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Is Raising Your Child In An All Black Environment Dangerous to His or Her Self Esteem?

July 10, 2012

I hope that the answer is no.  But I would be dishonest if I did not acknowledge the fact that many black people have experienced more ridicule surrounding their skin, hair and features from other black people than from people of other races.  This “internalized racism” is horrifying.  I was reminded of this issue after I read these paragraphs in the beautiful and very talented Issa Rae’s essay “How I Learned to Love My Hair”.

“I love my hair. It took me a while, but I do. Growing up in Potomac, Md., among an ethnically diverse group of friends was great for my self esteem. I was celebrated for being different; for having superhero hair that defied gravity and recoiled with lightning speed elasticity. My hair texture was the subject of awe, confusion and probably envy. I loved it.

Until I moved to L.A.

Moving from a predominantly white school to a predominantly black school in L.A for Junior High was already a traumatizing experience in and of itself, but nobody prepared me for the “hair hierarchy.”

If you don’t understand how it works, the hair hierarchy rates your self worth by length and texture of hair. The longer, silkier and European your hair, the higher your self worth. The shorter, kinkier and African your hair? Go die.

I was taught this hierarchy by a group of girls in middle school who would taunt me for many reasons, none of which excluded my hair. This was in the mid-90s, when weaves were still the butt of jokes in the black community and braids with the burnt ends were JUST going out of style. Nothing could have prepared me for the hate and ridicule I’d receive for wearing my hair in its natural state.”

I can relate.  When I switched from a very mixed parochial school in Brooklyn to an all-black public school in Queens I was shocked by the the taunts and teases of “black and crispy”, “nappy headed”, “African booty scratcher” and other terminology that was being spewed at me  by children who did not look much different from me.   No white, Asian, Hispanic or black child had ever teased me about my appearance or ethnicity at my prior school.  I really pray for collective healing with respect to these issues.  I understand the depth of internalized racism and its causes, but that does not do much to lessen the sting of its impact.  Love is Enough to heal such wounds.


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