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September 1, 2017

Love Letters to Black & Brown Girls that we All Need to Read.


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I fell in love recently.

During a little nighttime ritual I like to call “Scroll through the Instagram Search Option & Chill,” I saw a piece of art. The first two words felt like a calling:

“Brown girl”

I have spent decades feeling “othered” because of the color of my skin, the texture of my hair, the mystery in my physical features. But here it was—something for me and the girls who look like me.

This powerful piece (above) was written by Johanna Toruno, a poet, street artist, and Salvadorian immigrant, who decorates New York City streets with words meant to empower and inspire people of color, especially women. Her Instagram account, aptly titled “The Unapologetically Brown Series,” has become my new love.

I read her words, posted against the backdrop of vibrant flowers and women I admire and the city where I was born, and wondered what I would say to the women who look like me, the women who feel invisible when they should feel invincible.

I wondered what I would share with the girls who feel the need to apologize for their brownness, but who long to celebrate their brilliance.

I also wondered what I would want women who don’t look like me—women who haven’t felt the shame, anger, or frustration that comes with being black and brown in this county—to know about my experience and the role they have played in it.

I wondered if, like Toruno, I could share my story in a way that inspired other black and brown girls to fall in love with their skin color, their experience, their power.

Here’s what I want to say:

No, my face isn’t exotic
I’m not a bird
Though I can understand your confusion
Maybe you see my wings
The ones given to me by my mother each time she told me I was strong
before she told me I was beautiful

And no, my look isn’t ethnic
I’m not a piece of jewelry sold on the street for far more than what it cost to make it
But I can understand your confusion
Maybe you see my sparkle
The one I built each time I refused to point out some minor “flaw” in my appearance
just to fit in with your standards

And no, you can’t “touch my hair”
I’m not an animal in a zoo waiting for my turn to be poked and stared at for being who I am
But I can understand your confusion
Maybe you see my fight
The determination in my eyes each time they lock with yours,
the refusal to twist or change to fit what you deem beautiful

And no, the shape of my body isn’t trendy or “in”
I’m not a well-cut Balenciaga floating down the runway
But I can understand your confusion
Maybe you see my ease
The way I walk through this world confident in my presentation,
knowing I look different
Feel different
Am different

But also knowing full-well that my face, my look, my hair, my body
are that of a worthy girl—a brown girl
Knowing that I am a product of what Anne Curry once described as “a long line of open-minded lovers”

I am my caramel skin, warm and sun-kissed year round
I am my chameleon hair, straight or curly, based solely on my mood
I am my wide hips, unable to fit into anything not labeled stretch denim
I am my video girl booty, it’s tough to look away, so stop trying
I am a laundry list of moments and encounters that tried to diminish
my brown body,
my brown soul

I am years of being ostracized, fetishized, sexualized
But I am also brown skin
sprinkled with power, dressed in pride
I am brown skin
unafraid to call you out when you hide behind fake compliments meant to “other” me
I am brown skin
thankful for a history’s worth of black and brown women who
taught me to stand tall and exude confidence

To be wary of those who shame me for my brownness

and then try to wear it as their own
To embrace those who choose to fight alongside me,
as long as they don’t eclipse my truth
to avoid facing theirs 
To recognize that the strength in my bones
is a direct result of all that I have lived through
That I am a queen—
not in spite of my brown skin,
but because of it
~

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Relephant:

I Guess I Dressed like a Sin Today. {Video}

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Author: Nicole Cameron
Image: @theunapologeticallybrownseries/Instagram
Copy Editor: Lieselle Davidson
Social Editor: Sara Kärpänen

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