Seeing Through Colors
I’m not like your typical black girl.
At least that’s what I’ve been told by many people on multiple different occasions. The first few times I wasn’t sure what to make of the comment. So I would laugh and nod my head in agreement, even though it didn’t quite sit well with me. Redlands is diverse enough that I hadn’t been completely ostracized from the black community, but it did mean that most of my friends consisted of people with white or latino/latina backgrounds. This was not a problem per se, but it did feel weird being the only black person in some of my classes, which lead to awkward glances whenever slavery and segregation were discussed. At some points, I even forgot I was supposed to be different from everyone-- until they would point out that I was.
I’m basically white on the inside.
Now that one stung a little. At that point in time 13 year old Lauryn wasn’t sure why, but 17 year old Lauryn does, mostly due to the mass amount of wisdom she has gained these past four years (please note the sarcasm). Back then I shrugged it off because being white was a good thing, right? At least that was what my blonde hair, blue eyed Barbie doll told me and what the popular, pale skinned girl on TV portrayed. Eventually this began to register in my mind as offensive, but I didn’t dare point it out since it wasn’t that big of a deal. Right?
I’m pretty for a black girl.
If you could see me right now, I am rolling my eyes. I had seen enough of #teamlightskin that I recognized that dark did not equal beauty in the eyes of many. For a long time I didn’t either. My mother has such light skin that people had jokingly questioned if she was even my mother. A part of me resented her for it. Why was she light skinned and pretty, and her own children so, very dark? Eventually I learned that lots of black people with light skin, such as my mother, wished they had darker skin so they would be seen for who they were: black. Suddenly, I wondered why those last four words had to be added to the sentence.
By this time I had grown to be more comfortable with myself as the black woman I was becoming, but things didn’t really change for me until the shooting of Trayvon Martin: a young man killed before he really got to live. My brother was the same age as Trayvon when he was shot. Fear struck me. If a young black man could be killed for no reason in Florida, couldn’t one be shot in Redlands too? It stirred something deep inside me, and I began to open my eyes to the things that are, and had been happening to the black community for decades. It definitely wasn’t an overnight thing, but I started to realize that what I do in my everyday life represents a whole race of people. People who suddenly didn’t seem like strangers to me, but like my brothers and sisters.
The shooting of Terence Crutcher on September 19, 2016 only reinforces the beliefs I’ve come to develop. It took me a long time, but I am now able to say something I couldn’t when I was told I wasn’t a typical black girl, that I was basically white, and that I was pretty for someone with darker skin:
I am proud to be black.
To anyone shying away from who you are because you don’t want to play into the stereotypes, I encourage you to run full speed ahead instead. The black community needs strong, informed, and unashamed young people willing to step up and help change the world we live in for not only us, but future generations. I offer my thoughts, not to be provocative-- but because it’s my truth. We need to have more open and healthy conversations about race and diversity to move forward in times like these. So I encourage you to, in the words of James Brown, do what I couldn’t for a long time:
“Say it loud. I’m black and I’m proud”.