I have suffered from low self-esteem and colorism most of my life. I believe it began when I was five years old. Let me set the stage. From birth until age six, I lived in Elkins Park, a suburb of Philadelphia. The year was 1984. I lived in a predominately white neighborhood and attended predominately white schools. I remember all of my doll babies and toys were mainly white. My favorite fictional cartoon shows, Rainbow Bright, Cabbage Patch Kids, and Strawberry Shortcake, had a couple of black characters who had a few lines in each episode, but the main characters that I truly liked were white characters. At the time, I didn’t understand that I was a black girl. I saw myself just like everyone else. My parents had not yet had the talk with me about race and color. At the time, I did not understand it, but soon I learned how race and colorism would begin to have a direct effect on my life.
At that time, I had a best friend and for this post, I will not use her real name. Instead, I will call her “Jane.” Jane was my best friend. We attended the same school and lived in the same neighborhood. One day when we were playing outside together, Jane told me that I was black because that is what her mother told her. Jane and I were the same age, but for some reason Jane’s mother had to make Jane aware that best friend wasn’t white, but black.
As we were playing outside on this particular day, she suddenly stopped then told me that I was black.
“I am not black,” I told her.
She said, “Yes, you are…”
I repeated again, “No I’m not.”
Then Jane said, “If you aren’t black, then what are you?”
“I am just like you,” I replied.
She said, “Nope. You are black.”
I was so upset by what she said, that I ran back home and into my house. My mom happened to be home from work. I went into the kitchen where she was preparing dinner. I told my mom what Jane had said to me, thinking in the back of my mind it wasn’t true. Then, when my mom confirmed it that I was in fact, black, I started to cry, as I just wanted to be like everybody else. To me, this now meant I was different and for some reason I processed being black as a negative instead of a positive.
I had a very innocent mind; however, that day changed the way I understood life and people. I remember when I went to school the next day, I noticed another student and I were the only two black students in my class. My dad was standing in line with me before school started. I asked my dad about the other black student who had lighter skin. I asked my dad why her skin much lighter than mine. My dad said that it was because her mother was white and her father was black.
“She is what you call bi-racial or mixed,” he said.
My response was “oh… okay.” Then I asked him, “How does someone become mixed?”
He gave me an explanation about dominant and recessive genes, which I really hard time trying to understand, but I sure did try to comprehend what my dad was telling me. Eventually, he saw the look of confusion on my face. Then he simply explained that when parent is black and the other parent is white, the child can look like a combination of both parents’ genetic characteristics – eyes, nose, hair, complexion.
“They may look more black or white,” he said. “It really depends.”
It made sense to me but at that very moment, I remember thinking that I didn’t like being black, especially this shade of black. If I was going to be black, I want to be at least mixed because I felt that was the closest color to white, especially if you were dark like me.
At the same time, during the school year, my teachers had been discussing with my parents placing me into special education class the following school year due to my behavior. I had too much energy. Once I finished a task, I couldn’t sit still. I just needed to do something else. One of my teachers told my mother that I needed to be taking Adderall. My mom told the teacher that she was not a psychologist or psychiatrist and that she was not going to have her 5-year-old child taking Adderall. Eventually, I was tested by the school’s district psychologist and before the end of the school year I was placed into a special education classroom.
When I started in special education, I remembered it being kind of abrupt. One minute I was in regular classes, the next minute I was in the special education classroom. In that classroom, one particular student always teased and bullied me – all day, every day. She would hit and punch me and I would fight her back. There was no such thing as a bullying policy at that time. Sure, the teachers and administrators tried their best to address the problem, but it really didn’t help. So, I continued to deal with the constant harassment by this one student for the rest of the school year. She never called me the N word, but she teased me about being black, ugly, and dumb. There were other black students in the special education classes, but she wouldn’t harass them. She bullied only me. This is when I started to notice I didn’t like myself at all. My self-esteem was starting to suffer. I didn’t think that I was pretty at all. I didn’t like going to school very much anymore. I would feel very lonely and depressed throughout the school day. Even though I have a twin sister, we didn’t attend the same school because she has a physical disability and was at a special school in Philadelphia.
When I got home from school, I would watch my favorite cartoons shows. I didn’t enjoy them anymore, and eventually stopped watching them because I would become very upset. I thought the only way I would be able to succeed in life would be to be white. All my favorite cartoons and superheroes were white. It made feel like a little girl who would never succeed. Also, my parents always watched the evening news every night and I would notice the black people who would always be behind bars and all the white people they showed were doing great things in their community, schools, etc.
One night, I told my parents I didn’t like being black and wanted to be white because of what I had been experiencing. My parents didn’t know what to say, other than to tell me that I should love being black and that James Brown sang about being black and proud in the 70s. But I couldn’t relate to this yet because I was five and it was 1984.
My parents didn’t recognize the signs of depression and low self-esteem. People weren’t discussing mental health the way they do now. Nevertheless, my parents were very involved and supportive with my schooling, which was a plus even though they both worked full-time jobs. I do remember going to the school guidance counselor, because I didn’t want to be in school because of that bullying student. I would cry and be very upset, then get into a fight with the other student and end up back into the guidance counselor’s office. We didn’t have social workers that I can remember at the time, only guidance counselors who weren’t trained for these kinds of situations or issues. The bullying, teasing, and harassing continued throughout the following school year and that made my self-esteem even worse. Fortunately, my parents had purchased a new home in Philadelphia and we were going to move during the summer of 1986. Transferring to a new school was a going to be a relief, I thought. But little did I know that this was only just the beginning.

About SATUR-Your-Day
SATUR-Your-Day is an interactive blog where I invite readers to engage and go in-depth with me as I become transparent about personal and professional obstacles that have had both negative and positive impacts on my life. I want you to learn that we are all experiencing trials and tribulations in life and that no one is exempt from these life hurdles. As long as you have breath in your body, you are going to go through “the storm” of life. I sincerely hope that you will find lessons from the SATUR-Your-Day Blog, and discover that we can all learn and grow from each other’s experiences, which ultimately make us better people for our families, friends, colleagues, community, and the world. I feel your pain and know that you need time for you to just be you and that is the purpose for SATUR-Your-DAY.

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Ayasha Roberson started Urban SociaLites, LLC in June of 2010, she holds a bachelor degree in Sociology from Richard Stockton College and Masters Degree in Administrative Science from Fairleigh Dickinson University. Every 3rd and 5th Saturday check out her blog Social Media Saturday as Ayasha provides you with helpful tips of how to make your brand cool, hip, and colorful.

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