My neighborhood and school reflected only 4 black families. There were 2 on our block and then 2 other folks at our school. I remember my 2nd grade teacher Mrs. Robinson. There were two Mrs. Robinsons. I was like “black Ms Robinson or white Ms. Robinson”. My classmates were like, “you bugging, both Ms. Robinsons are white.”
I wasn’t convinced. Having a fair-skinned grandmother with long straight hair who stuffed it under a wig had me thinking 1) she was white and 2) she wanted to pass for black. So my second grade self, seeing Mrs. Robinson with a fuzzy afro and southern slang, high cheek bones and profound nose, thought….this woman looks like my grandmother.
As me and the other black girl at our school got taunted about our color and put in contests we didn’t wish to join like “who was the cutest black girl in our school” you can imagine my “turn the other cheek” slowly brewed into an eye for an eye. Black skin was yuck and ugly. We had to have special categories based on skin. April lost on on darker skin but her hair was longer and straighter so she made up for it there. I was smart but I thought I was smart so that didn’t help. Black people, you see, weren’t that smart. Only like Michael Jackson but “he wasn’t like really black. Or black black.”
I tried to find characters who looked like me to constantly get validation from a group of people that didn’t know existed… or didn’t exist to them. Hell, they must have been taught this. We were all only 6.
Frustrated one day, after winning a costume contest that I was ridiculed for because it was “homemade”, I said to a girl….”whatever, black people are smart and have jobs. Mrs. Robinson is black.”
“Mrs. Robinson our homeroom teacher?”
“The very one.”
“No she isn’t. Look at her.”
“Yes she is. Look at her.”
I can’t remember this little trolls name but she gave me trouble through most of elementary school. She’d found her competition in the new military kid who came into the second grade without having to go to first. She knew I was trouble. She wanted to get me in trouble. She raised her hand in class one day.
“Mrs. Robinson, Tina Farris says you’re black,” sing songy. Like the word “black” was a bad word. Mrs. Robinson looked at me, and I sunk, not knowing if maybe I was wrong? Maybe I just made all of this up in my head to help me out in that hell of a school with an Native American as a mascot any damned way?
Mrs. Robinson looked at the class and said, “she’s right, I am black.” I darted my “IN YOUR FACE” eyes at that little girl….because we was gonna meet at the tether pole anyway after school so I could get in that ass.
That’s when the questions began to fill the classroom. “How can you be black?” “Why is your hair that color?” “I thought to be black you all had to look like her.” Mrs. Robinson fielded the questions like a champ. She explained all the colors of the rainbow. Explained how all of the white kids were different colors and black folks were different colors too. She even threw the Indian kids under the bus. I don’t remember if we had Mexicans then. We did have some Vietnamese though. Can you imagine the questions the kids had when they went home that day? Can you imagine how many parents discovered that their child had a black teacher?
With my new found power, I decided I was going to shine the light on all black errythang. Duran Duran “Hungry Like the Wolf”….. “Simon le Bon is so fine.” “Yup, ” I’d respond, “too bad he only likes black women like the ones in his videos.”
“Oooh, Wham is the shit, ” this is before I knew about Beards guys,
“Yup, they stay with black women in all their videos.” My head neck game was cracking.
My desire to find my place continued through Junior High and through high school. High School I hung strictly with the weirdos, acting students, artistes, bud heads, anyone who was goth, all finding our places. I would have known nothing of David Bowie sauf for them. Nor this supermodel Iman from this place called Africa that was only mentioned in riddles about “booty scratching and sand niggers” (oh yeah, Sacramento, CA was on tilt with the nigger verbiage among the childrens), who married that dude David Bowie. You know, “Ziggy Stardust”….EVERYONE loved him. He was so bizarre and awesome and we wanted to dress like him and he was enamoured with this gorgeous African woman. I was like, see, white people do like black people. I need to find more of them to be around. I still can’t believe I was trying to convince them about MY standard of beauty well into my teens. I still can’t believe I didn’t know how to like myself against their family’s beliefs. But Iman, and Josephine, and Nina and all of the musicians I began to study who went to countries that “accepted” them – albeit their talents, are who I began to idolize. Like if I could just be like them and get to that point then I’ll be liked by these people.
I believe that’s why black mothers love so hard. Some of my mixed friends and family don’t want to “shove blackness down their mixed kids throats”, but I don’t know if they know the other side of the coin. What happens when you don’t have parents who shove blackness down your throats? Who will tell you how beautiful you are in a sea of agents and spectacles that cram down the opposite?
Is it a coincidence that we all have hair issues?
Is it a coincidence that we worry about our ethnic features? And this is across the board ethnicities…Indians, Nigerians, Irish, Koreans, hella people in the world trying to change their features to be appealing….maybe to be appealing to their 2nd grade selves who are always searching for acceptance from SOMEBODY, ANYBODY, who thinks life outside of the home will be the same as it is inside of the home.
But Bowie and Iman? Their example lasts eternal. Their example of acceptance I need in a baby book. Maybe since neither are American they
were able to find love above and beyond. Maybe they weren’t riddled with the bullshit of the melting pot. And to America’s defense, let’s face it, every other country is pretty much homogenous. America is still young in working out our diversity. Perhaps more examples of their love can wash away 3 centuries of hate.