It was always hard for Girls Write Now teen Rachel Aghanwa to write about her race but then an ad she saw while traveling in Nigeria made her realize she should see herself as a blessing, instead of a curse.
NEW YORK (WOMENSENEWS) — “Black is just a color,” I’ve heard people say.
Technically, they’re wrong. Black is the presence of ALL colors. But black is deeper than “just a color.”
Black is my roots, the vines of my family tree twisting their way across the Atlantic Ocean on a straight path to the motherland. Black is my complexion, the skin tone stretching over the canvas of my body, encasing every crevice on the surface. Black is beautiful, and black is what makes me, me.
But as a child, black was a curse.
Black meant I wasn’t as pretty as the other girls in my class. Black meant chemically damaging my hair since the age of 5 just to get that pin straight perfection of the girls with an ivory complexion. Black was the crayon I never used in my 64-pack crayon box because my friends always said to me how dark and ugly it was.
And to my current disappointment, I thought black meant failure.
Black was also the color of the television screen when you lost a video game, and in big white letters, it would say “you lose” or “game over” depending on what game I decided to play.
I went through a period of self-hatred, beating myself up, trying to fix myself even though I was nowhere near broken. I would straighten my hair constantly, burning it to the root, just to be “pretty enough.” I would cry endlessly when girls of all colors used to berate me because I wasn’t light enough or I was “too African to actually be considered black.”
It took me a while of self-inflicted mental torture to realize that being black was not hindering me, but actually propelling me.
When I visited Nigeria with my mother and my brother, I remember driving past a billboard that read: “Black is not a color, but is actually an attitude.”
That was the day I realized, why should I hate myself over something I have no control over? Why should I see what I am as a curse instead of a blessing?
After I finally came to terms with myself, I looked around and realized that my story was a sad one told twice over. There are many other girls with my skin color that went and are still going through this disheartening journey I struggled through as a child.
But my mission now is to release all the black girls from the shackles society has weighed them down with, and to bring them to finally see how beautiful they are.
Black is beautiful, and black is me.
This story is part of Teen Voices at Women’s eNews. In 2013 Women’s eNews retained the 25-year-old magazine Teen Voices to continue and further its mission to improve the world for female teens through media. Teen Voices at Women’s eNews provides online stories and commentary about issues directly affecting female teens around the world, serving as an outlet for young women to share their experiences and views.
Rachel Aghanwa, a student at Queens Gateway Health Science Secondary School, has been a Girls Write Now mentee for one year alongside her mentor Sara Polsky. This piece originally appeared in “Voice to Voice: Girls Write Now’s 2015 Anthology.”
Teen Voices at Women’s eNews, Girls Write Now