Writing about issues of ethnicity and race sometimes makes me uncomfortable because it always unearths memories and recollections I have fought so hard to bury in the recesses of my mind; occurrences I don’t like revisiting, thoughts and emotions I keep in check so that I can live in peace with my fellow man. But hiding and burying something does not negate its existence or its impact on my life. And occasionally, here and there, I do have to go there. I must talk about it and delve into its depths. If I don’t, I don’t heal. If we don’t, we don’t heal.
When I read the Word of God I am truly encouraged. Within its verses I learn that I am loved, and that I am precious. I can locate myself in the Holy Scriptures and find promises that are directed at me; promises that reassure me of my worth, my health my wealth, my relationships and every aspect of my life.
As I continue reading, I come across accounts of ordinary men and women who excelled with God’s help. I also come across men of colour like Simeon (nicknamed Niger) who was one of the early church leaders (Acts 13). I come across women like Deborah who did not try to compete with men but who used their femininity and their motherly anointing, yet also performed exploits in male-dominated spaces. Their contribution could not be ignored and its presence in the Word of God is for our benefit, so that we know that the God we serve is able to make all grace abound towards us (2 Corinthians 9:8) regardless of our gender, age or ethnicity.
Mothers and wives can do exploits. Deborah tells us that. Single ladies can do exploits, Miriam and many others in the bible tell us that.
I also locate women of colour, women like Moses’ wife Zipporah whose ethnicity became a bone of contention in his family. His siblings despised her and spoke against Moses not because of his failure as a leader, but because of her ethnicity (Numbers 12:1). The issue isn’t really whether Zipporah was a woman of colour or not (the debate still rages on). The issue is that the leaders at the time, Aaron and Miriam spoke against Moses because of his wife’s supposed Cushite (black) origin. Her difference was an issue, just like many of us women of colour are made to feel inadequate and unacceptable because of the colour of our skin.
As I read the Word, the Holy Spirit reveals the cloud of witnesses God has made sure I can trace and learn from (Hebrews 12:1). I am encouraged if I am in poor health and I read accounts of the dead being raised to life as in the case of Lazarus (John 11:43).
I am encouraged as I see despised women honoured by God, people who are unloved because their appearance does not measure up on the scales their husbands use to value aesthetic standards.
Women like Leah reveal their secret pain and shame, but also how God made sure that it was from her unattractive and undervalued body that the sceptre would never depart (Genesis 40:10).
Her son Judah becomes an important link in the genealogy of our Lord.
I read also about women like Tabitha or Dorcas, who didn’t need a pulpit to preach their words and actions of love. When she died, her works spoke so strongly that they had to bring her back to life so that she could continue to minister through the work of her hands. She is described in Acts 9 as a disciple.
I read about women like Sheerah a descendent of Ephraim who was an architect and is credited with the construction of three cities (1 Chronicles 7). As I continue to read, I realise that God did not discriminate against women. In fact, there are so many examples in the bible of women doing exploits that when I read, I feel like I am ten feet tall and there is nothing I cannot do!
Then I walk into my community, or my place of work… At times it is in my family, or the nation God has planted me in that I realise that my reality in these locations is totally different from what I have read in my Father’s Word.
My reality is not that of someone with the same opportunities as everyone around me. My reality is not that of someone with the same rights as everyone else. My reality is not that of someone whose appearance is valued like everyone else’s.
I realise that the Word and the world see me quite differently and now I really want to know why this is so and what I can do so that my confidence does not continue to be knocked day by day.
It’s unfortunate that melanin is such a divisive material. Because it appears in the external, people see it before they see the virtue within, the treasure in the earthen vessel (2 Corinthians 4). People judge and condemn, vilify and cast aside the vessel they have deemed unattractive and never get the opportunity to engage with the pearls and sapphires, the emeralds and rubies that are clothed in melanin.
The fickle nature of humans expects things to be identical as defined by narrow-minded and myopic eyes. Women must be tall and slight, light in complexion with blue eyes. Their hair must be long, and it must be straight. Anything that falls outside the acceptable aesthetic dimensions so set in stone is not attractive.
Herein lies the challenge for those of us who can never fit in the acceptable standard… Our loving Father poured melanin on us to protect us from the rays of the sun…
He made our hair coarse and coiled to protect our delicate brains also from the harmful rays of the sun…
We work hard in fields and homes and our bodies have developed the strength we need for the lifestyles our ancestors toiled under….
Nothing about us fits in with our less-melanin-peers, so we cannot possibly be attractive. [Unfortunately, when you listen to our melanin-endowed brothers describing beauty and their ideal woman, she always seems to have to have as little of said melanin as possible. Their obvious eagerness to have a white sister on their arm further adds insult to injury, stressing the unattractiveness we already feel.]
I then read the following scripture and it answers a few questions for me. It reminds me of the importance of my own word, the importance of not keeping quiet but making sure those around me hear my voice, my opinion and my views.
Dark am I, yet lovely,
daughters of Jerusalem,
dark like the tents of Kedar,
like the tent curtains of Solomon.
Do not stare at me because I am dark,
because I am darkened by the sun.
My mother’s sons were angry with me
and made me take care of the vineyards;
my own vineyard I had to neglect. (Song of Solomon 1:5-6 NIV)
People will always have their own views of me. I can agree with them and keep my head bent down in pain and shame, or I can exercise the gift of speech that God has given me, and I can write and speak my own reality.
My story does not need to agree with anyone else’s story. Congruence is not always a necessity. You have your story, I have mine. Neither is more important than the other and neither deserves more credence and airtime than the other.
Each story must be told, by the person that lives it. It must be told in their vernacular so that there is no distortion to their truth.
It must be told in such a way that nothing is lost in the translation of it as people try to make it more acceptable to ‘delicate’ ears.
So, I can say that I am dark, yet lovely without going out of my way to imitate a style of beauty that is not indigenous to me.
With my kinky hair and black skin, I must say that I am dark AND lovely, so that the little dark girl next door hears a voice similar to hers, issuing words of affirmation of the beauty of her skin.
One reason why we struggle so much with low self esteem and self-hate is because we have waited for others to say we are dark and lovely. As time has passed and they haven’t said so, our heads have hung lower and lower and we have birthed baby girls who see our hung heads and think that is the way to go, so they start their lives the same way.
Our hope has been deferred and so our hearts are sick (Proverbs 13:12). We have voices and we need to use them more and more to speak, declare and decree what God says about us. We are wonderfully and fearfully made (Psalm 139:14), we are polished after the likeness of a palace (Psalm 144:12), we are made in the image of our Father (Genesis 1:27). All that applies to us as much as it applies to white people, yellow people or people of any colour.
Verse 6 of the quoted scripture issues a challenge of sorts when it says: “Don’t stare at me…” Don’t turn me into a circus item or some freak of nature that you point out to your progeny to prove your own superiority. Stop staring at me. I am as human and as beautiful as you are, just in a different way. Get on with your business and let me get on with mine.
Yes, I am dark, but there is a reason for it. Just because I look different does not mean that I should be placed on the lowest rung of the societal ladders around us. I have feelings. I have needs. I have dreams. I have ambitions.
I must focus also on what is important to me and build up the empires that bear my name. It is not my task to build your empire at the expense of mine. We were each given talents by the Sovereign God. Those talents have nothing to do with melanin. I will be just as accountable to Him for what I have done with mine as everyone else will.
If I spend all my time working your talent, polishing your ego, running your errands, by the time accountability is required, my talent, or skill, or gift will still be as it was when it was given to me.
What am I saying? As women of colour, we can accept the labels forced onto us by people who are different from us…
We can accept the labels forced on us by men of colour, some of whom have stopped seeing anything beautiful in us and craved what appears exotic to them…
We can accept the view of the world and society, the media and our neighbours…
Or we can embrace Song of Solomon and stand on the hilltop and say who we are: dark AND lovely…,
we can demand respect, not just by being mouthy, but by developing the skills and talents so prevalent in us…
We can also refuse to waste time cultivating everyone’s fields but our own and start to realise that we are important. Our dreams and ambitions are important. We have as much right as everyone else to access the things our God has given us to freely enjoy (1 Timothy 16:17).
Dark am I and lovely!
Farikanayi was born and raised during Zimbabwe’s colonial era. She earned a Bachelor of Science and Teaching Certificate from Clark College (now Clark Atlanta University and East Carolina University). She worked in Zimbabwe as a teacher, deputy head and head teacher, then migrated to the UK where she resides with her two sons and two daughters. She obtained a Master of Art degree in Gender Studies and a Master of Arts degree in Social Work from the University of Leeds. Like most immigrants to the UK, Farikanayi became a health care assistant before obtaining her UK teaching qualification. As her children have started leaving home Farikanayi has also started following her own dreams; setting up a business which allows her the flexibility to focus on her main passion which is writing. She has published six books: ‘Sarai-Sarah-Hall of Faith’, ‘The Shells that Shaped my Life’, ‘Hey Sal’, ‘Soak it, in the Word’, ‘Dear Daddy’ and ‘Saved by a Harlot’ and is working on a few more. Church has always had a central role in her life. It has become the brook where she is fed and watered and through it, her family has extended greatly and her physical, spiritual, emotional, financial and relational healing has become a reality.