My life is now online because of the Covid pandemic and other accessibility challenges for me as a vaccinated Disabled person. Hence, I am exposed to a lot of conversations that I would not be able to have otherwise and the one that comes up consistently is the discussion about conventional beauty and pretty privilege and how it affects and harms people differently.
As a dark skinned woman who grew up during the times when colourism didn’t have a place in my vocabulary, let alone an understanding of how the world worked, I thought that how people treated me was because of things they imagined was wrong with me. I was treated based on my looks. I was told I look like a plain Jane and I internalized it without intent or awareness.
Now, I’m glad to an extent that the conversations I needed to have in my 20s are being had by other people in their 20s and I get to learn and heal from traumas I was unaware of.
I’m reminded about an incident in my teens with my first best friend in high school and how the world received us differently because of the enormous difference in how we looked. She might not have been aware of it however, there was a conversation we had when she met my first boyfriend, and it went like this
“Xxx, meet my boyfriend, Sthe”
Her: Nice to meet you. When Makgosi told me she had a boyfriend I thought she was joking because where would she meet boys that like her?
I stood next to her in surprise and confusion.
Him: We met at a party, and she was cool.
Her: You are so good looking, I think we would be better together.
And it was at that moment that I walked away from the conversation because it was not an insinuation anymore. It was an assured statement
I spent a day with him before he started acting strange and we had to break up. It was no surprise of course, that they got together for a while and our friendship was paused. She kept it a secret from me. They dated and when they realised they had nothing in common, they broke up. My friend and I made up. However, there was a fracture in the friendship that never healed. Life sent us different directions. I became a mother and she got to be the cool aunty and over the years we lost touch.
A few years ago, I moved to another province to be with a partner and I told him about this friend that I had. I had googled her and according to what I found, we were in the same city. I desperately wanted to reach out to her and find out if we could make a try at the friendship again, since we were now older and wiser hopefully. Then I recalled how I always ended up feeling like I couldn’t exist in her universe without being overshadowed by her, whether it was intentional or not. Feeling inadequate more often than not eventually feels like a lifetime of nonstarters and failures, even if one is doing well for themselves. And I couldn’t get myself to get over my anxieties and my insecurities.
It’s 2021 and life is different yet again. I can’t help but wonder whether things would be different if we got in touch now. The way outsiders viewed my friend and I ended up affecting how we treated each other. I think about the loss of a friendship because of colourism. I wonder how many others out there are finding themselves, grieving over friendships that were lost or died out and how in that moment it might have come across as something else. But the actions and bigotry of others cost them possibilities they will never know.
None of us want to go out into the world and receive a hostile reception. Even the worst criminals expect a hug, if not a congratulatory hand shake when they go outside. It seems that the world rewards the continued harm against dark skinned women. And it translates into how we are loved, treated, categorized into the worthy and unworthy. It all filters down to what we feel and think about ourselves, and what we subconsciously allow into our spaces because others made it seem acceptable to dehumanise us. I grieve for lost opportunities and conversations, because in those unsaid spaces there is often a hanging scent of silent accusations and complicity, mouthing to each other without saying it aloud.
“Why are you not protecting me from harm?” I whisper.
“How am I supposed to know this is harmful?” it whispers back.
Healing from all of this is not a clean cut process. Every time I meet people, I try to resist the urge to view their interest in me with suspicion. It is a constant conversation I need to have with myself and to remind myself that although the world may not think I am a good person because I don’t qualify to exist in the presence of beautiful people and things, it doesn’t mean I have to deprive myself of love and experiences that we all deserve.
With that decision in mind, I said yes to another no – not because I had to, but because I deserve to give myself a break. Who knows? I might find acceptance and friendship when I stop fighting the urge to be excluded from life happenings.
Colourism will continue to steal and destruct in other ways that might be close or far from me, but I choose to be happy despite it all because I too, deserve a happy ending.