II. I AM BEAUTIFUL THE WAY GOD MADE ME!
It is such an awesome feeling when you finally come to the realization that you love yourself, and I mean the whole person—the hair, that is not quite straight but not entirely nappy, the thick or thin lips, the hips that may be too much, or not quite nearly enough, the body that never entirely does what you will it to, or the fingers that are short and stubby, or long and skinny—you, the whole package!
As I stand in the shower washing my hair, I run my palms over it and smile to myself. I could tell the story of my life with the stages through which my hair has gone…from the nappy short afro days when I was espousing my “black” identity, to the days when I was trying to become more white and attempted several of the painful procedures to which most women of African descent resort in an attempt to straighten out that same nappy hair.
As I rinse my hair and put in the conditioner that promises to “detangle the nappies.” As I proceed to scrub my chocolate-brown skin, yet another thought comes to mind. I am recalling my mulatto grandmother’s lessons on how to become hygienically “white” or at least attempt to. “Scrub that body!” she would scream, “maybe eventually some of that black will come off and you can start to look and act more like your mom and I.”
Normally, this would be followed by lectures on how my mother ruined her identity and the family name by marrying my father, whose tribe was not Europeanized enough. She would top off these lectures with how none of us, my mother’s children, took any of that silky “bronyi” (white) hair that was in our genes; this hair would have given us the white (almost passing) identity she and my mom had. After such lectures, I would dutifully scrub away, or be scrubbed on those days when my childish hands and love for water had made it impossible to complete the task. Little did I know then that I would later on grow to hate the very vein that carries that hint of British in me, to despise that identity formation that supposedly ensured my place in a mulatto-preferred society.
So today, recalling this history that lies behind taking showers, I slow down the habitual and automatic scrubbing that has become an unconscious routine; I refuse to scrub away any of that beautiful chocolate-brown skin! I refuse to be “white.” I refuse to have my identity defined by another.
It has taken me all my life to become comfortable in the body god gave me. I am five feet seven, with chocolate-brown skin, brown eyes, and black hair which now has traces of faded “cherry coke” color in it, and I am thankful everyday for this black woman that god created. After years of paying to have bone straight, sleek, relaxed hair which I was sure would allow me to pass for a member of my grandmother’s British family, (if I were to ever wish to be inducted into that secret society!), I have settled on growing my natural nappy hair and loving the new identity formation process of re-claiming that which was god-given and mine to begin with.