Conscious discipline helps people learn to better control and regulate their emotions. One of the practices taught in the CD programs I’ve taken is how to appropriately respond when we encounter something that is a “trigger” for us.
I watched an online panel discussion a few years ago about the concept of moving from resistance to resilience. Initial dialogue centered on trauma and its effect on Black people and society.
When most of us think about trauma, we think that a major event must happen for someone to experience trauma.
However, trauma is broadly defined as “an event, series of events, or set of circumstances that is experienced by an individual as physically or emotionally harmful or life threatening and that has lasting adverse effects on the individual’s functioning and mental, physical, social, emotional, or spiritual well-being.”
One of the panelists discussed how trauma had recently entered her home with her daughter in an unexpected way. Her daughter is a dark-skinned Black girl attending high school in a predominately white school district and school.
The panelist described how her daughter came home from school one day and asked her, “Why don’t the Black boys like me?” Before I knew it, tears were streaming down my face. This was a trigger for me.
Listening to this panelist talk about the hurt and insecurity her daughter felt by not feeling attractive enough for Black boys in her school brought up many memories for me.
I had gone through this same series of insecurities during my time in high school, as well as in college. You see, I too attended a predominately white high school.
For those who may not know, here is a brief glimpse into colorism: prejudicial or preferential treatment of same-race people based solely on their color.
For centuries, light-skin preference has been common practice in the Black community and has roots in slavery when some slave owners raped their female slaves and created light-skinned offspring.
While slave owners didn’t officially recognize these children, they gave them privileges, allowing those with light skin to work inside the house while their dark-skinned counterparts worked outside in the fields.
Privilege was given to those who had lighter skin, light eyes and long hair (for females).
For generations, there has been this narrative within the Black community about who is prettier based on skin-tone and/or who has “better hair” (meaning length and texture).
My sister and I had long, thick hair that we wore in pigtails. It never failed that when we went out in public, someone commented on our hair – touching it, smiling and saying things like, “You got that good hair!”
One day that this happened, my mother leaned over, pointed her finger in my face and said, “Don’t listen to them! Your hair is no better than anyone else’s, and don’t you ever think you are any better than anyone else!”
At the time, I didn’t understand why my mother was so upset. My sister and I just nodded.
As I got older, I understood. I had friends who were darker skinned than me and who had been told they were pretty – for a Black girl – while I was always greeted by a comment about my hair.
It may seem superficial, but this is traumatic for young, Black girls.
During your most formative years, your beauty is based on the darkness of your skin-tone or the texture of your hair, not the compassion in your heart or the kindness in your soul.
Although your family tells you you’re beautiful, society is telling you that you are only if light-skinned, long hair and light eyes.
And if you happen to attend a predominately white school, the Black boys are unknowingly reiterating it when they date only the white girls.
It becomes a narrative in the Black girls’ mind that they are not pretty enough or good enough. And that can linger on into adulthood.
I now realize that my beauty is not based on the color of my skin, my hair or my size. However, for too many years, I defined my worthiness on whether some guy thought I was attractive.
As friends continued to get married and I remained single, the narrative that something was wrong with me continued to roll around in my head.
I told myself that I was smart, educated and successful in my work and that was enough. But I was silently asking myself, “Why don’t the men like me?”
Hearing the panelist say her daughter was asking the same questions I had asked broke my heart. It triggered the younger, insecure me in a way that I thought I had overcome.
Our young people, especially young girls, must not place their value on other’s definition of beauty.
We must continue to lift them up and speak first about having a kind heart, giving nature and love of others as the cornerstone of beauty. We must continue to share with them that they are loved – exactly as they are – by God and by their family.
We must continue to encourage our girls to participate in sports, extra-curricular activities and volunteer opportunities so that they feel strong and self-confident.
And we must continue to communicate with them and tell them every day they are beautiful, even if others don’t notice.
Director of educational programs at a nonprofit in Kansas City, Missouri. She has spent her career working in the areas of education, social service, youth development and early childhood education.