This #TBT post is from a 2011 post about a memory from my teen years.
I was a gangly *no curves to save my life* and dark-skin teen who always had her head buried in a book. Not exactly the Kim Kardashian beauty of teenage boys’ lustful dreams. Their rejection hurt, but what really cut deep was being rejected by boys who should have liked me – black boys. But they didn’t. There was nothing special about me in their eyes. I wasn’t fair, I did not have light eyes and my hair wasn’t especially long. I was JUST black. Nothing exotic in my genes. Greater than the sin of being homely and black, I had no butt to speak of. No junk in my trunk. No “onion” booty: described by Urban Dictionary as a “booty that looks so good, it makes grown man want to cry.”
Those awkward teenage years were exacerbated by the bully who made it his business to torture me. My bully was an overweight and and pitch-dark boy who girls found unattractive and tended to overlook. As author Richard Sennet points out in Respect in a World of Inequality, the condition of “not being seen” had produced in him “a desire to avenge.” And I was the target of his vengeance because he saw in me his most hated feature. Every day he was forced to confront the thing about himself that caused him the most grief – his skin color.
As a teen I didn’t have the foresight to understand that his problem was not with me. I was simply an easy target. His anger was rooted much deeper. His real issue stemmed from generations of black self-hate that was encouraged during times of slavery when the darker slaves were relegated to picking cotton and working in the fields while the lighter ones (those who more closely resembled their European masters – usually as a result of interracial rape) were able to remain in the house as servants and had the opportunity to be educated. Why we play the game of who carried the heaviest burden is beyond me. Slavery is slavery is slavery. But that’s another topic for another day.
Anyway, I internalized his treatment of me and spent years chasing the standard of beauty that I was sure he and others would value. I used skin bleaching creams religiously, seared my hair straight with hot combs and relaxers, and prayed fervently for the type of butt that black boys would appreciate. Imagine being God and listening to those heartfelt prayers.
It wasn’t until years later (hello Black Studies classes in college!) that I had the strength to confront my demons and work through the self-hate. While I was fortunate enough to have that opportunity, I’ve often wondered whether my bully had the same chance. I hope so, but who knows. You can’t combat issues you never acknowledge. As they say in AA (or so TV tells me), the first step is admitting you have a problem.
What’s a memory from your teenage years?