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Black Shame

13 Oct 2020

Kim Williams

Black Shame

Black liberation and equality is something that myself and my family have been highly passionate about for all of our lives. I am mixed-race; being half Black Caribbean and half white British, and as a Person of Colour I feel I have a profound duty to learn more about my black heritage and the oppression my Brothers and Sisters have faced throughout history.

Racism is something that I have faced personally. It is something that still affects the way I progress in life because being a person of colour, facing even the smallest of racial micro aggressions in life or passive comments about my kinky hair, or my “flat nose,” have truly had an impact on me. Racism has been in the form of somebody telling me “I don’t usually go for black girls but you’re a lighty so it’s okay”. It  has been in the form of someone approaching myself and my siblings as we sat in a restaurant with my mother and saying “It’s great what you are doing for these kids” and after a long discussion, realising this lady thought we were adopted, because a white woman surely cannot have children who are of colour.

It has been in the form of a childhood nickname, being “Kim Kong” or that man who shouted through his car window when I was eight “Go back to the Jungle.” It has been in the form of someone breaking into my moms house when we were younger and writing “N***** lover” on the walls.

It is being reminded that I may have only been rewarded certain things in my life; like bursaries or placements in colleges, simply to tick a box- to meet quota, to be a statistic in the system.  Which over time began to manifest as a deep rooted shame, a shame so rooted that when I met my partner of 8 years, I found myself riddled with anxiety, not from the butterflies of a first date, or whether or not it would go well but rather from the anxiety of having to turn to him and say “You do know I’m half black don’t you”…which I did ask him because a part of me thought that if he knew I was a person of colour. He wouldn’t like me.

Being half white and light skinned I know I have far more privileges in life than my Black community. I spent a lot of my early teen years not really knowing how to use my voice. Not feeling worthy enough to speak out against the discrimination I have faced or not really knowing how. Looking back I realised how much I changed my identity to meet expectations of white beauty. I suppress my blackness in order to fit in with people, not really realising that they didn’t care what I looked like.

I spent the best part of my pre-teen and teenage years hating my identity and hating my features and my hair in particular. I could count on one hand the amount of Black and mixed students at my primary school. My hair was more incredibly thick and kinky than the other mixed race girls at the school. My mother (who is white) did take the time to learn how to braid, cornrow and plait my hair but in hindsight I could have developed a healthy hair care routine and the time to really know the power my hair has.

That aside, I always wanted straight hair. I always thought people would only find me pretty or worthy if I looked like the girls who had long, beautiful European hair that flowed down their backs like silk. 

When I hit my teenage years I discovered hair relaxers, a chemical treatment to relax kinks in the hair to straighten them. I jumped at this opportunity not understanding the long term damage it would have on my hair. I did this monthly and before long, I had already noticed breakage and damage, my hair falling out with every comb.

You see I was the emo girl, with the heavy eyeliner and the math book full of depressing poetry and scribbles on how much the world was against me. I believed deep down that to be part of the alternative scene I had to look a certain way. I had to have that dead straight fringe that covered half my face and regrettably, I thought that the community was not a place for people of colour. I would wear foundation shades lighter than my already peachy face.  I used flat irons twice a day till my hair broke off. And still to this day, my hair is still recovering from it.

I spent so many years idolising over women and peers that did not look like me; crying myself to sleep at night because I would never be them, I would never be pretty. You see that’s what growing up in this world did to my generation of children of colour- impressionable young children. That’s what it still does to children of colour when they are part of a small handful of peers that look like them, in a school of hundreds that do not. When all the teachers, friends, neighbours do not look like them. When the standards of beauty exclude them. They begin to associate norms with the shade of skin. They begin to think that they are different, that they should aim to look like the other kids. They begin to think that afro hairstyles are unprofessional and wild, extreme and scruffy- and those depictions become associated with who they are as people. They begin to internalise a hate and shame about their identity, culture and physical attributes until it becomes so embedded that they begin to strip themselves of these beautiful qualities.

I know this now and now…Now I have learnt how to look after my hair, how to love, nurture and cherish it. I have done my research on the history of my fro, my cornrows and braid styles. I now understand the power my hair holds, the weight of the pain it carries from my ancestors. I know the struggle and the oppression. I love my hair, my natural and authentic hair. I embrace every twist, kink and curl. I have also found pride in my Blackness, I have learnt to correct those who have assumed my race. I have learnt to take the time to learn about how to look after my skin. It took me a long time to discover my identity. It took a long time to discover my worth and my blackness. I used to think that being mixed and light I had no black voice, but being light does not take away from my black identity, this I know now. The black skin is the most diverse; a beauty of melanin that ranges from the lightest and the darkest tones of the people that make up a black community.

I know that despite being light; blackness is part of who I am and I have such pride in the fact that I am half black. I know I have a black voice and my voice matters!

My dreams matter, my worth matters, my identity matters and my life matters but above all…