C/O Yoohyun Park
Intersections between Blackness, culture and self-acceptance essential in constructing individuals unique experiences
By: Ahlam Yassien, contributor
As an Ethiopian woman in Canada, I haven’t had the opportunity to think concretely thought about my identity and what my identity means to me.
For example, as a child I begged my parents to allow me to cut my hair and perm it, not because I hated my hair but because I felt it would be easier to manage and would make it stick out less in public. Nonetheless, my hair remained long and curly, in part because I did genuinely like my hair long even if I felt my frizzy hair made me stand out, but also because hair is a prized possession in my culture.
So, on one end my culture encouraged me to value my natural hair while on the other it also taught me my worth was directly connected to my hair. However, the desire to have straighter hair has been promoted in many Black communities and myself alongside other Black women have been simultaneously fighting for different kinds of acceptance which were all rooted in confronting anti-Blackness, whether that be acceptance from our White peers, from within our culture or from within our own communities.
When I found myself styling it to appear more similar to the hair of those around me, I fell into a hamster wheel of self-hatred as my hair lost its volume and curl, making me feel as if my worth had also decreased. The desire to remain valuable in my culture was clashed with my desire to fit into Western culture.
“Since I was a kid my parents have always reminded me to love and embrace my country, my history and my culture. Ethiopian culture is very religious and is all about celebration — celebration of life, culture, family and God. However, my [culture] also categorizes their own people . . . an example is like skin color. They’re always uplifting and loving lighter skin tones more than darker skin tones. Body shaming and sexism are also common,” explained Beemnet Feleke.
Though it’s also worth noting that while many Black folks have these shared experiences of self-hatred and discomfort, the experience of being Black is still felt differently across groups. For myself, the desire to remain beautiful both within and outside of my culture had been at the forefront of my struggle with self-hatred and self-acceptance but my experiences as an Ethiopian Black woman are certainly different from the experiences of many others not only within the Black community but within my own culture as well.
For example, in certain Caribbean communities, anti-Blackness rhetoric is so heavily ingrained in the culture and history it often goes unnoticed. Consequently, children grow up maintaining and enforcing it in their communities.
“Throughout her childhood, [my mother] was taught that if you were of lighter skin and had looser curls, that you were “prettier” or superior than others who didn’t have these characteristics. She was also taught that one with Eurocentric facial features had “nice” facial features. Unfortunately, as a child these notions were passed on to me as well. I used to project my feelings and perceptions onto other classmates and friends, which, unbeknownst to me, was [perpetuation of] anti-Blackness. Now, as a young adult, my perceptions of Blackness have changed drastically. I hope that with the knowledge I have today, I can educate others in hopes of eradicating texturism, featurism and colourism,” explained Donelle Peltier.
It’s also important to note it is not the fault of these cultures themselves but rather the result of the White supremacy and colonialism that run rampant in many histories. Interrogating anti-Blackness remains an important goal within and outside of the Black community.
While sharing these experiences can help with this and highlight diversity within the Black experience, they still only paint a fraction of the full picture, a picture which may never be entirely clear. However, that doesn’t mean sharing these experiences is any less important, particularly because of the essential part culture plays in upholding and denouncing anti-Blackness.