Consider the implications of your ‘compliments’

As a white woman, it is clear that I am unable to understand certain perspectives. However, having grown up as a daughter of the only white family in a black church for a large portion of my life, I have a better understanding of my friends around me.

Inevitably, there are still times I find that as much as I’ve been immersed in black culture, I cannot relate on every level to my peers. For example, I’ve heard the phrase “pretty for a black girl” circulate, but had not personally heard of someone actually saying it until one of my best friends recently told me she’s heard it multiple times. She was once told, “You are normally the prettiest black girl in the building.” Of course, all she could wonder was why she was being exclusively compared to black women, rather than being compared to all women in general, or being held up as her own person apart from comparisons at all?

Not only has this been said to her, but she also remembers being in high school and hearing girls say similar things about black guys — things like, “Oh, he’s actually kinda cute,” or “He’s attractive for a black guy.”

The reason my friend and I began talking about this was due to a shirt she showed me. The shirt was yellow (the color she pulls off best, I might add) and read, “Not pretty for a black girl, pretty period.” She said she would be comfortable wearing it around black people to different events, but would not be brave enough to wear it to class. She then said, “I’m not one to intentionally agitate people.” This made me sad because my friend shouldn’t have to stir up any outrage by wearing something that makes a true statement and takes a stand against hurtful words she’s experienced.

I began to think that if white people have not heard stories such as the one of my friend being called “pretty for a black girl,” it only makes sense that such a bold statement would cause confusion and possibly some anger. I want readers to understand this is real: A black girl might not be wearing such a shirt to agitate anyone, but as a statement of personal experience.

Those that see nothing wrong with such derogatory comments should stop and think: If this situation was turned on me, how would I respond? If you feel that you would be confused as to why such a comment was made, chances are the person you think you are paying a compliment to will also feel the same way.

It is more than a defense against hateful comments. It is about self-love.

It is easier to evoke self-love when a supportive community is showing love. If a black girl hears that she is pretty for someone of her skin tone multiple times throughout her childhood, how is she supposed to paint another image other than the one she has been shown?

She may know how to paint from the years spent watching, but she may not know what to paint.

Not only do wounding words come from someone of a different ethnic background. Pain can be inflicted between those of the same race, as a result of hate from other races. If a majority of people think a certain skin tone is more desirable, then those that do not fall within the partial spectrum will be seen as less than. All that are affected will be influenced by this way of thinking, especially if it works in their favor.

This should speak to all, no matter your genetic makeup. In the end, it is not a “black and white” issue. It is about providing one another with the tools to help us succeed. This cannot reach its full potential until we all have a mindset of love, which comes from understanding.