Detecting Symptoms of Self-Hate
In a bedroom or dressing room near you is standing a sista burdened by a battle with the woman in the mirror. She’s wondering why the women she sees on glossy magazine covers mock her with their flawless features, unaware that they’re merely of figment of PhotoShop’s imagination. She’s wishing her waist was smaller, her breasts were bigger and that her hair swept across the crevice of an ample behind. She may even be cursing her skin color and feeling like it’s to blame for a majority of her misfortunes.
Before you throw those stones or run for the soapbox, consider this: Can you blame her? Think about where you received messages about positive body image or racial identity. It probably wasn’t from a monthly subscription or “must-see” TV. Growing up in the 80s, I remember the option of being able to turn to several stations and see African-Americans of all different backgrounds and personalities. “A Different World” brought viewers inside the center of a literal black student union filled with characters navigating their way through love and life choices and academics and professional careers. “The Cosby Show” focused on a family that actually talked and found creative solutions to their problems, of which the most serious was probably drug use. “Living Single” showed the ups and downs of four variously beautiful black women who had their share of disagreements, but for the most part shared a profound friendship. Most importantly, shows like these served as a forum for African-Americans to look at a television screen and say proudly, “He/she looks like me.” I don’t think your present regularly scheduled programming is to blame entirely for the lack of racial identity or self-esteem within some members our culture, but I do believe it plays a part. And the truth is that there’s a severe shortage of positive black presence within the media. Is the type of programming that’s presently available a direct reflection of the culture we live in or just what Hollywood wants us to believe?
Who taught you how to be beautiful or what “beautiful” even was? I was lucky to have a strong independent woman for a mother, who emphasized that beauty begins on the inside. She also taught me that it was important to stay physically AND emotionally healthy. So even when she finally permed my hair after a 12-year-old version of myself staged a rebellion against the hot comb and even when I sneaked in an arsenal of cosmetics, one mascara at a time, she always maintained that beauty wasn’t bought in a box and that my brown sugar complexion was a guaranteed VIP pass into the land of the beautiful people.
But I worry about the little girls who don’t have a mom like mine, or even a sister, aunt or grand mom to teach them that vital life lesson. Those little girls risk falling victim to implicit messages in society that “white is right”. I’m not necessarily concerned for the girls who feel the fiercest after some Malaysian hair is sewn to their own, but the ones who skipped on the rent this month in order to purchase it. I’m worried about the ones who will completely dismiss a Tyler Perry movie based on assumptions of its content, but will make an event out of seeing Sex in the City. It’s not because I dislike Carrie Bradshaw or walk around with an afro and pumped-up black power fist, but because of how important I think it is to find the beauty in ALL things.
Ethnic self-hatred is defined as an extreme dislike or anger towards oneself based on the ethnic group to which one belongs. We all have stereotypes that we refer to and things we don’t necessarily approve of that occur within our own culture, but instead of making an attempt to rectify those things in whatever ways we can, some completely abandon their culture and fail to embrace its character. Sometimes we all fall prey to false assumptions. How many times have you heard a woman completely ignore the brother delivering a package because he “obviously has two baby mama’s and sells drugs on the side.” Can’t you tell by his chocolate skin tone and confident b-boy swagger? What they aren’t aware of is that the only thing that delivery man is fathering are night classes at the local university. If he does have kids or a less-than-perfect past does that determine his ability to be a loving partner? Oh, and let’s not forget the girl who is quick to correct you that her hair does not come courtesy of the avenue beauty supply, but from her great-great-great-Cherokee grandmother’s first cousin’s nephew. Taking pride in who you are requires an actual knowledge or want for knowledge of self; the problem is many who make judgments about our culture aren’t completely aware of the true diversity of its nature. Somewhere along the way it’s possible they’ve associated negative experiences in their own upbringing with the culture as a whole. Maybe they even felt rejected by their own culture based on the narrow standards and expectations of individuals. Growing up I remember peers telling me that I “sounded white” and even now comes the occasional comment that much of the success I’ve achieved in my chosen field is due to a quota that needed to be filled and not a reflection of my hard work and intelligence. Even then I don’t view those instances as reasons to disown my culture, but rather as opportunities for education and enrichment.
As a black woman, I can totally relate to the reflex of second guessing a variety of situations. Questioning if you really didn’t get that position because of a lack of experience, or an excess of melanin. What about the urge you feel to slap your man sideways when he comments on how “beautiful” all of the Brazilian women are in Snoop Dogg’s video of the same name. While that feeling of suspicion is completely natural, it becomes dangerous when it starts to take possession of your self-esteem. And there’s no better defense against self-doubt than the knowledge that you are beautiful because you are a black woman, not despite it.
The African-American culture has transformed, endured, persevered, and re-defined itself. In that mutability and diversity lies pure, unadulterated beauty. Symptoms of self-hate may attempt to invade and weaken our united spirit, and many will fall ill with the sickness of assumption, self-pity and uncertainty. But with that onset of affliction are the resources of strength, compassion, understanding and empathy to help distance ourselves from the disease and not one another.
Toya Sharee is a community health educator who blogs about everything from beauty to love and relationships. Follow her on Twitter @TheTrueTSharee.