Natural Hair & Words That Hurt: When Colorism Strikes Our Kids

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1Photo: Courtesy of MyBrownBaby.
Denene Millner, founder of My Brown Baby, is dedicated to lifting the voices of every mom & dad, no matter if you're looking for parenting advice or just a high-five. MyBrownBaby offers a district perspective that's wickedly funny, often irreverent, and always thought-provoking — all filtered through a smart, colorful lens. This post was authored by Jeanine DeHoney.

It was innocent enough: My daughter sent this picture of her adorable 3-year-old baby girl to a popular natural haircare website, excited to share the chocolatey goodness of a lovely African American girl with natural hair. But, what was meant to be a celebration of my granddaughter’s beauty ended up being a reflection of poisonous colorism heaps on our community, down to our babies.

Witness some of the hateful comments readers littered the comments with: “The is not very pretty to keep it honest. The hair is to [sic] nappy and the style not that flattering… I hope that she gets a perm it would improve the texture of her hair,” one wrote. “Really? Cute? Not so much! Put a pretty little light skin [sic] child on the site showing her hair.”

Those were the more tame comments. My granddaughter’s parents, watching the drama unfold, got so disgusted and saddened by the nasty words directed at their daughter that, finally, her father responded with a comment of his own — one that, incredibly, had to remind a bunch of grown black women that they were talking about a little child.

“What is this world coming to? I am this child’s father. And, now with all this negative comments, I have to explain to her siblings why people in the world today speak negative of a three-year-old. Crazy. We’ve got so much going on in this world. Now as a father I have to raise this child and continue to let her know she is and always will be a beautiful African American child and one day a beautiful black woman. And, to not feed into negative comments from her elder sisterhood. You all should be ashamed. I kept my mouth shut and sat back and listened to all of this. I just couldn’t sit anymore. Oh, and by the way, keep in mind my little girl will want to see her picture again. Because she feels she is famous for being on a website. And, guess what she will see: hate from grown women. I will pray for you all. May God bless you all…I thought this was a site to uplift African American beauties for being queens and princesses. Everybody needs to stop and look in the mirror. We all bleed blue as a human race and as sisters and brothers we are one: Dark-skinned, light-skinned, we are all kings and queens and princesses and princes so let’s start acting like that.”

To say we were taken aback by the evil comments about my granddaughter’s twist out, funky zebra headband, matching zebra shirt, and skin color would be a gross understatement. I would have thought that by now, our shared history would have taught us the importance of watching the way we talk to one another. To do better.

It saddens me more than it troubles me, the ways of some black folks. I remember feeling the same way when they talked about Olympic gold medalist Gabby Douglas. She made history and people were still focused on her hair. I don’t need strangers to tell me how beautiful Kylie, or my other brown girls and brown young men — my grandchildren — are. Unfortunately, as a writer I know whenever you share anything with a wider audience, be it a picture or a blog post, you take the chance of getting derogatory comments in response. The fact that people have a platform, as they should in a free society, means that you are bound to read something that makes your skin crawl.

Although the affirmative comments Kylie received far outnumbered the negative, I wonder why some of our sisters still can’t shake that hair/color complex that weaves a hurtful, tangled web through our history. The acidic words they spew about not being pretty enough, light enough, or having so-called “good hair” have caused too many brown girls to walk with their heads held low instead of high to the heavens.

Growing up, I was one of those brown girls who sometimes bumped into people because my head was down. I had heard those wounding words and they scarred me. It took years and a bushel of self-work: journaling, praying, and being encircled by a group of brown girl friends who were confident and knew they had it going on, to reach that place of walking with my head held high. It was also then I became a keeper of all little brown girls. I wanted to do my part to give them a more resilient cloak than I had at that age. I purposely sought out those who were chocolate drops and would say, “You are so beautiful.” And, I prayed as they grew, other women and men would offer them a word, a song, a poem, a story that would remind them of their shine.

This experience with my granddaughter has made me even more determined to use my words to offset this longstanding self-hate of our skin and hair. It is time to stop — yes, point blank stop! — this nonsense. We’ve made some strides but it is not enough. Start in your own home if you haven’t already by putting up affirmations that speak of the beauty of our race, then try to get another sister or brother to do the same. Don’t let offensive brown girl comments slide, or back away from a conversation about our complexes about our skin color and our hair. It may be painful to hear, but that is the only way we will begin to heal, if we have those painful conversations.

And, let the elders have their say to your child. They have a way with words —“Girl, you sure are a pretty child!” — and that love will wrap around them like a patchwork quilt and keep them buoyant. I truly believe that words, both written and spoken have the awesome ability to bring about change.

RELATED: A Black Father Talks Stereotyping With His Son

It is evening. I watch my granddaughter play with her Lalaloopsy doll Princess Anise, and sing in all her beautiful black three-year-old-ness, her hair dancing with beads this time. She has no idea of the war of words that has taken place about her. How her family and friends and even strangers were raising hell because a few people thought it was okay to attack an innocent little girl.

One day she will leave the safety of our nest and we will not be able to protect her from the mean spirits of others. I am confident though that Kylie will press her shoulders back and lift her head up high and show the world what her mama, daddy, grandma, poppop, uncle and aunties bequeathed her: assurance in who she was and is from the inside out as a brown girl.

And that will be that.
Denene Millner, founder of My Brown Baby, is dedicated to lifting the voices of every mom & dad, no matter if you're looking for parenting advice or just a high-five. MyBrownBaby offers a district perspective that's wickedly funny, often irreverent, and always thought-provoking — all filtered through a smart, colorful lens.