Fighting Tooth & Nail
Today's guest writer is a young woman of color who has championed this blog and made a difference in my life since she was a little girl. We met when she was 8 years old and she quickly became my daughter's childhood best friend. Since I've known her, she's always loved working with children and 'baby whispering' little ones. She is now a preschool educator committed to her students. I welcome your voice to this safe and sacred space, Kenzie. May we fight tooth and nail together for the things that really matter--justice, peace and a place where all the little children of the world can breathe easy.
The color of my skin has always been something I was aware of. I don't remember ever having a revelation that I was black; it was just something I always knew. I loved my smooth brown skin and my kinky curly hair. Having been trans-racially adopted into a family with a large adoption support system, my whole life was surrounded by multiracial families. The idea that families were 'supposed to match' was very foreign to me.
I spent most of my childhood ignorant to the fact that there were people in the world who truly hated me, purely because of the color of my skin. I had various incidents of racism. Because I was young, I thought they were isolated incidents and that the people who were mean to me had a good reason. It wasn’t until I was older, looking back on specific situations, that I realized how often I was the subject of casual racism and how much it truly affected me.
My parents were adamant about incorporating black culture and representation into my life; making sure I knew that my skin was something to celebrate and love. Of course, I still had numerous moments of wanting to look like my mom, or my favorite characters I saw on the screen. I was jealous of my best friend for a long time because she had beautiful brown skin and straight black hair; which was what I wanted for myself. I struggled on and off with loving my curls one moment, and despising them the next; but I always loved my brown skin.
I can’t tell you what age I became aware of racism, but I was pretty young when I began to understand that the reason some people didn’t like me was not because I had too much energy, or talked too loud, or was annoying; it was purely because they didn’t like the brown skin that I thought was magnificent. When I was 6, there was a little girl in our neighborhood who shared the same name as me. We were around the same age, but she had fair skin, blond hair and blue eyes. I don’t remember what we were all playing, but one of the “older” kids called out my name. I responded to him and he replied, “Not you. I was talking to the pretty Mackenzie”. I looked around to see if anyone else had heard what he said; but no one seemed to notice. That’s one of the first times I remember truly feeling embarrassed by what someone else said to me.
As I got older, I became more and more aware of people who didn’t think my skin was as beautiful as I did. And with each mean comment, dirty look or racist remark, I began to see my skin as less and less beautiful. Every time hate for my skin was shown to me, I kept it to myself because I was too embarrassed to ever bring it back up to anyone. Instead, I internalized everything, and my little mind tried to understand why brown skin was bad. Why something I thought was beautiful, others found ugly.
Racism began to present itself in more creative ways the older I became. Friends comparing their suntans with my skin, and making remarks of, “I want to get tan, but not as dark as Kenzie!”. Hearing, “You’re not black black, because your parents are white and you act white” or “I don’t really count you as a black friend, because you’re not fully black”. In High School I began to realize that, though the words of peers hurt, hateful words from adults I trusted hurt even more. From a teacher who on multiple occasions pointed out that if i had been born at a different time, I would be one of my peers’ slaves; to a youth group leader who openly told me that they found it “scary” when black people were “too dark”. I was “jokingly” told by someone (I thought was a friend) that they didn’t invite me to a group event because I would have been the only one there who was black and that would have been “awkward”. That same friend later led me to believe they were interested in me; only to convince me to confess I was interested back, before telling me they would never date a black person because, “No offense, but black women are just ugly to me”. Not once did I seek help for the discrimination I was feeling; not once did I stand up for myself. Because if you tell someone they are worthless just enough, they will believe that.
Racism isn’t something new. It isn’t something that used to happen. Racism is an ugly, nasty demon that likes to hide in the shadows and lash out at you when no one is looking. It toys with your mind and tries to manipulate you into viewing yourself as less than, because someone else says that you are. Racism is so strong, that before they could view us as human, a nation had to stare into the eyes of an innocent black man for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, as a white man who swore to protect and serve all people, knelt on his neck until he was dead. It is so strong that even after witnessing his murder, people are still fighting tooth and nail to somehow blame this innocent man for his own vicious death.
I wish I had the answer for how to end racism. I wish it was as easy as telling people to love each other, or posting a hashtag and a Martin Luther King Jr. quote on Instagram, but it’s not. I wish it was as easy for people to rally behind a cause for equal rights and justice as it is for people to rally against it. Above all, I wish for peace. But I know there will be no peace, until there is also justice.
You can find more of Kenzie's writing at her blog, Confessions of An Adopted Wanderer.
She would love nothing more than for you to find & participate in a local peaceful protest in your community that highlights the need for police reform, racial equality and positive long-term solutions. As well, for you to become a part of a community that isn't 'supposed to match' is a great first step.