By now, almost everyone with access to the internet has read or at least vaguely heard of the Rachel Dolezel story/scandal. If for some reason you have not, the basic thing to understand is that the now-former chief of the Spokane, Washington chapter of the NAACP was a white woman living her life as a black woman. As expected, much of the black community was/is in uproar over this situation, some taking sociological stances, others taking a more comedic approach to dealing with their emotions regarding Dolezal. While I’m going to try to avoid dissecting this case from a political or social standpoint (because at this point it has already been done), I mainly want to use this story to remind you to love the skin you’re in because all skin is beautiful skin.
“Being able to look in the mirror and love what you see is a privilege many people don’t have” - Alexis Walker
I love this quote that a friend of mine stated in a social media post because it speaks volumes to society’s ability to shape one’s self-esteem and confidence based on something as trivial as their skin color. Our country was built upon structures and institutions of racial hierarchy and oppression that, unfortunately, still affect so many black Americans who have been told that they are “less than” simply because of their skin color. By the time they develop a sense of racial consciousness, many black children have an understanding that their skin color is NOT celebrated in mainstream media. Time and time again, psychologists conduct “The Clark Doll Experiment” (Clark, 1939) where young children are presented with a black doll and a white doll and asked a series of questions about the integrity and beauty of the dolls. And each time, children unanimously decide that the white doll is pretty and good and the black doll is ugly and bad. From the 1940’s to 2015 (meaning the other day with one of my black students), black children across America are not being taught to love the skin that they are in, unlike their white counterparts that see themselves represented in almost all forms of media on a daily basis. There is still a lot to unpack here, but the center of this current situation is Rachel Dolezal did not love her original skin. The levels of privilege one must have in order to take on another racial identity and deny their own heritage are very strong here and that is perhaps another reason why black people are so upset about this. We (Black Americans) live in a world that subliminally and constantly reminds us that our skin is not beautiful nor is it societally desirable. Then a white woman, Dolezal, who IS reminded how desirable her skin is, decides to reject her whiteness and attempt to imitate and live the struggle that is blackness in a white America. Who does that? I can only speculate someone who is deeply confused or someone who truly feels a level of self-hatred for themselves, much like some non-white Americans who wish they were born into privileged skin. “Never in her natural born life did that woman have to feel self hatred and wish she was white” (Alexis Walker).
I could probably write a short thesis on this whole ordeal, but what I wanted to ultimately get across is my constant message of loving yourself and loving who God made you to be. Light skin, dark skin and everything in between is beautiful! Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
So this past school year I worked as a kindergarten classroom aide at my district elementary school. I’m leaving this year with so many stories from my kids, and I want to recount part of a conversation that I had with one of my little girls while walking together in the hallway. I have changed portions of the conversation due to privacy.
Her: (whispers) That boy wants to marry [my friend]!
Me: Oh my! Are you going to marry someone?
Her: Nope, never!
Me: Well I bet there are a lot of little boys that like you because you’re super smart, pretty, and you’re nice to all of your friends.
Her: I don’t know about all of that.
Me: What do you mean? You’re such a nice, pretty girl!
Her: Not really.
Me: Do you know what having confidence means?
Me: It means that you believe in yourself and you know how special and beautiful you are!
Me: You have to believe in yourself so you won’t be sad.
It truly broke my heart to hear that my little kindergartener had these feelings of inadequacy. I wanted to cry. She just seemed so doubtful and all I wanted in that moment was for her to understand and realize how special she is, because she is truly a special little girl. Based on what I know about her family background, she is often praised and encouraged at home, so I’m unsure as to what would cause her to have such a negative sense of self and at such a young age! Low self-esteem is plaguing our country and its favorite victims are our little girls.
As much as I tried to build her up and explain the somewhat abstract definition of “confidence” to her, I felt as if I wasn’t really getting through. I realized that no matter how much someone builds you up and tries to instill confidence into you, unless you actually believe it for yourself, it’s virtually pointless. And I get that! I have been complimented on my smile many times by strangers and friends alike; however, due to my own insecurities, I still can’t help notice how imperfect my teeth are every time I look in a mirror or at a photo of myself. I state all of this to say that I can relate to my little girl and that I understand that my telling her how amazing she is won’t entirely wipe away her low self-esteem.
I don’t suspect that any of the people reading this are in kindergarten, but I tell this story because the core message may still resonate with older readers. I charge you to try to see yourself the way that others see you, because odds are, others see you in a much more positive light than you may see yourself. The people that see you in a given day do not notice the things that drive you crazy when you see yourself. Most importantly, God made you! He made you in His perfect image and in His beauty. Try to view yourself through a “God-lens” rather than a “self-lens”. Remember, you are fearfully and wonderfully made!