Who told you? Who told you you’re ugly because your skin is too dark? Who told you you are bad or a threat because your skin is dark? Who told you you have bad hair because your hair is big and kinky? Who told you you are unintelligent because you don’t speak “proper English”? Who or what taught you not to love yourself?
When talking about black love I think it is important to first talk about black self-love, or the lack thereof, before we go any further. I don’t remember hearing the black community talking much about self-love growing. As a 90’s baby I grew up in one of the best R&B eras (my opinion). I remember listening to songs like Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You”, Brandy’s “Sittin Up In My Room” and Mary J. Blige’s “Real Love” in my mom’s car. The love that I usually heard talked about and sung about was romantic love, but what about self-love within black community?
As black men and women, and even children, we have plenty of avenues teaching us, spoken or unspoken, to hate ourselves. Turn on almost any news channel and you don’t have to wait long before you see a black man being accused of something, stealing, killing, or selling. Or, search beautiful women on any search engine and the world will tell you it’s definition of beauty. The media, politicians and other cultures sometimes implicitly try to teach us to hate ourselves, we must practice self-love so hate doesn’t become our identity.
Let me set things straight for you before I move on. Yes black men steal, kill, and sell drugs, just like men of other ethnicities do, but the media often sets up the notion that all black men are criminals or thugs. Just think about the pictures the media uses when they do stories on black men that have be accused of a crime. More times than not the pictures are of men wearing bandanas, throwing up “gang signs”, or even a mug shot, implying that these men are “bad”, even before they are convicted of the crime.
This might not seem like a big deal to you but it is. When you start to see the same thing happen over and over again you may start to believe it if you don’t know any better. It’s the self-fulfilling prophecy. Instead of loving ourselves we begin to hate ourselves because the media tells us we have nothing real or positive to give to this world.
If you watch the television show “This Is Us” you probably love the character Randall just as much as I do. Randall is one of my favorite characters on any television show right now because of his love, integrity, wit and charisma. There aren’t very many television shows that you can watch and see a black man displaying the character and personality that Randall displays. Randall shows us all that it is possible to be a strong black man that cares and provides for his family, authentically expresses his emotions and be a corny, funny goofball. No, not every black man needs to be just like Randall but he provides a different narrative for black men that we have been accustomed to. We don’t see characters like Randall often in the media but it is a huge step forward.
When it comes to black self-love I can’t help but think about hair, a very big topic within the black community. Natural hair, relaxed hair, box braids, weaves, there’s so many different types of hair and hairstyles. Prior to three years ago I almost always had a relaxer in my hair or box braids, it made for easier maintenance during basketball season. Spring of 2016 I chopped all of my relaxed hair off and began my natural journey and many insecurities followed. Still to this day I struggle with rocking my natural kinks because I see myself as most beautiful when I have straight hair or long hair. Chopping off my hair has forced me to begin to fall in love with all of me, kinky afro and all.
We must love the natural hair we were born with, curly, big, kinky, which ever it may be. Love the melanin in our skin, whether you have a caramel complexion or a chocolate complexion. Love the dialect you speak regardless of how others talk around you. Love our history, our ancestry, no matter what the past may look like. If you don’t love you you can’t love someone else completely and you can’t expect them to love you the way you deserve to be loved.
In more than one place in the Bible, Jesus gives two great commandments. The first to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). The second commandment one verse later is to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31). I’ve read the second commandment several times before I truly understood what Jesus was saying. We can not love our neighbor (family, coworker, boyfriend/girlfriend, husband/wife) in the way we are told to if we do not first love ourselves.
So lies, spoken or unspoken, that you have found yourself believing prevent you from truly loving your neighbor. Rather than loving your fellow black brother or sister you compare yourself to them, envy them, try to bring them down instead of up, try to outdo them, all because you’re missing the prerequisite. You must first love yourself. So let’s take the time to love ourselves!
Go see a counselor to help you think through, mourn and heal from any lies, people or experiences that have tried to kill your love. Yes, going to counseling is generally looked down upon in the black community but we need to break that barrier. Counseling is freeing, counseling is good and counseling is necessary. Only through talking about the lies we believe, the people that hurt us and the experiences that scarred us can we truly begin to love the person that we are.
Take a day, or even half a day, to go do some of your favorite things alone to remind yourself of all that you are. When was the last time you completely unplugged from social media scrolling and the constant texting messages to just focus on you? Go to the gym, on the hike, get your nails done without any electronic interruptions. It’s ok to just focus on ourselves sporadically.
Put up post-it notes on your walls and mirrors to remind yourself how beautiful and worthy you are until you believe it. Words have so much power, what we feed ourselves matter. If we are feeding ourselves lies that we get from the media we will believe them but if we feed ourselves truth we will confidently walk in that. What notes do you need? Maybe it’s that you are beautiful, you are a protector, your melanin is poppin, whatever will help you believe the best about yourself so you can fall in love with you.
The prerequisite to love someone else fully is to first love yourself. And I say this as someone on the journey. On the journey of continuously falling in love with myself, all of who God created me to be. Falling in love with my personality, my natural hair, my experiences, my dialect, my blackness. Because it is only when I truly love myself that I can obediently love my someone else.
Written by: Gabrielle Clark
Gabrielle Moni(que) currently resides in beautiful Tempe, AZ. She has the privilege of spending her days with 17 hilarious preschoolers as a Head Start teacher. She also spends her time walking alongside ASU student-athletes as they seek, find, and chase Jesus. In her free time she enjoys the outdoors, playing sports, taking pictures, baking cookies, and writing.
3 Simple Joys
- Arizona sunsets after a long day
- The smell after it rains in the desert
- Smiles on my nieces’ faces
- Basking some type of cookies
- Playing pick-up
- John 3:30