Black Pearl (by Cortney Joseph)

Miyah rushed home with tears in her eyes, running through a throng of people without even stopping to apologize for bumping into them. There was no time to spare, and the sooner she could get home, away from the world, the better.

There was an intense pain she felt, one she was certain no one would understand; no matter how she explained it. No kind or positive words could ease it.

Nearly knocking over her next door neighbor, Miyah only stopped when she felt herself being grabbed. “I’ve told y’all little black behinds about running up and down this block like you ain’t got the sense the good Lord gave ya.” One word, one word triggered Miyah and the tears she’d been fighting back fell with such force. It shocked her neighbor, who tried her best to hold on to the young child. To check on her, to pry and find something to gossip about.

It was no use.

After a bit of a struggle, Miyah was free and running again until she reached her own brownstone. Just as she was about to dash past her father, he reached out and grabbed her, pulling her into his arms and lap. What was about to be one of their usual tickle sessions was wiped from his mind as he saw his young daughter crying.

Her body shaking in his arms, the words that slipped past her lips. “What’d you say to me, Miyah?”

“I said let me go. Stop pretending that you want to be around something as ugly as me.”

He pushed her away from his chest a little, staring into her big brown eyes. There was so much hurt, something he’d never seen in the little spit fire he’d been raising on his own. “Why would you say something like that?”

“Because it’s true. Look at me!”

“I’m looking, Miyah. I see my beautiful, perfect little angel.”

“Ugh, you have to say that. Fathers have to be kind to their kids!”

“Just because fathers are supposed to do something, it doesn’t mean they always stick around to do it. I think you know that well enough from seeing some of the other kids around here. I don’t say things because I have to, I say them because they are true.” Pulling her closer, he allowed Miyah to rest her head on his chest, gently rubbing her arms as he waited for her to calm down. “Now, tell me what happened and who upset you.”

Sniffling, Miyah took a deep breath. “At school, Mrs. Hardy was talking about the upcoming dance and everyone was saying that nobody would ask me. I said I don’t care because I think boys are gross anyway. Then, all of the girls started ganging up on me. They said even if I did like boys, no one would ask me because I was too skinny, too ugly, and too black. All of the boys like and play with the girls with the lighter skin, different colored eyes, and long curly hair.”

“Miyah…”

She asked her father to hold off, and she continued, wanting to get it all off of her chest. “They started saying that I looked like tar, and that being this dark is only acceptable when someone wants to hire a maid. They said all I have to do is lay in the middle of the street and I’ll blend right in with the stuff they use to pave it. They made me stand beside each of them, comparing my skin to theirs. And then, I failed the paper bag test.”

He was horrified at what he was being told. Sure, he knew what the paper bag test was. He’d been subjected to it himself when he was a child, with the test often dictating what he was good enough to do. Still, he couldn’t believe that it was still a thing in this day and age.

Miyah sighed. “They’re all so pretty daddy. Lighter, with long and good hair. And I went to the bathroom, and I looked at myself, and they’re right. I’m too black, too ugly. I look like I’m in Blackface all of the time, with nappy hair that feels like wool when it’s not braided. I’m ugly. Won’t ever be chosen, always gonna be second best. Not even that, dead last.”

“Let me tell you something Miyah Marie; YOU are beautiful. With this beautiful black skin, dark cocoa. I used to call you Coffee Bean because you were so brown and just gorgeous.” He held his arm out, asking her to rest her arm against his for a moment. “Look at Daddy. I’m darker than you, Miyah. We’re dark, almost all of our family is; a mass array of chocolate from toffee to charcoal. We’re black. We’re black. We’re black, and we’re beautiful. We’re dark, and we’re beautiful. You’re a beautiful dark, black, little girl. And you’ve got a head full of thick, curly, natural hair that looks amazing when you rock your afro. It’s kinky, but it’s yours and there is so much pride in your eyes when you pick it out. I see it all the time.”

“Daddy…”

“You’re black. That’s not a bad thing, it’s not ugly, it’s nothing to be ashamed of, and it’s not less than anyone or anything, and I don’t give a damn who tells you otherwise. Be they white, or black just like us. Let them be ignorant in their beliefs. You’re beautiful.”

“Why is there such a divide, why are they so convinced they’re better? I mean, I know why white people think it. But other black girls. I get the worst comments from them.”

“Sadly, Miyah, you have the misfortune of growing up in a time when the wrong idea of what beauty should be is being projected on TV and in music and even by parents to their children.” He sighed, recalling his own youth when so many of his friends swore they’d never marry black because they didn’t want dark children, especially dark little girls. Pure ignorance.

“So what is beauty?”

He paused for a moment, trying to find the right words. “It’s different for different people. What it should be; your heart, and the way you treat people. Your personality and your attitude. Beauty on the outside is nice, but it’s not what matters the most.”

“Daddy, this doesn’t help. If black isn’t ugly, why do so many people talk negatively about it?”

“I don’t know, Miyah. And unfortunately you can’t change the mind of some folks who are set in their ways, not when they have these beliefs and attitudes about black women for the wrong reasons. All I know is that it is my job to lift you back up every time someone tries to kick you down.”

“I still don’t feel beautiful, but thank you.”

“Just remember this; no matter what I, or anyone else says, it’s all about what you feel about yourself. Believe me when I say that when you take sometime to learn about yourself and to love yourself, nothing negative that anyone says will ever matter again. It takes a little time, but you’ll get there, and I will be right here to help you when you need me.”

“Will anyone ever love our black skin as much as you do?”

He chuckled. “Plenty of people already do. Come on and change out of your school clothes. We’ll go to the community center, and we’ll watch beautiful black people that look just like you.”

Miyah smiled, drying her eyes. “I think I’d like that very much.”

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