Finding Joy Inside Your Skin
By Praise Okoli, Age 16
Cami had achieved her goal. She wore her hair big and natural on her head.
At this point, she felt like nothing was stopping her. She went to the lunchroom to find her friend group. This was a different group of friends, however, because her other friends were not supportive of her decision with her hair. They would say "Cute!" and "Omg so pretty!" to her face, but Cami had caught them saying something entirely different behind her back. She ended up finding new friends in her BSU group, and she loved every bit of the adventures that they had with each other.
But one particular day, Cami went to sit with her friends, and they were talking about boys (rather, light skin vs dark skin.) Half of her group said they liked light skins better.
"They are just more attractive. Dark skin guys are too dark for me. Plus, if we get married, we'll have the cutest babies."
In a way, this was sorta true. The dark skinned guys at their school tended to be less social when it came to talking to girls. They all knew that they weren't liked by anyone, so they were bitter, and it showed in the way that they communicated not only with girls, but their friends and staff on campus.
The other half of the group said they preferred dark skin. "Light-skins are always trouble, plus I wanna be with someone who is as dark as me, so I don't feel as insecure." This was not necessarily false, because some of the light skin guys at their school were well-known troublemakers. They would goof off in class, run around flirting with different girls, and were a menace to a lot of the girls at school. Many girls thought that they were cute, so they got away with it.
One of the girls in her friend group said she preferred neither.
"Black guys are just trouble, I'm into white guys more, especially blondes."
When Cami sat down, they asked her what she thought. "Who do you prefer, light-skins or dark-skins?"
“I don't really have a preference,’ she thought, “but I don't wanna look weird in front of them.”
"I guess I prefer light-skins. Only because I'm light skinned, and I want to keep it consistent, you know?"
Half of her friend group cheered, while the other half gave her the death stare. Cami felt very awkward for the rest of lunch, while her friends talked about other things.
Conversations like this were very common. Girls would judge boys from lightest to darkest, and boys would do the same. Everyone thought that it was normal. “Light-skins” were generally considered more good looking. They were seen as "closer to white."
In Cami's Nigerian culture. Women and men alike would bleach their skin just to be light. Bleaching cream companies earned millions every year from their diligent customers. Everyone would say so. Aunties would gather and recommend their favorite brands, then proceed to brag about their children who are light skinned and are the most "beautiful." Uncles would always pick on the light skinned girls to come run errands. They would call them "beautiful" or "princess" more than any of the other girls who were darker. The boys would always call the darker girls "ghetto" and "ratchet" and countless other names. There was so much division at their school that even the kids of other races knew.
Cami's family had a similar dynamic. While her parents were on the tolerant side, they genuinely believed that Cami was the prettiest one among her three sisters, only because she was light skinned. Her parents would say things like "Boys would be all over you, Cami” They weren't.
"You will have the easiest time getting married because you won't have to worry about boys liking you."
This got Cami to thinking. Why does it have to be like this? Who said the only thing that made people pretty was their skin color? Why do we have to continue to divide ourselves based on something so flimsy?
That's when Cami went to work. This goal was a little different from the hair problem, simply because it was amongst her people, and it didn't end at her school. She started by changing herself. She changed the way she thought of her dark skinned sisters and decided to make it known. Whenever she saw a dark skinned girl walking down the halls, she made it a point to compliment them on something, no matter what it was. It truly wasn't hard for her when she started because most of the dark skinned girls would dress in the most gorgeous dresses, shirts, and shoes, just to be noticed by someone.
One time, Cami saw a girl from her friend group who she wasn't very close to. She was wearing a yellow top with beautiful gold hoops. "Those are beautiful hoops you have on," Cami said, "and that top is so cute!"
The girl smiled. "Thank you," she said softly. They walked past each other.
Cami was with her friend, Kevin, when the interaction happened. He looked at her. "Do you really think she's that pretty?" he asked.
"Yes of course," Cami answered. "Why, don’t you think she's pretty?"
"I mean, she's ok…"
"Ok? Every outfit she wears to school is super coordinated and stylish. How can you say she's not?"
"Well, I mean she would be prettier if…"
Cami stopped. She turned to Kevin and asked, "If what?"
Kevin was silent. He didn't realize that what he said hurt Cami's feelings. He turned and awkwardly walked away.
Cami couldn't believe it. He was going to say, "If she was light skinned" wasn't he? She decided to keep walking. She now knew that she could not stop, not until attitudes were changed. She continued back to class.
Cami continued to execute her plan for the remainder of the school year. She kept complimenting the darker girls, confronting the boys who would say otherwise and looking at herself and how she viewed dark skinned girls. She had the advantage in this situation, but it had a toll on her attitude. She grew up feeling "better than" or "more important" than the average girl because everyone told her so. While it lifted her self esteem, her pride was through the roof, and it took major changes in her life to get her to come down a few notches.
She introduced her complimenting idea to her BSU group. Most of them shrugged at the idea, the boys laughed. After a month, they were more open to the idea. They started to follow Cami, complimenting every girl they saw in the halls, especially dark skinned girls. Cami didn't hear boys saying "She's too dark for me" or things like that nearly as much as they used to. There were even a few boys who would correct their friends who still said so.
She realized this when she was hanging out with Kevin's group. One of his friends mentioned a girl that he liked. "She's super funny and all," he said, "but she's dark skinned, and I prefer light skinned girls."
Kevin looked his friend up and down.
"You telling me that the only thing keeping you from this girl is the color of her skin?"
His friend was silent. Cami was equally shocked. Just a few months ago, Kevin was saying the same thing back to her. His change of heart uplifted her and pushed her to continue the changes she was making.