Love Every Part of Yourself.
When I was 9 years old, my brother and I were adopted into a white, conservative family. We grew up in a predominantly white town meaning I was 1 of 5 Black kids in the entire school.
Racism was not a stranger in these small towns. My brother and I loved to play outside. Often he would take me to the backyard and teach me how to play baseball. I was just happy to be there with him. One day while running around in the backyard, a truck drove by our house and slowed down: I don’t remember much of what happened, just the string of nasty slurs that was screamed at us by a group of men. Words that I never forgot but knew the depth of. I couldn't understand what we had done to be hated so much by people we didn’t know. All they saw was a little black boy and girl and decided we were everything they hated.
Why were we a target?
Not too long after this, while at school, my classmates were taunting this boy who had a crush on me. Of course, he was embarrassed. But I felt beautiful. I looked nothing like my classmates. I had curly, knotted hair, brown skin, and dark eyes. I didn’t fit their standards. My hair wasn’t long and silky. I didn’t look anything like the princesses and “good people” on the shows and movies we grew up watching. But he liked me.
His next words forever resonated with me: “I would never like someone with gross dark skin like hers.” I broke down crying. Why was my skin gross? Why was it a bad thing it was dark? Does that make me less beautiful?
I asked myself these questions for years. While being chased in Walmart by a group of teenagers yelling “I kill Black people.”
What about me made them hate me so much?
These incidents never stopped. I would come home in tears wishing I could be more like them. My Mom waved it off. Said to not be so sensitive. It’s just a “word” Saqua. You don’t need to get offended all the time.
When I’d watch the news, seeing other Black folks being taunted, hated, and going through what I was going through, and so much more, I was told it was their fault. And I believed it. I thought I needed to change. So I changed myself until I was unrecognizable. I lived for approval from people who never deserved me.
As the news got worse, I got worse.
What if the next headline was one of my brother's names? What if I had been alone at that Walmart, would I have been next? It broke me. It wasn’t until I moved schools I finally became who I wanted to be. The people I surrounded myself with changed everything for me. They uplifted me and protected me. I felt free. I learned I was beautiful the way I was. My curls weren’t unprofessional or nappy. They were perfect for me. My skin wasn’t gross or too dark, it complimented my features in the best way. My nose was never too big, my voice wasn’t too loud. I wasn’t angry and obnoxious when I stood up for myself or was passionate about something. I was me.
Beautiful and Black and that is nothing to be ashamed of. Ever.
I always knew I wouldn’t be automatically accepted everywhere I went. Not everyone would acknowledge I am Black and also more than that. I am more than what I go through. I went from job to job, praying I wouldn’t have to face micro-aggressions and stereotypes.
When I finally got a job at Raygun, I felt seen. I could wear my hair however I want. Talk the way I like. And now I have a voice. A voice I barely got the chance to use without being shut down.
I wish I could go back and tell little me I was perfect the way I was and screw anyone who thought otherwise.
But I can’t.
Without that strong, resilient little girl I couldn’t have gotten where I am today. I will never stop telling any little Black boy or girl that you are so precious in all your beauty.
Your hair and skin have millions of proud, strong ancestors behind it. All who fought for you to be able to freely express and love yourself. Fought for you to be able to be WHOEVER you want to be! People will try and hold you back but you keep fighting because that’s what we do.
Surround yourself with beautiful, supportive people like I did here at Raygun. Who sees you and appreciates you. Raygun fights hard to make sure every voice is heard and understood. That is so important today.
Love every part of yourself.
- Saqua Werling