To preface, I am going to be pretty candid with you guys throughout this. You may agree, you may disagree. You might even be a little upset with what I have to say, but I hope at least a couple of you will be able to relate. For some of these individuals, I will describe characteristics like their skin color. I feel this information is necessary for the story I am telling. Many people would say, “oh no its not. We’re all equal,” but let’s be real. And yes, I may use incorrect terminology but I don’t really care. It’s like you can’t say anything anymore without offending someone. Thanks in advance for reading.
The Point of Impact
I had never recognized my skin color as being an issue or an inconvenience until my freshman year of college. A teammate of mine asked me what it was like being half white and half black in today’s world for a school project. I had nothing to say. Not only did I have nothing to say, but her comment was a moment of realization that my difference had been noticed. Her comment was a moment of realization that I had never questioned the way others saw my skin color.
Let’s turn the clock back a few years. I grew up in small town Indiana. This town is predominantly white. When I say predominantly white, I mean four maybe five kids of color including myself were in my graduating class of 250 and none of us were fully black. We were all mixed with something. I was one of a handful of students at New Castle High School that was different than the others, yet I never felt this. My mother taught me to be confident in who I am no matter my appearance so I never struggled with self identification. When those standardized tests asked me to check ONE box for my ethnicity in the informational section before the actual test, I filled in the bubble on the scantron that correlated with “Other.” I wasn’t confused by this and I didn’t allow it to distract me from slaying the exam. It was what it was. If “Other” was not an option (which it often wasn’t), I would, without second thought, fill in the bubble that corresponded to “Caucasian.”
Then when white people would say, “Lauryn, you are the whitest black girl I know,” I would be confused and/or annoyed. I thought to myself, I am not black and I spend all my days with people like you! Obviously I am going to act like you. Or the classic, “why can’t you dance?”… Because I inherited my white mother’s rhythm thank you very much. From a young age, I accepted that I’m not really white and I’m not really black, but deep in my heart I identified as white. Immersion of another culture doesn’t make me any less white, right? Basically, I wanted to simplify my mixed-ness in this world that accepts uniqueness but thrives off of normativity.
I did not see myself as being different, oh but I noticed that my dad was different! His dark skin and 6’8” stature was hard to miss. I said I would be candid so here I go and Granny (my dad’s mom), I know you’re reading this. Please don’t take this to heart. There were times I was embarrassed to be seen in public with my dad because I could feel the stares. But not at me. They stared at my dad, or so I thought. I truly felt like I blended in with everyone else. I felt like I was just another white girl. Maybe I believed my town had accepted me for my skin and it went unnoticed by everyone. I don’t know. Either way, I thought the melanin in my skin was camouflaged by words like, “you don’t even act black.”
While this remained true, I still wished I looked like the others. Ever since I can remember I thought about how much easier life would be if I were tiny and blonde like all my friends. If only I were petite, I would have a boyfriend. If only I were blonde, more people would like me. But I came to accept that I was “tan.” I guess it was easy to accept since it was rarely pointed out. I truly began to think no one noticed. Everything was spectacular.
It sounds ignorant but it’s what I grew up with. In my mind I was white. That’s how everyone else saw me and I never spent time wondering otherwise. My dad’s side of the family happened to live an hour away so they weren’t as involved in my life as my mom’s relatives. I was with my mom’s side constantly considering the close proximity of our homes. They took me to practices, to school, to everything. I was white.
So here I am growing up with white friends, a white family, white teammates, white white white! Forgive me for thinking I was also white.
Before this teammate of mine brought my skin color to my attention, I had seen myself as tan, not biracial. I wasn’t ashamed of my father’s skin. I was simply tired of answering the question of “what are you?” I think people secretly wanted to hear an exotic tale of my heritage. They wanted to hear how my father was Nigerian and my mother was ½ Israeli, ½ British. Unfortunately for the curious interviewer, my answer was “just white and black… maybe a little Irish somewhere?”
After my teammate brought it to my attention I was very aware.
I didn’t know where I fit in in college. I was at the University of Southern California. A lot of rich white kids… My dad didn’t produce the latest blockbuster. My mom wasn’t a supermodel. I was just a mixed girl from small town Indiana. LAME!
So finding “my people” was already hard enough not considering race.
At USC, it was common to see white clumps or black clumps of people just like so many other places in our country. With that said, I was drawn to white crowds. Again, it’s all I had known.
I think people started to recognize this and comments were made. Black people said I was arrogant. They said I thought I was too good to hang out with them. Some made comments that I was racist… Nothing was ever said directly to me, and maybe it was all in fun, but those little comments can eat away at you when you’re already questioning who the heck you are.
My dad once shared with me the cruel things people would say to my mom when they dated in college. The phrase that stuck with me most was that my mom was called a “negro lover.” I was a product of negro love. Although I guess there shouldn’t be shame in that, it still feels patronizing. Not to be dramatic, but it makes my birth feel… inferior… less important.
Before I go on, I must say, I know it is the 21st century. Things have changed. People have changed, yada yada yada, but let’s not kid ourselves and say that the social construct of race has been abolished. I mean, look at us now with the people committing hate crimes… We all see it and we all have our own opinions to it.
So now, and not in a self-centered way, I feel like people stare at me. In my head, black people stare at me because they think I think I am better than them or like I am some kind of traitor for having Caucasian blood. Sometimes I think they’re even nicer to me as if I am some rare breed (this especially comes from the older black people.) Maybe they just feel bad for me. “Poor little girl has no idea who she is. Her parents really screwed her up.”
Then sometimes, and not often, I feel unwelcomed by white people. Like I have contaminated their water by mixing African American blood in with their pure Caucasian blood. Similar to how I try to accommodate in any way possible to remain inferior to black people I meet (I’ll explain later), I try my hardest to fit in with the white crowd. And I try so damn hard! Let’s say they make a black joke. First, they hesitate as they remember I am in the room. When they proceed, rather than doing the right thing by shutting it down because it was uncalled for, I remind them that “it’s fine!!! I’m just as much white as I am black so it doesn’t bother me.” Lauryn the coward doesn’t stop them because I so desperately want them to think I’m on their side. Well, “I’m sorry. Lauryn the coward cannot come to the phone right now. Why? Because she’s dead.” @taylorswift. But really. Jokes hurt from all angles. Yes, I like watermelon. No, it’s not because I’m black. Yes, I’m sure I want to go swimming in the lake with you guys tomorrow. No, I won’t drown.
And maybe I am crazy. Maybe I’m making this up and 21 years have allowed these ideas of biracial acceptance to stir in my head, but that’s the point! My thoughts and feelings, created by time and consequence, affect the way I see the world.
It’s like there is a historical narrative that precedes my everyday life due to slavery. I automatically remind people of what used to be and what is today. There is pain and suffering to my skin color, yet there is acceptance and unification? Seems like a lot riding on a skin pigment… And I thought picking out the right shade of foundation was enough to stress about.
After my freshman year, I decided to transfer to the University of Wisconsin where the comments continued. One evening, a comment was made directly to me by a black peer that if I had lived back in the olden days, I would have been an in-house slave. I asked the kid to explain and instead of giving me an answer, he and his friends laughed and shook it off. I tried to shake it off as well, but I couldn’t let it go. So weeks later, I asked him what he meant…. I basically kissed the ass of the white people. I had easier chores and a tad bit more respect from the master. I thought I was better than everyone else because my skin was a little lighter. I was an in-house slave.
Hard pill to swallow…
While I know who I am and I know I am not the person they pegged me to be, it still made me think twice about my actions and how others saw me. I became very careful and cautious.
To this day, when I walk down the streets my encounters vary dependent on if the other person is black or white. If I see a black homeless man, I will almost always stop to say hello or at least smile whereas my loyalty is not as strong to a white person. I feel an obligation to make time to talk to a black homeless man because heaven forbid that a black man think I think I am superior not because I have a roof over my head at night, but because my skin is a few shades lighter. I use homeless men as an example, but the same goes for everyone.
In more examples than the one I just mentioned, I would rather make myself smaller to boost someone else’s ego than shine the way I should. Honestly, this could fill a whole other blog. Do not fret, for I shall save you the misery… for now. But I would do whatever I could when encountering a black person whether it was roll my shoulders over to literally and physically make myself smaller or I would flash a soft smile to show my respect? I don’t really know what I was going for there.
What I’m trying to say is that I wasn’t being me. Instead, I was trying not to be what everyone else thought I was… if that makes sense. I was trying as hard as I could to counter those opinions of people who really don’t matter. My people in life, the people that really mattered, didn’t see my skin color and didn’t think I thought more of myself because of my skin color.
I needed to love myself. Not love the idea of everyone else loving me. I am who I am. I’m drawn to bright and cheerful personalities not skin colors and I started to roll with that. I had never been more confident in who I was. I had found my people who loved me for who I was: bubbly, black, obnoxious, white Lauryn.
And then… drum roll please… my skin was brought to my attention again. DUN DUN DUN!!!
When it came to boys, I never thought my skin was a factor. In high school I told myself I was intimidating because I was 6 feet tall. I even blamed my dad for being too scary for boys to handle. Like I said, my skin wasn’t noticed by my town... I also had a big personality so of course, like every parent of a strong daughter says, “they’re intimidated by your confidence!” I still tell myself that to this day even if it isn’t the issue with my love life.
Side note: when it comes to dating, mixed individuals or peeps of minorities relate with me real quick… Am I a fetish??? Hearing, “I don’t typically date mixed girls, but you’re an exception” is not a compliment! It’s really just a “WTF” moment. So men or women dating people like me, stop saying that.
Sooooo recently, I met a boy (white). He became my best friend in the whole world. Over a period of about 8 months, we became inseparable. Blase blase blase. I couldn’t help but develop feelings for this kid and I thought this feeling was mutual. If you asked any bystander, they would think we were already dating. Everyone did. You had never seen a more compatible pair of people. We were perfect for one another. Guys, I was in love and I mean as in love as I have ever been which really doesn’t mean that much when I stop and think about it. Let’s just say, it’s hard for me to keep someone around.. I tend to get… well bored to be honest. Oh no, but not with this one… of course.
One night, a close friend of mine overheard this special boy tell his friend how perfect I was for him if only I was “tiny and blonde”… Well isn’t that a bummer. I was upset. I cried. Whatever. What I was feeling most was disbelief. Disbelief that my best friend saw the color of my skin. Disbelief that my best friend cared. Disbelief that my childhood dream to look a certain way had come back to haunt me.
Now my friends immediately want to kill him… I must say I have some pretty great people in my corner ;) But to be honest (and this isn’t a “daddy beats me because he loves me” story) I didn’t blame the boy for his wishes. His whole life he had expected to fall in love with a tiny blonde babe. Well, my whole life I wished to be a tiny blonde babe. It has taken me 21 years to get over this so I don’t expect him to see me differently anytime soon.
Oh, but I still tried to make him love me for a hot second. The competitive side in me was not willing to let this go! And that’s where I went wrong. General life lesson, don’t make someone love you. Be with someone that is obsessed with you! Someone that literally cannot live without you because that person is out there (fingers crossed am I right?).
I never said anything to dream boy about what I knew. I never told him how crushed I was by his words. If he knew how bad I hurt, he would hurt equally, if not more. He is still my best friend to this day. I’m not his type and that is going to happen in life. You’re going to find people that you are head over heels for that don’t share the same feelings for you. None of this makes him a racist. We wouldn’t have developed the relationship if he saw color that way. Mystery boy is a phenomenal person. Beautiful inside and out in so many ways. So the point of this part of my story isn't to put anyone down. Rather it is to highlight the decision. The decision to question my appearance and still love everything about me.
And then I look to myself as I rebuild what I see in the mirror. I tell myself the basic bullshit like “you’re you for a reason”; “someone will fall in love with you for everything you are”; “if you were like the others, you’d just blend in.” But then I take an extra second to actually believe these things I tell myself. No one talks to you more than you talk to yourself, so the stuff going on up there better be positive and beneficial.
As cynical as it sounds (I know, counterintuitive to the whole positive bullshit, but stay with me here), I am all I have! At absolutely no time in my life will I ever transform into a beautiful bombshell blonde. Face it, there’s only one Candice Swanepoel, but there’s also only one Lauryn Gillis… that I know of. But seriously, only one me! How special is that?! I’m going to be the best me I can be then. I’m going to be a better me than you are a you! Ugh stop Lauryn. This isn’t a competition.
Back to what I was saying. It’s a process. Accepting and loving you for all that you are. You don’t forget a cruel comment in a day, you don’t get over a boy in a day and you don’t fully accept yourself for who you are in a day.
I had a minor step back, but everyday, I’m closer to loving me again. So yeah, maybe I look a little different than a majority of my peers. Yeah, life might be simpler if I were tiny and blonde, but being me has its perks.
In the end, I realize that I shouldn’t be worried about who I’m supposed to be. I can be whoever I want to be. Hell, life is even more fun being mixed. I can do something “black” and not be questioned. Do something “white?” No repercussions. Let’s make that the case for everyone. Be whoever you please no matter your skin color.
So I tell you to be resilient and value no ones opinion but your own! Embrace the glorious shit show that you are and do yourself a favor by finding peace in that person: the good, the bad, and the ugly. Cut the ties of those who can’t see you for all you’re worth because there’s a line waiting to love you better! Decide in this moment to never beg for the love, respect, and attention that you should be showing yourself. Decide to love yourself as if you were your own damn soulmate.
With all this said, and don’t worry, I’m almost finished… I am so proud of my best friend, Jordan, for starting REVLY. REVLY is for every body and everybody, but that isn’t just implying all shapes and sizes. It’s all skin colors, all hair types, all backgrounds. I, along with extraordinary tiny blonde women, will be celebrated for who we are. No look is better than another. We hope to shut down all wishes to look like someone else because who you are is pretty damn awesome.
So love yourself more! If you can’t love you then who can?