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I Didn’t Draw a Picture of a Black Girl Who Looked Like Me Until I Was 12

Avatar • Jan 22, 2015

Cassandre Beccai

I was 12 when my best friend at the time, a Jewish girl, noticed one commonality in all my drawings of women. I was a capable artist from my elementary school days right up until the end of high school. My artwork, which depicted everything from landscapes to animal sketches to clothing designs would often earn me the admiration of my classmates and teachers, but on this particular Fall day in my 7th grade art class, my friend would question my art in a way that no one ever had.

Enna looked through my painstaking hard work — 10+ pictures of the most fashionable ladies I drew using coloured pencils and water paints — looked up at me and asked, “Why don’t you draw any pictures of black women?”

In all the pictures I’d drawn, there wasn’t a single black woman depicted. When I first heard her question, I was shocked and stumped. I had no answer because it was the first time ever I realised I had drawn many beautiful women but none had ever had any darker complexion than “suntan”.

For almost a decade, I had been putting colored pencil to paper and up until then I’d never thought about drawing a woman of color. It simply never crossed my mind to. I lived and went to school in an ethnically mixed area, I attended an all black church every week, yet I somehow managed to only ever depict white people in my artwork. I interpret that experience as a window into my psyche at the time, revealing that I didn’t believe black women could be the sole subject of any piece of art. It’s like black women were invisible in my mind up until my friend made them visible by asking me such a pointed question.

My friend’s question challenged me so much that I made it my mission to draw my very first black woman ever. Apparently, I did an excellent job because it received accolades from my art teacher, and Enna thought it was rather good. She even noted that the woman I drew looked very much like my mom and my sister.

I was recently reminded of this disturbing episode in my life. My daughter is only a year and half, but I’ve made a point for her to “see” black women. I actively choose to buy her brown dolls and tell her how lovely her complexion is. I try to let her know that black women don’t always have to be in the background or be the side kick/supporting actress, but they can be the star. I hope that my simple acts of helping her to “see” will mean that she won’t ever be susceptible to the erasure of her own visibility as a black woman.

How do you relate to my experience of finally “seeing” black women? What are some things you think we can do to make ourselves “visible” to the next generation?

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About Cassandre

Just another naturalista playing by my own rules! Got hair that doesn't seem to grow past your shoulders? Check out my free Grow Your Hair Faster Video Course

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Sibongile Aims
Sibongile Aims
5 years ago

I don’t exactly identify but I think we must be our own biggest cheerleaders as black people. Just as women in general should cheer on and encourage other women.
Articles like the other one here on BGLH on Top Pros wearing their natural hair help. We must embrace ourselves. Seeing black people achieve (e.g. Barack Obama — no matter your political views), being conscious that if we don’t take ourselves seriously (”see” ourselves), very few other people will.

Maame Akesi Boa
5 years ago

I had a similar experience growing up. Most of my drawings were definitely not of black women. It’s sad how this happens. To make ourselves ‘visible’ we need more of us telling our stories and we need to pay more attention to those who do. Thanks for a beautiful thought-provoking article!
Cara
http://www.xocara.com

Me
Me
5 years ago

I can’t really relate to this story, but these kinds of stories always make me wonder about life and perception. I was “fortunate” enough to go to mainly black schools, black churches, and live in black neighborhoods for most of my childhood. I put fortunate in quotations because that good fortune was the result of being dirt poor and living in the ghetto surrounded by other poor black families, but despite the condition of our environment, I had very supportive black teachers and neighbors who taught me the value of being proud to be me, taking note of what makes… Read more »

curious
curious
5 years ago

I remember when i made this realization too, but iw as in college.

Alicia
Alicia
5 years ago

I can kind of relate to this. I remember drawing girls with full lips, big hips and cute thick noses. But when it came time to color them in and add details I would make them have long straight hair down to their butts and really light skin with light colored eyes and light colored hair. All of my old drawings are like this. When I went natural I began to realize what my drawings showed. I make darker skinned girls with thick curly bushy beautiful hair now. It really is psychologically set in our brains on what the standards of… Read more »

Ella
Ella
5 years ago

I wasn’t an artist. My son 5 year old son likes to draw. He colors the people brown just like him:) I thought this was odd because it not the norm. But it is refreshing. He does have white friends who he colors yellow.

Frido
Frido
5 years ago

Can’t relate, I drew ~everythang~ brown or black when I couldn’t find a brown crayon. I wasn’t even allowed to have white dolls,thank God my parents had that foresight.

lis
lis
5 years ago

Can’t relate either.…sorry.but not all Black people feel invisible and second place to whites or other non blacks.…plus I’ve always known Black women and men who wore natural hair and Noone put them down.….but then again I never saw TV until I was about 9 years old and I think that was one of the reasons I never feel second place to non Blacks.…even if OTHERS try to assign me that place. Black people are the norm to me.…but good read…I like your youtube channel and articles.

BelleNaturelleParis
5 years ago
Reply to  lis

Television is definitely one of the reasons why you didn’t feel inferior to whites or non Blacks. Okay it’s official I am definitely not going to allow my children to watch tv!

Camille
Camille
5 years ago

I always had plenty of black dolls to play with, including one that looked just like me. All the decorations, art, and Christmas ornaments that depict people in my parents home growing up were of blacks. It gives you a much more positive depiction of blackness than what is available in TV and movies. I think it helped because I was mostly surrounded by white people and never felt inferior. I always saw being black as a gift. There is SO MUCH beautiful black art out there.

HairAnomaly
HairAnomaly
5 years ago

I didn’t draw a picture of a black girl when I was young because, in my world, everyone was purple. Hair..skin..clothes…purple. I chose not to color using brown or “peach” because, well, those colors were simply too boring for my vision. 

I am sorry for those who did not grow up knowing that brown women were just as beautiful as any other, but I was not one of them. If I did have any issue, I don’t remember it. I am now too old to carry around the baggage of things that happened when my age was a single digit.

mismis
mismis
5 years ago

I grew up in a predominantly black city, so the few times I drew people (because I usually drew animals) I made them brown. In fact, when I had the 36 or 64 crayola pack, I would have fun choosing which brown to use. I used the apricot color occasionally for a coloring book. However, all of the girls did usually have straight or loose curly hair.

Cre8ive
Cre8ive
5 years ago

Great article! Thank you for sharing your experience. For some it was (is) skin color, for some it’s hair type… I think a lot of people can relate to this.

BTeal22
BTeal22
5 years ago

I had a similar experience as a child. being insecure about my race at the time (around the age of seven), I would draw self-portraits however, I looked nothing like myself. I would always draw myself with ginger hair and blue eyes and I never coloured in the skin (leaving it white). It wasn’t until one day when I was about 9 that a boy at school (who was also of colour) asked me why I drew myself that way. After that I tried drawing myself how I really was, and I have never gone back.

Edges_N_Paris
5 years ago

Great article sis. I am reminded of my youth when I refused to play with brown Barbie dolls. I was a Barbie queen and I had at one time 17 white Barbie Dolls. I also had the Barbie Dream House and the Corvette. At my birthday parties when guests would buy me brown dolls, I’d become instantly annoyed and disappointed since I thought the brown dolls were inferior to the white dolls.  I finally began seeing Black women during college and while living in Harlem. Harlem just grabbed my soul and really brought out the sista and consciousness in me. Hell… Read more »

Adía
Adía
5 years ago

I grew up with mostly black dolls. We had a few white and Asian dolls because I had white and Asian friends and my dolls had to play with people I played with too. The whole idea of only seeing white figures is a little foreign. All the shows I watched had someone black in the cast. The shows I watch NOW have someone black in the cast

SemiXoXo
SemiXoXo
5 years ago

I plan to buy my 10 month old her first doll. And yes, her first doll will be black. I want a doll that is a reflection of her. I want to constantly remind her just how beautiful black is. I won’t point any fingers, but certain members of my family praise lighter skin and ‘good hair’. Ugh. It irks me to no end. That’s not what I want to promote in my household. It won’t happen overnight, but we need to realize that we’re equal to every other race. Not below them. There is nothing wrong with being black.… Read more »

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