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To Be Black in a Country That Idealizes Mixedness is Rough’: Growing Up Black in Trinidad

Avatar • Sep 28, 2015

By Ayana Malaika Crichlow for The Huffington Post

Ayana Malaika Crichlow

Ayana Malaika Crichlow

I grew up in Trinidad in the 80s and 90s as a black girl child. To be black in a country that idealizes the curly hair and mixed ethnicity aesthetic, is rough to say the least. Although I shared the same parental genes as my sister, who is considered mixed or “red,” what I embodied physically was dark skin and “kinky” hair. It didn’t matter that my heritage included French, Scottish, East Indian and African; I was black to everyone who saw me, which wouldn’t bother me if I wasn’t treated as less than because of it.

I was the daughter of a dark-skinned man who, as a man, couldn’t comprehend my female self-esteem struggles. He didn’t know that his unabashed preference of my light- skinned sister could truly fuck me up. As my primary example of the male gender and my only other dark skinned counterpart in our immediate family, he didn’t understand that not loving me as much as my red sister could damage my mind and sense of self for years. I was also the daughter of a light-skinned mother who, similarly, couldn’t fully understand my dark-skinned complex because like my sister, she had gotten the red woman’s preferential treatment her whole life.

At first, I didn’t know the treatment I got wasn’t right; it was normal because it was all I knew. It was normal for my sister to be favored and complimented while I was looked at sadly or with disdain. I could see people’s minds churning, wondering how this beautiful woman could have such an ugly child. It must be the father; hence the frequent comment, “oh, this one looks like her father.” As I got older, these occurrences increased as I socialized more. More and more, comments came from my peers. My favorite was “Allyuh have the same mother and father?” Usually this was accompanied by looks of confusion or incredulousness. I learned to take these jabs and stabs in stride. I learned to live inside my head while I was being ignored, to make up loving scenarios and fantasies to cancel out the pain of reality.

It didn’t help that I was the only one in the family who was afflicted with both kinky hair and dark skin. All my cousins were either dark with curly hair, or as Trinis like to say, “good hair,” or red skinned with kinky hair. I didn’t have either redeeming quality. I haven’t lived in Trinidad in approximately 20 years, but it still amazes me when I visit that this way of thinking is still an underlying attitude of most people. Not all, but most.

Now, there are ways to be relevant if you are black. It’s all about who you know in Trinidad. If you know popular or important people, have a great accomplishment in sports or academics, have a lot of money or have something everybody wants, then, of course, you can get preferential treatment. You still have to work harder for it while some others don’t have to do anything but just be who they were born to be with the inherent color, class and beauty privilege afforded to them.

Ayana Malaika Crichlow

Ayana Malaika Crichlow

Similar ideas are reinforced in Trinidad and Tobago’s carnival celebrations regarding the kinds of women who are considered beautiful and exemplary. For instance, carnival bands such as Tribe, Bliss and Fantasy only allow registration for a costume through a committee member. Yet again, I have noticed my need to prove my worth rear its ugly head with the dogged determination I put into getting into a band that obviously doesn’t give a damn about my money or my rights as a consumer to be able to purchase their goods without first being vetted for approval. This need for social approval is rooted in my early family dynamics. It’s another way to attempt to counter childhood feelings of not being good enough and working hard to prove my worth and belonging. So I put up with the bullshit that Trinis call having links, which essentially means being nice to people who could get you in. Can you imagine being nice so I can spend my hard earned money?

The insanity of it all is appalling on so many levels, yet to this day hundreds, if not thousands, of Trinis go through this process just to be accepted. This makes me wonder if hordes of us aren’t just fighting to belong. Maybe many of us got the similar message at a very young age that we weren’t good enough because we didn’t have any redeeming qualities like curly hair or a light complexion and that we must go through the rest of our lives proving ourselves worthy. Maybe mas band exclusivity is just another way to deal. The fact that the government of my beautiful twin isle nation has no laws preventing this obvious discrimination by class proves that the general process is accepted at all levels of this multi-faceted and ethnically diverse society. This designed “exclusivity” necessitates the need for connections which means that said committee member must personally know you, in order for you to pay for a costume in their band. It is just a roundabout way of discriminating who plays mas with them. It is just as bad as those country clubs and society clubs years ago that only allowed membership through other members in order to keep a certain classes (and color) of people out. I have heard dismissive people say, “Well if you don’t like it, there are other bands to play with” and “Go play with another band”. But that’s like saying, well there are other country clubs where your type is welcome, so go there. It’s still discrimination. These bands may also discriminate by body size as well as class, so it’s not only by race. All forms of discrimination are dehumanizing and wrong.

Read the rest here.

Ladies, what are your thoughts?

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Saran
Saran
5 years ago

sad, sad, sad!

Tracienatural
Tracienatural
5 years ago

I can truly relate. I grew up with similar circumstances, coming from a Jamaican family. Too dark/unattractive to really be my light-skinned mother’s daughter; hair not long enough, either. Yes, I “looked like my father,” which was a way of insult as far as they were concerned because my father is very dark-skinned. For me, I was able to connect with the Rasta/Pan-Africanism/Black Power sentiment and grew to have a great deal of pride in my blackness. However, this “red” and “light-skinned” thing is very prevalent in West Indian/Caribbean culture. Yes, it is also prevalent in Black America, but the… Read more »

Raquel
Raquel
5 years ago
Reply to  Tracienatural

South America too, especially in Brazil.

rainbow
rainbow
5 years ago

This so true and so sad.

Morgan Pearson
Morgan Pearson
5 years ago

I can truly relate to the writer because I am caribbean, bahamian to be exact and the slave mindset that “light-skinned” and or “good hair” is better is still very prevalent. I however carry my african heritage with pride while i feel hurt for those who tell me they wish they had hair like mine because it “pretty”, “good” or “curly”. I try to instil in the young people like me that “good hair” is healthy hair and they should love the hair that grows from their scalp. I even face jealousy from my classmates when they say “you know… Read more »

Afro Queen
Afro Queen
5 years ago
Reply to  Morgan Pearson

So true… I have the feeling this is the same shit in Carribean when it comes to hair… I am a French Carribean and “light skin praise” is still alive… We have a name “chabine” to call the light skin girls… People are pretty much ignorant when it comes to hair. The lighter you are the longer your hair will be…um no. It saddens me when I hear girls telling “well your hair grows you have mixed hair”…No I’m black with kinky hair, I just take care you know… I’m just hoping that the “light skin and curly/wavy/long hair praise”… Read more »

DLB
DLB
5 years ago

Sorry to hear you went through this growing up.

Tiny_Vi
Tiny_Vi
5 years ago

I’m from the Virgin Islands and I too can relate to this article. Not to one specific thing either. It’s sad that these types of discriminations exist. Yes we all come from beautiful places but it’s quite different from the discriminations Afro-descendants face in other places. And only people who experience this will know the struggle.

The Darling Kinkshamer
The Darling Kinkshamer
5 years ago

You look like me as a kid, adorable!

i think that American culture also idealizes light skinned black people and a loose hair texture.

Sandy
Sandy
5 years ago

The same with the Guyanese (Guyana, South America) culture. If your not mixed they downgrade you to this nothingness, and that being dark skin is some kinda curse you have happen to you. I have black, east Indian and Portuguese heritage but I’m a dark skin woman with kinky hair. They don’t believe you are cause you don’t have the curly or we say dougla hair to even be considered mixed.
A whole lot of race issues with Guyana and most of the Caribbean culture. It needs to change.

Vellicia Francis
Vellicia Francis
5 years ago

I am Antiguan, 19 years old and I completely get where you’re coming from. my mom told me that when I was small I told her that one of my classmates told me that my hair looked like a toilet brush (my default hair-do was a pouf). I remember begging my mom to perm (relax) because its bad enough that I was dark-skinned but I had natural hair too. She didn’t tho, told me I was too young and that after I finished secondary school I could. Fast forward, I’m in fifth form and now I can make the decision… Read more »

Kimmie
Kimmie
4 years ago

Honestly i believe its a Caribbean thing. I went through the same thing with my sister and family. An entire section of my mother’s immediate family doesn’t like me because i’m dark and used to treat me like shit when I went there for holiday visits. I was the dark skinned one with the short kinky hair while my sister was lighter skinned with taller hair. They loved her and showed favoritism while I use to cry myself to sleep asking God why he didn’t make me “pretty”.

Susan linde
Susan linde
4 years ago

I agree. I grew up in the 80s and never felt slighted because of my dark skin color. And with education and success, you can move upward in Trinidad. The culture is more class-based than skin color based.

just passing through
just passing through
4 years ago

clearly you are an indian/light skinned person lol you counted a whole two women! Wow, out of all the years that Trinis enter Miss Universe, OMG how great, two black women. lol clearly you’re oblivious to the matter.

Tiffany Williams
Tiffany Williams
5 years ago

I think this relates to African Americans as well. Light skin and curly hair is praised not for its blackness but for its non blackness as the person could possibly be mixed with something “exotic.” We deny colorism in the black community because the people mainly affected by it are black women and we all know black women are never coddled or even cared about like black men are. Dark skin black men are looked at as manly while light skin black men are looked at as feminine. Dark skin black women are bitter, angry, ghetto while light skin black… Read more »

Tiffany Williams
Tiffany Williams
5 years ago

Also notice with black family art and drawings the man is usually darker than the woman? Subliminal colorism for how a black man needs a lighter wife. I have never once seen a drawing where the woman is darker and the man lighter.

mel
mel
5 years ago

I can identify with this being a dark skinned black girl with light skinned sisters. I felt every word and the constant need to prove your worth to others or that you belong as you get older. I didnt think I would be able to identify with this but my goodness I did.

thank you and you are not alone.

Carli
Carli
5 years ago

This is so sad but true I live in Trinidad and its sad once you don’t have either fair skin or defined curly hair they treat you like you the trash the truck left behind. I have dark skin but curly hair due to my grandfather’s mixed ethnicity i hate the you have good hair or Dougla hair comment but never any your skin is beautiful, the only things you hear them say about your skin or facial appearance is you is a nice darkie or you nice for a dark skin girl as if dark skin is worst than… Read more »

Danielle
Danielle
5 years ago

I am a born, raised and still reside in Trinidad and Tobago therefore I can attest to the fact that she is correct in the first half and there is a tenacity within Trinidad and Tobago to pretend that these lines of separation and discrimination do not exist…and what’s worst are the people who suffer from it tend to be the biggest advocates for there being “no problem”… However, I don’t support the second half of this article AT ALL.…this is just more Black people demanding to spend money where they are not wanted…this is willing victimization and she gets… Read more »

mlank64
mlank64
5 years ago

Colorism is an affliction that is world wide.…it’s practiced here the USA in a grand scale.

Cosita
Cosita
5 years ago

Glad you overcame the nonsense.

Tracienatural
Tracienatural
5 years ago

By the way, the author is so pretty! This is the irony of all this intra-racism is that people fail to see the beauty of themselves and others who resemble them the most. But I have faith that things are changing, as more people are starting to celebrate their African identity.

Cathy O
Cathy O
5 years ago

Fellow Trini, and I married an American hispanic whose skin is several shades lighter than mine. He lives here in Trinidad with me and is experiencing first hand, the different types of treatment and interactions we have with others. We discuss this sort of thing several times and it breaks both our hearts to say that our children will all likely have a greater chance at worldly success than their mother did. The writer speaks the truth.

Khadija Elbourne
Khadija Elbourne
5 years ago

I am an Afro trinbagonian who grew up in the 80’s and 90’s who currently still live in Trinidad and Tobago. I’m sorry that this has been your experience but I have to say this has not been mine. I am the daughter of a dark skinned mother and my father is what some would term as “mixed”. I have neverfelt slighted becoz of the colour of my skin as I look like a splitting image of my mother. I have even been complimented about my hair by friends and family members that some would say have “good” hair. As… Read more »

B. Ramoutar
B. Ramoutar
4 years ago

I live in Trinidad and honestly I don’t know what she is talking about , granted there are some racial bias in my country ‚but it is usually about the “East Indian ” decedents ” or about the little white population .What I think we have here is a bit of sibling rivalry . I personally think this woman is looking for some sort of sympathy and attention .…..I mean if this was true we would have not had two Miss Universe who were “Black ” with “Kinky ” hair from our beautiful Islands

Tammy Cook
Tammy Cook
4 years ago

I can totally see where the writer is coming from this is the left over slavery mentallity of Trinidad, the rest of the caribbean, south america and of course black america. I am a native of Jamaica. I’ve observed many times in the past darker skinned women especially those with kinky hair being classed as ugly or unattractive and girls with lighter skin and curly wavy or straight hair aka “pretty hair” the red girls being classed as attractive and beautiful and for many years the fair skinned girls had better opportunities, also in Jamaica if you have a straight… Read more »

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