message I was told growing up about why none of my crushes at school liked me back. Most of them were — you guessed it: white. And most of them weren’t checking for me in any capacity.

What hurt the most about growing up and going to school in a predominately white community? The few black boys that were in my classes, were very often only looking for the white girls. If the white boys were only looking for the white girls, and the black boys were only looking for the white girls, the message that being a black girl meant that boys of all kinds would never find you attractive, quickly seared itself into my 12-year old brain and would stick with me to young adulthood.

Even today, my self-esteem (driven by a variety of factors, not just the opposite sex’s perception of me) tends to fall on the low end of things when it comes to dating and putting myself out there to date.

In the back of my mind, I ask myself if I am pretty enough or sexy enough to entice and captivate. And the added question of I wonder if he’s into black girls often pops up as I contemplate swiping left or right on dating apps.

Today, I continue to work on acknowledging my value and worth as a talented, successful and beautiful woman. I know that I am worthy of love, respect and intention. And any guy that has the pleasure to be a part of my life, is one lucky man.

You’re basically a white girl in a black girl’s body —in essence, you’re an Oreo.

I’m not sure that there is anything in the world that is more degrading than being compared to that of a snack food product. If there is one thing that stuck with me throughout my childhood all the way through to adulthood, it’s been the notion that somehow I “talk white”.

First of all, white is not a language. I speak English and I speak it with the societally acceptable grammar and diction that our white patriarchal society deems as eloquence. It does not make me any less black or any more white. It just makes me a person who speaks a certain type of English.

I have been privileged enough to go through certain educational avenues, that taught me how to speak with eloquence and in a manner that is more widely accepted than some variations of English slang. That is all.

And, let’s get one thing straight: whiteness is NOT the epitome of intelligence.

Anyone who tries or has ever tried to tell me (or you) otherwise, is gravely mistaken. And woefully ignorant. Using that argument is simply another way to degrade and insult people of color and undermine the fact that given the same resources, time and support, communities and individuals of color have more than enough potential to be successful in any sense of the word.

While it has taken years for me to even recognize the lies that I have been fed throughout my entire life as a black girl living in a white world, I am proud of the work that I have done to do so. My hope is that other black girls turned women, who may or may not have ever experienced being “the token black kid” in life, will also come to the knowledge that they are a work of art.

They are resilient in the face of struggle and worthy of love and tender care.

They are brilliant and capable, simply because of who they are, not who society has tried to box them into being.

They are one of a kind. A little different, a little unique. A whole lot more than what meets the eye. And personally, I think that’s pretty damn incredible.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.