Originally published March 19, 2014.
Growing up, I was a beauty pageant brat. I knew I was beautiful because the judges and trophies I won told me I was. A lot of people are quick to judge and ask parents how they could put their child through long days like that, but I loved it. I loved every minute of it. I think it’s where I got my competitive spirit from. I wanted to win, I needed to win. So, during my childhood I never even questioned if my skin color was beautiful, or if it meant that I was worthy of winning a beauty pageant or becoming famous or anything like that. My skin color was not a problem.
It wasn’t until I got to college that I started to question whether or not I really was beautiful, whether black women in general were beautiful. In fact, I didn’t just wonder if I was beautiful enough for society’s standards, I wondered if I was strong enough, and smart enough to rise above the majority in anything I did.
Being black seemed toxic.
When I’d apply for jobs and go in for the interview, managers would try to hold back the shocked looks on their faces. As if a black woman couldn’t be named Brittany and have a phone conversation without “sounding black,” insinuating that my qualifications were no longer valid because of my skin color. I hate it. I’m followed around in stores, ignored by classmates, and overlooked by guys saying, “I’m not really into your kind,” as if we’re all the same (spoiler alert: we’re not).
It’s funny because with all of that mistreatment, people from outside the black community still question why we need programs like Black Girls Rock, why Lupita Nyong’o winning an Oscar in 2013 was such a big deal for black women from all over the world. It’s because we aren’t supported. We can’t get upset or loud without being called ghetto, we can’t simply work hard to earn our 4.0, we must have cheated. Because even when one of us gives the performance of our life in a movie that brought in over $140 million, twitter still explodes with tweets about how Jennifer Lawrence should have won and the editors at People magazine give Matthew McConaughey the post Oscars cover and Nyong’o a tiny sidebar.
According to the Pew Research Center, black women are enrolling in college at a higher rate than any other race or gender, oh and this might come as a surprise, we’re graduating. We’re becoming doctors and lawyers and journalists and actresses and we still aren’t seeing the respect we deserve. We’re typecast as the girl that sleeps around, the girl that has a baby out of wedlock and can’t pay the rent as if we’re the only ones. As if black women in those situations can’t bounce back and turn it around. I’m sick of it.
My skin color is not a problem that needs to be corrected with lightening creams; it’s not something that fits into one of the three shades offered in the makeup aisle for dark skin. My hair is not something that needs to be tamed by a hot comb or covered by a wig. I don’t “speak well for a black girl,” and I’m not “cute for a black girl,” either.
We are strong, beautiful, smart women and I don’t say that to say that other women aren’t, I say it because we need to hear it, we deserve to hear it.
Got a black woman in your life who needs to hear this right now? Share it with her! The post originally appeared on Thought Catalog.