By DENENE MILLNER
It was a playground ditty as melodic as Miss Mary Mack, but much more ugly—menacing, even:
If you’re white, you’re all right
If you’re brown, stick around
If you’re black get back…
The message, which, sadly, was promoted and reinforced by my African American friends and family members, was clear: Little girls who looked like me, with my dark skin and my short, kinky hair, needed to play the rear—to acknowledge and embrace the universal truth that no one with my features should expect to be seen, heard, or, by God, think she was cute. I spent a lifetime getting “back”—receding and retreating and hiding, all the while feeling ashamed that my skin couldn’t be lighter and my hair couldn’t be longer and straighter. That I couldn’t look more white to be more “right.”
It took me a long time to step forward—to face myself in the mirror and actually embrace me. Dark skin, kinky hair, thick lips, black girl hips and thighs and booty. All of me. Indeed, it was my guy friend—a true friend, not a love interest—who coaxed me out of my shell. “Look at you!” he demanded, holding a mirror up to my face. “You are beautiful, Denene. I can see it; why can’t you?”
Today, with a few more years under my belt, a lot more confidence, and a specific mission to make sure my two chocolate girl pies don’t ever feel ashamed of that which God gave them, I can look in the mirror and really appreciate what I see. Shoot—a touch of mascara, a little lip gloss, and a cute shoe is all I need to strut like I’m a supermodel on the grandest of catwalks. And walking right next to me are my two beautiful little girls—both of them chocolatey and all natural and still, thankfully, oblivious to the “black get back” madness that haunted me for way too many years to count.
Still, I feel the need to do damage control whenever my daughters flip absentmindedly through my magazines or stumble across a questionable music video or even see a simple TV commercial featuring black girls, because it’s all-too-clear that the “white is right” ditty is still very much ingrained in the mindset of the editors, producers, and ad agencies. Don’t get me wrong: I think we’ve come a long way when we can turn on the TV and see African Americans in ads for popular products, stores, and services. But I kinda take it personal when practically every black female—both child and adult—in videos, commercials, and ads has brownish-blonde curly hair or long hair that stretches well past their shoulders, light skin, and hazel eyes, European features that make them look more “other” than black. It’s not exactly screaming “black get back,” but to me and mine, it certainly whispers, “closer to white is preferred.”
Read the rest of this blog post, HOW ABOUT A TRUE MEDIA MIRROR, exclusively at DOVE.COM.