After my last post, I have had a plethora of amazing conversations with like-minded women (and a few men). A conversation that stands out in particular (via email) was with someone I hold in high regard, Melanie Burke. Melanie is, among so many other things, a business woman; a mentor; a motivator; a leader; an inspiration and a brand new naturalista. She wrote the following article 10 years ago for an in-house newsletter at the company she worked for back then. The article is called “Hair and Complexion” and it was published in the O Magazine as well. As a chocolate toned coloured woman, I relate to it wholeheartedly. I feel that it is an important piece and after 10 years, it is still very relevant in our society today. I encourage you to read the article below and feel free to share your comments. Melanie writes:
I have made it my life’s ambition to stand out in a crowd, to be different, to be talked about because I choose not to conform to the norm. When I was younger I thought the word enigma described me accurately. Today I realise that I had the word right, but I missed its meaning completely.
Being me was an imprecision made more so by being coloured. There was always an underlying unspoken set of characteristics about being coloured. Like the whole issue of hair and complexion. Why was my sister and I treated differently? We were born from the same parents and yet no two people could be more unalike. She has fine hair and mine is course, she has fair skin and eyes and I, well I am dark.
Was it acceptable to be considered unattractive, a goffel? Was it tolerable that my hair became the focus of my existence? Being at the seaside or enjoying an afternoon at the swimming pool was never about having fun, always about my hair. My sister was a waterbaby, simply because her hair was fine. Was it custom that instructed mothers to warn their sons and daughters “to think about their children” when they dated someone who didn’t have what they called hair and complexion? Was it our legacy to teach our children to be ashamed of whom they are? What a burden this places on the choices of childbearing adults. To procreate without knowing what the combination of one’s mixed blood would produce creates a whole new opportunity for trauma.
What do you do when your child wants to know what hair and complexion is, especially when they don’t have it and their looks cannot be traced to either of the parents? How do you explain that they are automatically placed in the hierarchy that exists purely on the basis of hair and complexion? And that the rest of their lives are predetermined by this? I can be censured for my attitude, but how can I teach my children to be proud of the mixed blessing we have received when as a community we are bigots and still hang our heads in shame at our colouredness and the wonderful diversity that this offers?
|Melanie with the legendary actor, director and playwright, John Kani