I get it – you may be shocked by the title of this post. But bear with it, because I think that many of us share a common theme of rejection: rejecting who we are, splitting off the bad parts of our selves. And oh, the shame, the eternal, the enduring shame.
The trans-racial context of my life is, I believe, just another variation on this common theme. That notion gives me comfort, so I’ll stick with it if I may. The reason I hate being black, I think, is that I was brought up to believe that Black is Bad. You see, I was fostered by white people, then sexually abused by the man. “My father.” The post is about what I remember, what happened and how I’ve internalised the message Black is Bad.
My quest for approval
The title of my post is so natural to me, that I cannot change it. Yet. The post itself is more of an apology, an explanation and justification of how I feel about the colour of my skin. And I think, too, the “Why” in the title, shows the extent of my thirst for external approval. It’s as though I need you to re-traumatise me and agree with all my statements. Because
if you were to agree, I would be comfortably confirmed in all my shameful blackness.
You are Exhibit A
I remember being with my mother and my brother, and being stopped in the street as a small child while white people touched my hair and discussed how bizarre it was. It grew into tight knots that my mother couldn’t cope with. She used to cut the ends off whenever it looked untidy.
My black skin was dry so it flaked. The flakes were white, so I’d have these white scaly patches on my face and arms. My mother dabbed at them with a flannel before we went out. The water temporarily moisturised the skin so it didn’t show up scaly anymore.
I remember it so well, though I’m afraid I can’t access any of the emotions that went alongside this. Humiliation is the only word I can reach.
You are shameful
I remember believing that I was somehow “less than”. My mother told me that my brother had a lot to put up with, and when I fought with him, I should remember that. She reminded me of just how hard it was for him to have a black sister. One time she spelled this out quite clearly. She said that
“Girls might be put off because he has a black sister.” After all, why would a nice respectable white family want to marry into a family that had a black one?
I remember talking of careers. I was always interested in houses – still am interested. Zoopla an on-line estate agents are the best thing in the world because I get to snoop around other people’s properties, all from the comfort of my own home. Well, when I was around 14 or 15 I said I wanted to be an Estate Agent. I loved the idea of looking at people’s houses. But I was told that was gently steered away from that choice: “People might not want black people” showing people round their houses.
You must be forever grateful
I was told if I didn’t behave I’d be sent back to live in a house with lots of black people all sharing a room. Seared in my imagination is a house in the 1960s, somewhere in the City of Birmingham in the United Kingdom. And in this house there is a room. And in the room there are four, five, maybe six black people. The room is swarming with black people and they have one wash-hand basin in the room. That’s what I see. And that is what I was threatened with.
Being black meant poverty and being “less than”.
When I disclosed to my mother that her husband had sexually abused me from six years of age, I was not allowed to be upset. In fact, when I displayed upset I was admonished: “After all we’ve done for you.”
Somehow I internalised that statement as “You were a black baby no-one wanted. You were rescued by us. Your abuse is part and parcel of the rescue. Nothing could have been worse than staying with all of those black people. Abuse, surely, is small beer in comparison with the dismal, dreadful life you would have endured if we hadn’t rescued you.”
A good education will mitigate for some of your black-ness
My parents said that the only chance for me was to have a good education. If I had a good education, then that would make up for being black. To some extent. Yep – I guess I’d be a nigger with a brain. So yes, I got a good education and I take pride in my intellect. My intellect is not part of the black-me. It’s part of something else.
I became that nigger with a brain but the two have to be separated, lest the intellect be tainted.
So now, whenever I make a phone call to arrange a meeting, I have a fleeting thought “What will they think when they find out I’m black?”
I rejected black people
Yes. Looking back, it’s hardly surprising that I didn’t want anything to do with black people. I remember my confusion when I first met a lot of black people. I was sent to a hairdresser in Birmingham. I must have been around 16 years of age-it was certainly before I went away to university. Anyway, I was in the salon and the black hairdresser tugged at my hair and I squealed, probably. All the other women in the salon laughed at me. I took it as … I don’t know what. But I felt so uncomfortable with all those black people. They were “less than”. They were the people who were crowded in a one room apartment with the single wash hand basin.
The fear of an alternative narrative
Can I believe an alternative narrative? Do I want to believe an alternative narrative? Am I afraid of an alternative narrative? Of course I’d love you to wave a magic wand and I’d be a nice beautiful blond woman, slim, smiling and …. But you can’t do that. Of course I’d love to embrace an alternative narrative. Or would I? It seems to me that I fear failure. I fear what that alternative might be. I’m afraid of who I would become. I’m afraid of a journey to a destination with an alluring name. A destination called “You-are-beautiful -and-black” or “Being-black-is-you” or “You-can-chose-whatever-narrative-you-want.”
Have you ever rejected parts of your self?
Have you put the different parts of yourself back together again?
How have you learned to believe that you are not bad?
How have you overcome shame?