Wannabes vs. Jigaboos: It’s not just a black thing!

Title Reference: Terms used to describe the light-skinned vs. dark-skinned characters in Spike Lee’s 1988 film School Daze (a film that explored intra-racism on a college campus).

Today I was reminded that it is important to read and become acquainted with other cultures. Doing so reminds us that we, mankind, share many of the same insecurities and issues. This was evident when reading Annie Khan’s article in the November 2012 issue of Marie Claire. Her piece Fair and Lovely, documents her journey growing up in Pakistan harboring insecurities about her darker skin to the point of trying a skin lightening cream and later modeling for that same product. While reading her piece, I was shaking my head, my own memories of growing up black in rural-suburban Maryland flooding my brain. I always attended private predominately white schools and so, being young and ignorant (in the dictionary sense of the word), I often wished to be white or light-skinned with curly hair. I shunned my nappy hair and burnt sienna coloring.

Like Khan’s parents, mine thought I looked just fine and did not perpetuate stereotypes; however I would venture to guess I was impacted by what I was seeing in magazines and music videos. During the late 80s and early 90s of my formative years, light-skinned and curly-haired were the primary black ‘reflection’ the entertainment industry allowed.  Everything I saw around me in my daily life outside my home fed into whatever insecurities I already had. It took years for me to celebrate my unique color bequeathed me by my ancestors.

In college I finally met other black girls like me who were accused of ‘acting white’ because they didn’t split verbs, liked alternative and rock music, and had white friends. Now I know that didn’t make me any less black, but back then local black youth quite enjoyed highlighting my shortcomings at fitting in with ‘my people’. That’s why Toure’s 2012 book Who’s Afraid of Post-Blackness?   was so intriguing to me. Toure discussed what it actually means to be black and if there is a definition of blackness. He leaves it up to the reader to answer the question but one could venture to say there is no one definition.

Thankfully I have since embraced my heritage as well as my color. Khan’s article is a visceral reminder of my insecure youth and struggles to accept myself; I’m so far removed from my former self-hatred that I rarely dip into this well of memories. Thank you Khan for sharing your story!

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