Love The Skin You’re In!

Love your Self

 

“Self-love is the belief you hold that you are a valuable and worthy person. An example of self-love is when you have a positive view of yourself and are confident in yourself and your place in the world.” Your Dictionary

 

I don’t know many people of color who are confident and or happy with their place in the world. It can feel as though you have no place in the world. This makes me ask the question,”How can someone be confident in their self and their place in the world when the world’s view on people that look like them is overwhelmingly negative?”

If the general population view people with your skin color as thugs, gangsters, ghetto, or as welfare recipients (I could go on), how can you view yourself  as anything different? How can you believe that you’re valuable and worthy when you’re conditioned to hate yourself based on these race-based negative stereotypes.  

I have to wonder, where is my place in this world? Is it where “they” (the media) tell me it should be…worthless to society, in prison, or dead?? How can I have self-worth when, as a general rule, based on my skin color I’m seen as having no worth to others?

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If you’ve you’ve never had your worth judged based on your skin color, you might be surprised how many people can identify with those questions, even at a very young age those questions are there. As many you know, I have a son who’s in a special education class at school. This will give context to the following story. I am in constant contact with his in-classroom therapist. We were discussing how she, as a young white woman in a class that is 90% African American boys, is sometimes unsure how to respond to some of the issues that arise in class.. One student was having a hard time with class work. The teacher asked the therapist to try to see what the underlying issue was. The therapist had a session with the young man, where he asked her why did he need to try? He stated that no one cared about little black boys, that he would only end up dead or in jail. Another child said that he wished his skin was lighter, that he doesn’t like being dark. All this from ten-year-old children.

Self-hate is something that’s experienced by many people of color. Unfortunately, societal norms in so many different ways tell us that dark is evil or bad, that coarse curly hair is unprofessional, and that being “different” produces negative reactions from those who consider themselves normal.

An overwhelming number of people put themselves through what some would consider torture to change how others see them. The skin bleaching epidemic in Africa, the cosmetic surgery here in the US. This internalized form of racism is an invisible presence in our psyches, and some of us don’t even realize it’s a factor in how we perceive ourselves and others.

Contrast

 

Light skin and features of Caucasians are  established as hallmarks of beauty and status, and it’s such an intrinsic part of the global system of capitalism today that it is taken for granted: white – or light – is right. If you don’t believe me try googling professional women hairstyles, then google unprofessional hair styles. Did you notice anything? I’m sure you saw the difference in the color and hair texture of the women.  

 

How do we change this damaging cycle? How do we reverse the cycle of self-hate and learn to love the skin we’re in?

 

  1. Admit that there’s an epidemic of color prejudice in our society. Recognise that those who created the dominant cultural ideas we’ve internalized did so for their benefit, not ours. Understand that the psychological conflict that this internalization causes is self-destructive. Self-hatred continues the cycle of self-degradation, and we can’t teach our kids about their self-worth if our own sense of self is distorted through a white lens.

 

  1. Educate yourself, research the history of why you and others think this way. Then research the power and beauty that makes you, you. Until we re-educate ourselves, we will remain alienated from ourselves, and, in a sense, live contradictory lives: being black, being seen as black, yet hating black.

 

  1. Teach others what you have learned. Tell someone every day they’re beautiful and tell them why. This positive affirmation of their beauty can carry them throughout their life and serve as a shield of resistance against the general negativity they encounter as a result of their ebony hue.

 

I understand that these strongly entrenched ideas take time, and considerable effort, to weed out. However, we need to take the first step, admit that there is a problem. We’re all unique and that is what makes us beautifully interesting. As Gandhi said: “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. … We need not wait to see what others do.”.

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In order to change, you have to first love yourself, so that you can love others. Once you truly love yourself, that love radiates and becomes a powerful tool that you can use to help others love the skin that they are in!

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Microaggression

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Microaggression:

Origin: Microaggression was coined by psychiatrist and Harvard University professor Chester M. Pierce in 1970 to describe insults and dismissals he regularly witnessed non-black Americans inflict on African Americans.

Definition: A microaggression is a subtle but offensive comment, or action, directed at a minority, or other non-dominant group, that is often unintentional or unconsciously reinforces a stereotype. For example, “I don’t see you as black.” (Source: Dictionary.com)

The Problem

Most people of color experience microaggression, sometimes on a daily basis. Some of you may relate to these statements (or have your own to add). If not, try to put yourself in my shoes and feel how these comments or experiences would make you feel. I was thinking about how this has affected my life and I wanted to share some of my experiences, and as usual, hopefully bring light to this shameful practice. I’m going to highlight some of the major areas in my life.

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Things I’ve heard or experienced because…

I’m black

  • “You are a credit to your race”/ “You are so articulate”
    • This statement inherently assigns my intelligence based on my race? Do you really think people of color are generally less intelligent than White people, or that it’s unusual for someone of my race to be intelligent?
  • “I believe the most qualified person should get the job”/“Everyone can succeed in this society, if they work hard enough”
    • Saying this assumes that race does not play a role in life successes and  that you ACTUALLY believe that people of color are given extra, and unfair, benefits because of their race. Or that people of color are lazy and/or incompetent and just need to work harder.
  • Being mistaken for a service worker.
    • By assuming I’m a here to serve you, conveys a message that all people of color are servants to all White people. They couldn’t possibly occupy high-status positions. Um…hello!

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I’m a woman

  • “As a woman, I know what you go through as a racial minority.”
    • By saying this, you’re assuming  racial oppression is no different than your gender oppression, and you can’t be a racist. You’re just like me. (Please see intersectionality.)
  • Being mistaken for a secretary, or being ignored, or talked over, in professional conversation.
    • By behaving this way, assumes that women, and particularly  women of color, are servants to White people/Males. They couldn’t possibly occupy high-status positions. (What could I have been thinking?)
  • “You’re not one of those feminists are you?”
    • Saying this assumes that women’s rights/concerns are not equal to men.

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I was a teen mom   

  • “Where was your mother”
    • This assumes that my mother did not take an active role in my life, as if it was her fault, that I became pregnant as a teenager.
  • “So you got your GED?”
    • Saying this assumes that I am not intelligent/determined enough to finish high school and go on to college. (Hello, do you know me?)
  • “Isn’t that normal in your culture?”
    • This question implies that teen pregnancy is an affliction to a culture, or that it is an accepted practice to have children at a young age.

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Personally

I’ve found that these types of microaggressions get worse the more successful you become professionally, and can be situationally dependent.

I recently took a position at a well known museum in my state. As you’re probably aware, museums can draw a very affluent crowd. In the short period of time that I have worked there, I’ve attended several events. The microaggressions I’ve experienced during these events via verbal and or non-verbal cues have astonished me. People that know me know that I am not one to typically bite my tongue, however, I’ve found myself doing this more than usual lately (my tongue is practically raw!). I guess you could attribute this to me being the new kid on the block and not wanting to ruffle feathers. Fair enough — I actually feel internal pressure not to be that person.  The consequence, though, is that I’ve been feeling a bit drained, and I am struggling with being my authentic self, and knowing when to pick and choose my battles.

If you’re not a person of color, you may not understand that when we experience these kinds of things in public (or work, or school, or from our friends mouths) how hard it is to to keep the peace, not get upset, and make sure everyone’s  still having a good time.  It is a lot coming at us in so many situations, especially when we don’t see it coming and can’t do anything to avoid it. (Worse if we live life expecting it.)

Am I being selfish? Is it okay for me to be selfish? When does my dignity matter, and what do my feelings amount to, when by speaking up, I could embarrass the (white) people who I care about, and  who care about me? When my white relatives, or friends, or colleagues might experience a moment’s discomfort, anxiety, or guilt? And actually isn’t this how you make the change you want to see in the world? Isn’t there almost always discomfort in learning and growth?

Choices

It’s part of my disposition to think about others and to put them first. This is why, at times, the things I would like to say go unspoken. It’s always those unspoken “better” responses that linger in my thoughts after an microaggression-filled encounter. I had the opportunity to stand up for myself, my people (really, all people); to feel something apart from anger, embarrassment and loneliness—something more like satisfaction. When I miss the opportunity to educate I become agitated and angry with myself. Everyone likes to believe they would be the one to stand up for someone or call out racism in a crowd. Not only am I not always that person, you wouldn’t be, either.

Even when we’re hit with “casual” racism in a space we once thought safe, we can and do make some sort of choice every time. To inform or to ignore? To confront  or absolve? The down side to every option on the table, for the person of color facing that decision, is that any fallout is perceived as our responsibility. When did the conversation stop being fun for everyone? When we got mouthy.

Conviction

There is no real way for us to win. Whether we choose to cling to some notion of “the high road,” or attempt to call out the racism we experience in order to sleep better that night, it’s our responsibility and there will be some kind of reaction to our action or inaction. So, I choose to be more alert in these new spaces that I am navigating. I choose to teach, inform, and challenge if needed, because I don’t want the next person that looks like me to experience this same oppression.

But say you’re not in my shoes…what do you choose to do?

The Challenge

If you consider yourself an accomplice please step in:

  1. Don’t leave us out there alone, if you “see or hear something…say something”
  2. If the conversation stops being “fun” due to an educational moment (this educational moment brought to you by Microaggressions—the gift that keeps on giving), be willing to redirect from the perceived negative statement to the original topic or the underlying issue. Give confirmation to the group and or the individual that they did the right thing.
  3. Try to identify these microaggressions in your own speech/actions and aggressively eliminate them.

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Check Your Privilege

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Privilege is defined as “a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group of people.”  (Source: Dictionary.com)

 

I’ve  noticed that some caucasian people tend to get defensive when you start talking about their privilege. Most of the time they don’t recognize that they have privilege. Most also confuse wealth with privilege. But , as the definition above indicates, privilege is rooted in your automatically receiving special treatment, rather than the amount of money you have, that determines your privilege. It is the “special right” that you inherit through your race that essentially makes you immune to injustices and biases experienced by people of color.

 

The Privileged

Unfortunately, privilege is a silent accelerant fuelling the fire fires of racism and hatred. The privileged will say that people of color are afforded the same opportunities as they are. The privileged  generally conclude that path to these opportunities has the same obstacles for all. The privileged will make assumptions about the minorities character, history, and work ethic. However, what the privileged may fail to realize, there are systemic issues that put obstacles in the path of POC, that don’t exist for caucasian’s; all paths are not created equal. To reach the same opportunity as a person with privilege, a  person without privilege will need to overcome additional obstacles that just don’t exist for people in a privileged group. This is hard to believe for those with privilege, and that’s part of the problem.

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The Not-So-Privileged

A person with less privilege might see unjust practices and understand that the opportunities are there, but they’ll need to work harder to reach the goal. They also might conclude that their path is designed for failure, and some will even quit before they even start.  Some will try and take an easy way out because they don’t have the endurance needed to finish the race. While, some will stay the course, and endure to make it to that goal, many are still  left with a bitter resentment towards the privileged for these unnecessary barriers and privileged people’s  lack of empathy.

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Personally

So, now let me tell you about a personal experience. When I was a junior high my mother moved us to the suburbs.  I was the only black student in my class, and one of the extremely few students of color in my entire school. One day in class a student’s wallet went missing, and the teacher asked the class if anyone had seen it.

They let all the other (white) students leave the class but guess who had to stay? Yeah, me. They proceeded to ask me over and over again if I had the student’s wallet. I continued to affirm my innocence, but they didn’t believe me. They went as far to check all my belongings and “pat” me down. This was a traumatic experience for me as a 12 year old that I will obviously never forget.

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Do you think that the other children were given the benefit of the doubt because of the color of their skin? Or is it because the teacher had a bias against black people, and automatically determined that I must be the guilty party?

Either way, the other students’ privilege was manifest in their being able to leave without needing to prove their innocence.

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Choices

I could have used this experience as an excuse to blame the entire white race. I could have held this hurt, this pain, in my heart and passed it on to my children. Thankfully, I chose to believe that the ignorance of a few does not represent the intelligence, or competence, of the entire race.

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Checking Your Privilege

Sam Dylan Finch, writing at Everyday Feminism, defines checking one’s privilege as reflecting “on the ways that your social status might have given you an advantage — even if you didn’t ask for it or earn it.”

I love the way that Sam states it. If you have privilege, it’s  not that you have asked for it or  even earned it. It’s that you have it by default; that in most respects you have simply inherited your  advantage. I’m not saying this to try and  shame you. I am, however, trying to get those who have privilege to use their privilege, or as I like to say “superpower,” to help those who do not share the same privilege.  So, look for opportunities to include POC into the conversation, Always have diversity and inclusion top of mind. If you see these biases happening speak up and reach out. My good friend Mary Scotton has some excellent tips for the privileged to use their superpowers in her blog on What Can White Dudes Do?  

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The Challenge

Do you have privilege? Ask yourself:

  1. What sorts of things do I take for granted as a member of a privileged group?
  2. How are my experiences different from those of a disadvantaged group?
  3. Why do these differences matter? What do they look like in the real world?

 

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Katherine Kirkinis and Sarah Birdsong note that “it is your obligation and responsibility to develop awareness of the ways in which you benefit”; this is true for every sort of privilege.

Be Authentic!

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Authenticity: not false or copied; genuine; real, having the origin supported by unquestionable evidence; authenticated; verified. –Dictionary.com

The Merriam-Webster defines authentic as the quality of being genuine and worthy of belief. So a person who is entirely trusted is said and thought to be authentic. Yet to be authentic requires transparency, where people are allowed to witness the unfiltered personality, without any masking.

Unfortunately, many people especially my fellow women and women of color, are overwhelmingly concerned with what others think of us. So we disguise or modify parts of our personality to cater to others.

Being authentic is important to me because it means that I love myself and others enough to be “real” with them. We can spend a lifetime trying to change ourselves into a person who others want us to be. When we put on a “mask” to please others, we are hiding and isolating ourselves, which causes shame. This fear of being truly seen holds us back from being and revealing our authentic self. Staying hidden is a setup for isolation and depression. Toxic shame shuts us down and prevents us from moving toward the best version of ourselves.

Why do we do this?

When we worry about what others think of us then we manipulate our personality and communication style either to seek approval or avoid disapproval. This masks our true or authentic self.

Most of us have a unhealthy need to be liked by everyone, so our actions in a given moment are intended to avoid certain negative consequences. So we alter our message or the way we communicate to reduce the possibility of negative consequences. As a result, our thoughts work against us in a intertwining of excuses. We say to ourselves we can’t do or say one thing or another because of this or that excuse.

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The Problem

Hiding parts of our personality is a trait that is commonplace, however it is far removed from authenticity. The tendency to alter our communication and or behavior explicitly diminishes our authenticity, constrains our growth, and reduces our self-esteem.

Thus our words and actions become diverted from their original intent, because we choose to mask or hide them. When we do this, we literally subvert our genuine self.

When we alter our thoughts and feelings to appease others, we limit our own development. By doing this we inadvertently allow others to influence major decisions in our life. We then become full of self doubt and don’t trust ourselves to make decisions. I have to admit it is truly exhausting to try and be all things to all people. When you are worrying about being inconsistent, and acting differently around different people, you become disconnected from others and unable to cultivate meaningful relationships. It’s as if we suppress our authenticity in deference to a safe and non-challenging communication. This hinders the opportunity for a more meaningful dialogue that might actually generate a better understanding between ourselves and others. Real communication becomes blocked and  each of our own “truths” are never revealed.

This leads to relationships, whether personal or professional, becoming stuck. Two or more individuals, struggling with their own authenticity, unconsciously contribute toward an inauthentic relationship.  If we are all being authentic then we might have as many truths as there are people, and it’s the conversation about these “truths” that deepens understanding and brings people together.

I am not saying that you say whatever comes to your mind whenever you like. You need to be respectful and tactful. There is a time and place for everything, and at times you need to be silent until there is a more opportune time to speak your truth. As we all know it’s not always what you say but how you say it.

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The Solution?

Being authentic requires a genuine sharing in the present moment. Additionally, authenticity is a vital source of genuine self-esteem. I have found that when I withdraw into myself and stop being genuine, then I am betraying myself, which can lead to a variety of destructive consequences.

Being a people pleaser or avoiding constructive confrontation betrays your own authenticity, as you submerge your thoughts and feelings in deference to others’.

If you want to have more meaningful relationships, higher self esteem, and to be true to yourself, then:

  1. Be honest
  2. Be genuine
  3. Be loyal
  4. Love yourself
  5. Be beautifully YOU!

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The Challenge

Genuine self-esteem requires avoiding self-betrayal. You can’t be true to yourself and betray your authenticity at the same time. This is not to suggest that you shouldn’t act from compassion and generosity toward others, but you shouldn’t undermine yourself in the process. It’s the exceptional individual who seeks authenticity. Much of the personal challenge lies in the fact that being genuine is devalued in our culture, while success, achievement, and avoiding criticism are highly prized.

I challenge you to look for every opportunity to be your genuine self, even if it will make you and others uncomfortable. We are all beautifully unique and shouldn’t have to conform to others or societies standard of “normal” or “proper.” Doing this will bring you peace, joy, and happiness in every facet of your life.

Be Congruent, Be Authentic, Be Your True Self.- Mahatma Gandhi

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Subliminal Messages

Subliminal

Subliminal (adjective): Existing or operating below the threshold of consciousness; being or employing stimuli insufficiently intense to produce a discrete sensation but often being or designed to be intense enough to influence the mental processes or the behavior of the individual. – Dictionary.com 

Researchers from the University of Arizona found that the brain processes visual and audio information and assigns meaning to it, even when you’re not consciously perceiving it. Study researcher Mary Peterson, Director of the Cognitive Science Program at the university, said in a statement, “… in fact the brain is deciding what you’re going to perceive, and it’s processing all of the information and then it’s determining what the best interpretation is.” Peterson went on to say that brains are “always sifting through a variety of possibilities and finding the best interpretation for what’s out there. And the best interpretation may vary with the situation.”-Huffington Post

I came across an image of a homework page for children that got me thinking about this topic of subliminal messages and how it affects every aspect of our lives. There is no age or gender limitation on how subliminal messages can affect our perception of people. While I can’t confirm the authenticity of this image, I believe my point is still valid.

Kids Pictures

When you look at the picture below, what are your first thoughts?

On first look, you may not notice anything wrong with this worksheet. I have known a lot of people that say they don’t “see” color and that is why this image is normal to them. Others would say that this image is being gender and racially inclusive.

To the people in the first group, I would call you out on what I consider an ignorant statement. Everyone no matter who you are “sees” color, there is no shame in that. We are all beautifully unique.

The second group I would ask to look deeper beyond just your visual interpretation. That brings us back to the topic of subliminal messages.

Are You Woke?

Woke (adjective): Being Woke means being aware-Knowing what’s going on in the community.  Urban Dictionary.com

If you are woke to racial and gender issues you would notice the subliminal message in this photo.

The fair skinned silhouettes are associated with the words ‘happy’ and ‘proud’. However, the darker skinned silhouettes are associated with the words ‘sad’ and ‘angry’.

If, as Peterson found, our brain is “processing all of the information and then determining what the best interpretation” is, how do you think your brain would classify people of color?

This issue of associating people of color with negative words and or images is nothing new. All you need to do is turn on the news and you are inundated with negative commentary and images depicting people of color.

The Problem:

According to how our brain processes the information it would be a natural response to associate people of color with the messages that we have received subliminally. If our brain is constantly sifting through possibilities and finding the best interpretation, what is being put “out there” by mainstream media is not anything positive or good. For example, when some people see a black man wearing a hoodie the first thing that comes to mind is “thug.” However, when a white man wears a hoodie he is just being casual, or in this ecosystem, a developer. The first being an extremely negative and threatening label; the latter being jovial and non-threating labels.

Hoodie

The Reality:

The unfortunate reality is that we live in a society that constantly regurgitates these negative subliminal lies about people of color. Due to the negative effects, these subliminal messages produce, this, in turn, creates a hostile society fighting against one another. People of color who aspire to positions of leadership are required to go above and beyond to prove themselves. People of color need to work twice as hard to get half the rewards.

Olivia Pope-Twice as good

The solution?

The disparity is sickening and it will not get better until we work together to change the narrative. Just because my reality is different than yours does not mean the problem doesn’t exist. I know there is no easy fix for all the damage that has been done over the years, however, we need to start somewhere

The time is now. If you want to see change, you have to practice and demonstrate the change you want to see in others.

  1. Be open
  2. Be humble
  3. Be courageous
  4. Be generous
  5. Be loving

That list could go on and on but I think you get the point.

Change will happen, how that change happens depends largely on those who are part of the change movement. So try and put yourself in “their” shoes; how would you react, how would you feel if you were faced with this intense injustice your whole life?

The Challenge:

I challenge you to think twice when negative thoughts about people of color pop into your head. Ask yourself, “Why did I think that?” Do I know enough about this person to assume that? Where did I learn this, and how can I reverse this negative course?

“I have decided to stick with love, hate is too great of a burden to bear.” –Martin Luther King Jr.

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