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Emma Akpan's picture

I knew from the beginning that I was a black girl and I was proud.

I have my mother to thank for that. She taught me and my sister to be proud of being black.

My parents filled our home with relics of black pride. Daddy loved listening to Bob Marley and Jimmy Cliff, Momma preferred Billie Holiday and Natalie Cole. Daddy is Nigerian and upon returning from a visit, Daddy and Momma proudly hung up paintings of black men and women and placing statues around our home showing the beauty of blackness.

Momma insisted on buying us only black dolls, and we never questioned why we didn’t have any white ones. If someone gave us a white doll, she would make a snide comment and supplement when with brown faced dolls.

When we used coloring books, she made sure we colored the little girls and boys in brown.

One Halloween, my little sister Tiffany wanted to dress up as a Barbie doll, so shopped from store to store all over the city searching for a Barbie mask with a brown face. We didn’t find one, so we bought the pale-faced mask along with some brown paint, and had a little art project. Tiffany went trick-or-treating proudly that night in her brown painted Barbie mask because Momma made sure that she was properly represented.

As I grew older, Tiffany and I started watching Gilmore Girls, a show about the life of fast-talking mother and daughter pair Lorelei and Rory. They lived in a small Connecticut town worlds away from our Midwestern upbringing. Momma hated the show. She said, “This show ain’t got nothing to do with me. They speak in those clipped voices…I don’t know why you like this show.”

I didn’t question my mother’s saturation of everything black until she made the comments about Gilmore Girls. What was wrong with one TV show?

Then she made me consider this: Lorelai and Rory lived a life completely different from my own. Rory had wealthy grandparents that paid for her Ivy League education. They had access to large homes, luxury cars and trips to Europe on a whim. And what’s more, there only one person of color in the entire cast.

American culture taught Tiffany and me that only white skin and hair was beautiful and only white people were successful. Because it lacks people of color, television shows like Gilmore Girls want to erase people of color from everyday life. To the creators, we are invisible.

For her, it wasn’t just one TV show. It wasn’t just one peach crayon. It wasn’t just one pale faced Barbie mask. It’s an entire culture that tells me over and over that my skin is undesirable, my skin is shameful, and it’s not worthy of representation.

Momma made sure that the world saw us. She fervently and adamantly taught us that our skin was normal and beautiful. She had to make it acceptable to us so we have the strength to walk outside my all black haven and enter the world with confidence.

She is the reason why cutting off my relaxed hair was a no brainer. Daddy and Momma are the reasons why I wear West African print clothing with pride. They made me realize I don’t have to hide my blackness, it was something to cherish.

I have Momma to thank for teaching me to be proud of my skin, my culture, and my heritage.

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