I’m Sure They Meant it as a Compliment

It was summer and I was about 10 years old. “Doesn't she look just like Pocahontas?” a family member asked/ announced to a room full of people- all of whom were white. “Look at her long, black hair and she has the perfect tan! I wish I could be that tan all year round” she continued. All the while, me, a painfully shy kid, was standing in front of all these staring adults. It was literally my worst nightmare. I hated all eyes on me and did everything in my power to avoid this exact situation I somehow currently found myself in. I wanted to shrivel up and die. 

While everyone was all smiles while basically fawning over me, I was extremely uncomfortable and wanted to get out of there as soon as possible. But, at the time, I took their comments as compliments. Pocahontas was beautiful so I was happy with the comparison. Although, I am not Native American. My hair was long and dark but not black. Close- it is dark brown. And my tan. My tan is not a tan. It is the color of my skin. I was born a brown baby. It wasn't until much later, years later, did I truly understand what happened that day. 

While I do think they had the best of intentions and were really trying to compliment me, I know this would not be accepted today. Let’s explore why, shall we? For starters, I was one of only three people of color at that large gathering (the other two were my siblings). I was compared to a cartoon character (yes, I know she was a real person but they were referring to the Disney character) that was not of the same race. My actual skin color was compared to a fleeting shade that some people work hard to achieve while on vacation, meanwhile, I was born this way. 

All of these comments, if even whispered to me today, as an adult, would not be met with the same shyness they were met way back then. My goal is to ensure I equip my daughter with the knowledge, strength and self-confidence to meet these situations (that I know she will encounter) head on and ensure she uses her voice and that that voice is strong and is heard loud and clear.  

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