20. Pretty For A [Insert Qualifier Here] Girl


Once I read a paragraph of all of the ways in which the word black is used negatively. And I internalized it. Hadn’t even realized how well I’d internalized it because I didn’t even think of what the words meant; I just knew they were bad. And if those black words were bad, it stood to reason that being a black person wasn’t really the best thing. Being black and female fell really low on the list of desirable traits. So that was something important, I guess. It’s something to remember when things got hard, as an explanation almost.


I once had a crush on a boy who was pinky-red in the face. I didn’t know what caused it, and my friends made fun of his weirdly pigmented skin, and I lusted after him because he was so quiet and I wanted to share in his silence. This crush went on far longer than any crush really should and one of my friends, who happened to be a confidant of the red faced boy, told me that he didn’t find black girls attractive. I know how I would react now; how I would have chimed out a Jay-Z tune, you know, “on to the next one.” But I clearly remember still liking him, and trying hard to get his attention, and forgetting how he felt because then, I was so colorblind I could transcend race. And if I was able to rise above it, so could everyone else. But there’s no use in rising above a reality.


When the boy I fell in love with told me I was beautiful, I didn’t believe him. And when he said it again, I honestly believed he wanted to  hurt me.


When I was a little girl I draped long sleeved shirts over my head. I draped the shirts around my head so that the arms dangled down and I would lash my hair back and forth and spend an unusually long time standing in front of the mirror, smiling. My mom would tell me to stop. Tell me I wasn’t white and that my hair doesn’t do that. But what she said didn’t matter because I was the most beautiful girl in the world, with a shirt for hair and hair for beauty.


Her: “Do you ever want to be someone else? You know, not black.”

Me: “I felt that way today. Do you feel that way now?”

Her: “Yeah, I’m just tired of being seen and not seen.”

Me: “Amen.”

Her: “Does this make sense?”

Me: “Sometimes I want to wake up and not see myself at all.”


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