“Madame CJ Walker was a nappy- haired, Black girl like me growing up and being picked on about her hair and her skin. But she turned something negative into something positive. You just have to have a little faith, and you can go so far.”
– Charlesina Joseph, Amana Parent
I grew up in the Bahamas. I came from a single parent home, and culturally back then, it was all Black people living in the Bahamas. It wasn’t diverse, and I grew up with a lot of crime in my area of town. I’d be terrified to go to school. I grew up with that fear, and I blocked out a lot of it.
When I came here to America, my first teacher I had was white. I remember she smelled nice. She had pretty hair, and I liked the way she talked- it was all so new to me. We didn’t see someone like her back home. My hair wasn’t straight like her’s, my skin wasn’t as light as her’s. No one taught me to love my skin. And you know what, I always liked coming to school because of her. She was like an idol.
My eyes didn’t open up to race until a year ago, honestly. Even though I was a Black woman, I was still in a bubble. That’s when I watched the news and saw the way police were killing Black people- this was around the time of George Floyd’s passing. That’s when I had to sit down, understand it, and talk to my kids about it.
It’s so different for my kids. I wasn’t exposed to this because I was raised in an all Black country. It was rare to see someone growing up who didn’t look like me. But my kids are growing up as in the context of America. They’re seeing themselves in the news and on social media. And everything on the news is negative- it’s Black people being killed, and that’s been the headlines for too long.
I remember one afternoon a couple years ago, I heard my son throw down his bike outside and come running into the house. He was breathing hard. He was scared. I asked him what happened, and as I looked up, I saw a patrol car driving around our neighborhood. My son looked at me and said to me, “I don’t even want to be Black because they want to kill all of us.” I asked him, “Who is going to kill all of us?” He replied, “Those police”. That was heartbreaking. He must have been 6 or 7 then. So young.
If my kids had a different skin color, would they feel this way?
My other son asked me once, “Why do they not like Black people?”. That’s hard to explain to Black, young boys who have grown up listening to so much negativity about officers that are supposed to protect them. I don’t want my kids to have these negative associations.
All this used to make me feel bad, before I knew who I was. I didn’t like me either.
But once I started to read about the history of Black people, and what they have done in this lifetime, I started to become very proud. I never read history before, but now my kids and I read about Black young boys just like them. I’m proud of my skin and I’m more comfortable because I have more knowledge. As long as you know who you are, you’ll always be confident.
One person that has continued to inspire me is Madame CJ Walker. She was a nappy- haired, Black girl like me growing up and being picked on about her hair and her skin. But she turned something negative into something positive. You just have to have a little faith, and you can go so far.
I tell my kids – be you. Love you. Love who you are.
The only person you can hold accountable is you. Yes, in many ways, Black folks have to work harder. I tell my boys that it’s okay if you have to work harder. Always work harder for what you want. Don’t let anyone dictate who you are. Every day, I tell my boys who they are. I tell them they’re smart, they’re brave, and they’re going to be somebody in life.
– Charlesina Joseph