Those words delivered by Sug Avery to Miss Celie in the “The Color Purple,” are the most recognized and quoted lines from that movie.
It’s a comedic moment in the film but it could bring painful memories for girls whose bad feelings about their skin color, hair texture and unique features kept them from ever fully blossoming into what they could have been.
I think most girls of color in this country can remember the moment we first realized that our skin tone distinguished us. A good friend of mine who grew up in the 60s remembers being told by a fellow first grader, who was also African American, that she was too black. It was something completely foreign to my friend because up until that moment, she had no reason to believe anything so ridiculous. And even though she’d come from a loving home made of people of all shades who made her feel beautiful and secure, those words changed her self perception.
For me it was comparing my features to lighter skinned cousins of mixed race. Their long hair, fair skin and petite frames influenced by their Asian heritage seemed to be the measuring stick by which some family members doled out love and affection.
I tell these stories because some people think instilling positive messages to our children at home will automatically block out the negative stuff but, sadly, that isn’t always the case.
Mainstream media cannot escape this dangling hook. In reality, peer pressure AND media images play huge roles in how children see themselves.
To counter this negativity, children of color can’t be told or taught enough how to love the skin that they’re in.
The first thing we need to do is check ourselves. So many of us have generational issues with color that we may inadvertently be sending the wrong messages to our kids. What is our tone and even our facial expression when we use descriptive words like dark skinned, light skinned, nappy hair, good hair, pretty, ugly, etc.?
The next thing we can do is give our girls exposure to positive people who look like them. It seems so basic yet is crucial to improving their self-image, and ours too.
Saturday is “International Pretty Brown Girl Day,” a global celebration of girls of color. The sooner we can have an impact on a girl’s life, the better chance of her rising to her full potential without the shackles of low self-esteem and self-doubt.
One of the goals of Pretty Brown Girl is to rejoice in our cultural diversity and that happens through education, encouragement and edification.
The lesson is that beauty comes in every shade but mostly from within. We aren’t tearing down those who look different than us, but simply building up those who may not yet recognize their true gifts.
If you’d like to get involved, it’s not too late for your participation. To find out what you can to do inspire one girl or a group of girls go to prettybrowngirl.com.