The Genuine Me

February 17, 2016

I saw a Facebook post the other day of a computer generated photo of how a living Michael Jackson would appear today without the major cosmetic reconstructions and skin lightening he chose. 

It showed a very distinguished and handsome black man. 

The comments varied as one might expect. But, I couldn’t help being reminded of a particular incident from my own past that helped me understand why he did what he did. 

I was around 13, and struggling with the insecurities of budding adolescence. I stood in front of a bathroom mirror tucking in my lips to make them look smaller, less…African.

This wasn’t enough, so I smeared heavy grease in my hair and began to aggressively brush my hair to the side, desperately trying to brush my naturally kinky hair straight. 

I wanted to be better looking. It was the 1960s, and the “black is beautiful” movement had yet to catch on in sleepy West Texas; so being better looking for an insecure black child meant looking “white.” This is a sad fact of American life. 

In a recent study, black and white children were presented a group of identical dolls, differentiated only by their skin tone, ranging from pale Aryan white to dark African black. Both black and white children consistently rated the lighter colored dolls as “intelligent, trustworthy, and good,” while the dark colored dolls were categorized by the children as “unintelligent, dishonest and bad.” 

As I stood in front of the mirror that day, trying unsuccessfully to reinvent myself as a “whiter,” more handsome DeRicki, I have to admit that if I had had MJ’s financial resources, I might have made some of the same decisions. 

Eventually, I learned to love the person that I am, and that I am continuing to become; but I feel concern for the children in that study. What will become of them? What can we do to ensure a more accepting and diverse world?

  

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7 Responses to “The Genuine Me”

  1. I too have had these issues growing up. It took a while to love the me that looked back. One of societies greatest atrocities. They hate us, but they have also brainwashed us to hate ourselves. We have to fight back, as an individual, but also as a collective. If not, we will surely die.

  2. I hadn’t seen this. It’s so surreal because I watched (like the rest of the world) as he transformed. To answer your question, I think the best we can do is to lead by example. We can start by unapologetically loving ourselves ❤

  3. Mac Logan said

    I’d promote contact above all. Many years ago as a boy in Washington DC my parents visited a couple in a well to do neighbourhood. I went out to play, made a friend and went to his house. We played. Unaware of time, we played until the bell rang. My father and the man he was visiting (Pop was a Minister and visited with folks from his church) came down to the den. I had to go.

    The man we visited was tense and couldn’t stop apologising for me being exposed to a black family. Some elements of the discomfort appeared mutual. I guess I’d have been about 9. I didn’t know the other kid was black until that moment. He was just an excellent playmate, his parents were friendly and supplied cookies and milk — what more could a kid want?

    I never saw the boy again. I wish I had, he was such fun – I can see his face still.

    • DeRicki Johnson said

      Thanks for sharing this poignant memory. Just goes to support the belief that we are taught hate, we are not born into it!

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