“White is Right, Black Get Back”

“My lighter skin is better than yours; and I’m proud of my white side”.  You “black” skinned girls are just jealous that my light skin will help me in America…don’t hate cause it won’t for you”.  This was a statement made in a heated dialogue between two young girls that I am mentoring. The workshop (being given at the time) had nothing to do with ethnicity/skin color; but it seems that a simple and harmless discussion regarding goal setting and vision for the future, turned into a competition of skin color, culture and a rejection of one’s self.  Jessica (quoted above) is biracial and was convinced that her Caucasian culture (which she attributes to her lighter skin) made her superior to all her darker skinned peers.  Despite my feelings of insult/disgust, I had to take a step back and reflect on what I was witnessing.  Jessica failed to realize the bigger, under lining issues that SHE has with her black identity; rejection in part of who she is, and categorizing individuals according to physical attributes.  It was at this precise moment that I knew it was going to be a very long afternoon.

The atmosphere in the room was tense; as most of my fellow mentors mouths fell open in response to what we had just heard.  Immediately, eye contact was made with one of my colleagues; for the outburst seemed to confirmed our suspicion… that most of these young ladies were stuck between the “preecounter” and “encounter” stage of Cross’ Black Identity Development Model; and, the issues was being brought into the classroom/middle school setting.  The Black Identity Model depicts the stages that all black people move through as they develop their identity.  Jessica is considered to fall between the first two stages for she has clearly accepted the norms of the majority culture/group (her White heritage) and, without realizing it, is internally perpetuating negative stereotypes towards her black culture.  It is also at this stage that a young black girl may pull away or distance herself from anything or anyone resembling the negative, Black image that she has formulated in her mind.  It was evident that either the messages received at home or those within her community was confirming her view of her Black heritage; and was not only affecting her relationships with peers at school, but also hindering her overall development and, consequently would shape her vision for the future.  In order for young black girls, like Jessica, to reach stage five of the Cross’ Black Identity Development, “internationalization/commitment”, it is critical that they are afforded continued education to progress successfully through the stages, and also be surrounded by positive images of our black culture in their community. As mentors, we should not skate around these types of issues and should continue professional development of our own identity in order to be comfortable with leading our mentees through this difficult period; while assessing where WE fall in Cross’s model. It is my hope that by doing this we can reset the young girl’s way of thinking, spark positive self-image, and neutralize the negative categorization currently being displayed.

If nothing else, this controversial experience had confirmed how blessed I am.  My parents instilled strong family values, promoted positive self-images of Black people (especially women) and expose me and my sister to our culture in a manner that cultivated positive black identities.  However, what was experienced with Jessica is not an isolated incident.  Many girls struggle with what is right and wrong; and far too many times society is playing a major role in influencing our youth on who they are and what they should aspire to be.  The negative messages being transmitted are contradictory to the message that our black girls should be receiving; and, the results are slowly but surely causing them to formulate a negative identity with black people.

This experience reminds me of Shakespeare’s saying:  “To thy self be true”.  As a role model/example to these girls, projecting a sense of self confidence with who I am and where I AM with my black identity awareness sends a powerful message.  To girls like Jessica, displaying a strong sense of black identity will provide encouragement and foster a sense of self-worth.  It will also assist them with a positive transition to the next stage.  This task is not an easy one and will prove to have some pros and cons with the techniques used.  I am convinced that with diligence, while continuing to draw upon the positive black images in my life, a huge difference can be made in the lives of these young girls…
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1 Response so far »

  1. 1

    De-Andrea said,

    Great post. I see this a lot with children and it reminds me of the experiment where they asked black children questions about black and white dolls. This just confims that we have more work to do.


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