The earlier years were really the years that I struggled most with accepting who I was. I remember the struggle of not being happy with the person that I was on the outside. I remember wanting to try to hide a big part of who I was…I wanted to hide being black.
I was homeschooled 1st-7th grade (my mom was a stay-at-home mom and she was mines and my sisters’ teacher). I liked being homeschooled.
It had its pros (flexibility, one-on-one learning, advanced curriculum, easy field trips, staying in pajamas all day, being with my mom and sisters) and cons (being at home all day, not being in group settings as often…I really can’t think of that many other cons honestly) but being homeschooled was not really a “black thing.”
What I mean by that is you rarely hear of kids being homeschooled as it is – and its even more rare to hear of black kids being homeschooled.
When I got older 5-6th grade, I would attend the events for homeschooled kids in my area – there were rarely any kids that looked like me…like, almost never. I was one of like, 3 black kids in the choir I was in (mind you, this choir had over 150 students and was a well known homeschooled choir in the Houston area). I was also the only black girl in my gymnastics class, and I was usually the only black girl in my classes that I would take outside of the home a couple times a week.
I remember when it was group picture day. I was feeling awkward when I would look around. I was surrounded by people that did not look like me at all. When you’re the only person of your race in a group, you just notice it. I’m sure that most would agree…you just stand out. When the photos came back, to say I stood out would be an understatement. Eyes were automatically drawn to the middle of the picture.
That is where I was – the one black girl, right there in the middle – and everyone who saw the picture would be sure to point that out…as if I did not notice. I would hear things like, “Oh, Valaencia! There you are! It was easy to find you!” Ya’ think? I even remember someone saying, “You look like a spec of pepper in the salt.”
This isn’t the pic I am referring to above, but here is an example from another group pic:
Do not get me wrong, I have always been friendly and able to talk to anyone and people would be friendly right back. But when it came down to it…we just did not have much in common a lot of the time. I felt like, we were friendly but we were not friends. I did not really fit into the conversations naturally. I was included in the big group but not the subgroups. Self consciousness and insecurity grew inside me, simply because of the lack of representation around me.
When the other girls would be getting ready for choir competitions and everyone would be in the mirror doing makeup and flat ironing their hair,
I would just sit there. I was not allowed to wear makeup – and even if I wanted to try and sneak and wear a little of theirs, it would never work out because the colors did not match me.
My hair was usually in braids or a style that had already been done the night before. Like, a ponytail slicked down with brown gel and a sock bun on top. So, no borrowing hair straighteners for me. I would usually just be ignored or I would try to force my way into their conversations. Fading into the background.
Sometimes, I would feel isolated. But only I knew it. I tried my best to not let anyone know how I was feeling. I did not let my parents know and I surely did not let the people around me know. I was not even fully aware of why I felt the way I did in the first place. After all, “color does not matter,” right? How dare I feel uncomfortable about being black. I just felt like I would “fit in” more if I were more white or light skinned.
I just tried my best to let my personality overshadow, but the elephant was still in the room. All I wanted was to not feel like the first thing people noticed about me was my darker skin. But, they did. They would ask me if I listened to rap music, and they would assume that I could dance. Which I did listen to rap, and I could dance. But, they only assumed it cause I was black. I hated that. Because I also knew Backstreet Boys, Brittany Spears, and even Ashlee Simpson, like they did – but nobody ever asked me.
I did not realize it back then but the lack of representation and feelings of INCLUSION had a huge effect on my self esteem. I felt awkward for being black. Not only black but dark skinned. Not only dark skinned but SHORT HAIR. At an age where you are starting to be hyper aware of being pretty…I felt the ugliest. I felt the ugliest because I was different. I felt ugly because none of the white boys had a crush on me like they did the other girls. I felt ugly because I thought the white girls girls were all so pretty with their long hair (which they were, they were very pretty) but, the problem was, I did not know that I was pretty too.
I was beautiful. I was black and I was beautiful too. I wish I knew that back then.
Once I started attending public school I was surrounded by diversity. It was a turning point. I finally had friends of all races and colors- including mines, so I didn’t feel so self conscious. That was refreshing for me. For the first time in school I was able to be myself without feeling like I needed to, “not be so black and fit in.”
I realized that God made me a black girl – and that He did not make any mistakes when He made me dark skinned. He eventually taught me (way later in life) that my hair is not a mistake either – my fro was on purpose.
We are all so beautiful and different in this world. And children need to know that their differences do not make them less than. All of the things that I hated about myself as a little girl are the things I love about myself as a grown woman. Representation played a huge role in that. Now, I have no problem standing out.
My past is a huge reason why I am so proud of the woman I am today. When I gave my life over to God at the young age of 14 – He really saved me. He saved my soul and my self esteem. Once I started to realize how much God loved me and once His love became real in my life, He started to expose to me how much I needed to love his creation, ME…and all of the many reasons why. He showed me how wrong I was about all of it before.
Of course I am much more than the physical attributes that make me who I am. However, those attributes are apart of me and still the first thing noticed when I’m not in a diverse setting. I have learned to be proud of my features and encourage others to be proud too.
God made no mistakes when He made you. Be proud and be positive. Be you! Do not hide you from the world. The world needs you. After all, you were born to stand out.