On May 22, 1962, Malcolm X gave a speech in Los Angeles that became an iconic and often repeated question in black culture. He stood before the congregation and asked: “Who taught you to hate the color of your skin? Who taught you to hate the texture of your hair? Who taught you to hate the shape of your nose and the shape of your lips? Who taught you to hate yourself from the top of your head to the soles of your feet?” The speech remains amongst the most well-known and often-quoted of Malcolm X’s, and that’s because the questions still resonate, they still remain unanswered.
There are so many sources of self-hate, from mainstream media exclusion to the lessons we pass on through our families. So many obvious examples that underscore that too many of us look in the mirror and don’t see beauty. Too many of us look at each other and instead of seeing each other’s beauty, we seek to criticize. You don’t have to look further than Twitter or the comments on Instagram or YouTube to see the evidence. Instead of just asking the question “who taught you to hate yourself,” I think it’s equally important to ask the question—who taught you to love yourself? Also, what does loving yourself mean? How do you celebrate that self-love? Even though I grew up in a home where I was told I was beautiful, I still allowed negative messages about my hair texture, skin tone and body to creep past that shield. I had to grow a thicker (but no less luminous) skin and learn to love myself as a whole – despite family, friends, men or my peers might think.
Despite the lack of inclusion of women who looked like me in the media or elsewhere. Despite the micro-aggressions and subtle signs that my kind of beauty may not be yet accepted by the mainstream. It can be too easy to be weighed down by the negative messages, and it’s so important to appreciate and recognize the positive, to be able to look in the mirror and adore absolutely everything we see smiling back at us.
Afrobella was the natural hair blogger at AOL’s Black Voices and a writer for Vogue Italia’s Vogue Black website. She has also presented keynotes at several major media expos and seminars.