BY Mirembe Zabasajja, 11:30am March 25, 2014,

My Journey to Self-Love in the Face of Adversity

Mirembe Zabasajja

“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? Who taught you to hate your own kind? Who taught you to hate the race that you belong to so much so that you don’t want to be around each other? No…before you come asking Mr. Muhammad does he teach hate, you should ask yourself who taught you to hate being what God made you. — Malcolm X (May 22, 1962, Los Angeles)

 I started preschool in September of 1999. Back then the concept of race was foreign to me. I didn’t notice what color my skin was. I didn’t realize I was among a sea of White faces. All I knew was that I was Ugandan, and because of that, I assumed everyone else was too.

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I grew up in a predominantly White town. I didn’t notice I was different until I looked in the mirror one day. I saw my brown skin, puffy hair, and big lips for the very first time. That was the day I realized that I was different, and from that day on, it was thrown in my face.

First grade was the first time I ever heard about slavery in a classroom. It was Black History Month, but we never talked about anything but slavery, Abraham Lincoln, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I clearly remember my first grade teacher turning to me and saying, “How do you feel about slavery, Stephanie?”

She put me on the spot the entire month.

At 6 years old, I already knew she did this only because I was Black, and to make things more awkward, I was the only Black child in the classroom. She didn’t know my background. She didn’t know where my family came from either or who my ancestors were.

That didn’t stop her from making me, a 6 year old, the voice for all Black people.

After those lessons, some children in my class thought it would be funny to ask me to be their slave and throw away their trash. One girl even told me that she liked my personality, but not my dark skin.

They may have thought that they were funny, but it took a toll on me mentally: I began wishing I was White when I was in 5th grade.

I remember going home and crying to my mom because people had made fun of my lips. “People pay to have lips like yours, Stephanie. Have you not seen Angelina Jolie? She is known for her plump lips,” she reassured me.

I felt like only my mom found me pretty.

I didn’t see people that looked like me being called “beautiful” or celebrated by the media; all I saw were White faces on TV and in school. And with the kids at my middle school making fun of me, it got to the point where I was tired of people hurting me.

So I decided that if they want to make fun of me, I’m going to hit them. I got a rep for being mean and argumentative. I wasn’t a mean person,  though. I was just tired of being hurt, so I created a shell to protect myself. I got rid of the shell by eighth grade — most people knew not to make fun of me by then.

In high school, change came.

Many of the people who once made fun of me began telling me how beautiful they thought I was. I’d still get stupid comments like, “You’re an Oreo,” or “You’re pretty for a Black girl,” but I disregarded them. I didn’t need their commentary.

I learned to love my natural hair and enjoyed doing anything I wanted with it: I could braid it, straighten it, wear it in an Afro or I could do twist outs and bantu knots.

I see my hair as being my crown.

Now I see my glowing, brown skin and my big lips, and I smile at myself in the mirror. I used to think that if I had long, flowing hair and smaller lips, all my problems would be solved, but, there was nothing wrong with my features at all.

I look like the first people that walked the Earth.

I look like the pharaohs and queens that once ruled Alkebulan. I am from the birthplace of mankind and that is something I am damn sure proud about.

I can proudly say that my creator made no mistakes when it came to creating me, and I hope one day every little Black girl or woman who has felt the same way that I did will feel the same way too.

In the words of Malcolm X, “Teaching a man to hate himself is far more criminal than teaching a man to hate others.”

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Mirembe Zabasajja (pictured) is an 18-year-old New Jersey college student. The daughter of immigrant parents from Uganda, Mirembe is passionate about African-American history and is studying to be a history teacher.

Last Edited by:Abena Agyeman-Fisher Updated: March 25, 2016


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