Society is the uncompassionate teacher that will carve lessons into her with no remorse.
Every black girl goes through a rite of passage. Even before her mother can explain certain things, she learns from the people around her. She notices things and has to mature just a bit earlier than most girls.
The media will tell her she'll never reach the beauty standard, but light skin and soft hair are a good attempt. The boys will tell her she's not datable and the world will tell her that if she doesn't quite fit the mold of what a girl should be, she's unworthy.
While other children play in the schoolyard, she's taught how to be beautiful, what class bracket she should fall into, how to be black enough, that she should never be too black, what type of careers she's allowed to pursue, what neighborhoods she should live and attend school in, what hobbies she should have, and who she's allowed to befriend.
All of these things will prepare her for the horrors of job hunting, dating, socializing, apartment hunting, the moment when she speaks and people are surprised by her lack of slang and intelligence, and the moment she realizes she's the "token black" who will have to work harder than everyone else for a promotion. Even when she begins to bend these rules, society will quickly remind her to 'stay in her place' as a black girl.
Here's a few lessons society taught me before my own mother even had a chance:
1. A weave and skin bleach are the way to success and beauty.
I remember my sister saving up her allowance to buy skin bleach. I wondered why, but realized she received extra male attention for her lighter skin. She was called a sweet caramel, and I was called charcoal. Flipping through photos of celebrities with my school friends, I noticed that most of the black celebrities were light skinned. Even Queen Bey herself was getting lighter each week.
That's when I learned that my dark skin and nappy afro were ugly and unprofessional. By the age of eight, I was begging for a perm. Even my black dolls didn't have braids or an afro, and all of the school girls that everyone called pretty were able to flip their hair. I wanted that, too.
2. Only "sluts" play sports with their guy friends.
I was a very athletic girl, so naturally, I had male friends and played sports with the guys. It wasn't long after that I learned the word slut. The girls began to look at me differently for befriending and playing soccer with the boys.
Even before my mother could give me the "sex talk," I learned all about it after being called a slut. I squinted my eyes and asked what the word meant. The girls were quick to explain why I was "acting like a slut" and why they couldn't eat lunch with me anymore.
3. Always cover up, because boys can't control themselves.
If men do or say something while my curves are showing, it's my fault for showing them in the first place. When I was ten, a boy laughed at me for wearing a bra with my flat chest and reached over the desk to pull my bra strap. When I informed a teacher, she told me not to wear shirts like that anymore and to make sure I was covered up.
4. Women's bodies are sexual items.
My large ass made me the target of many men on the street, no matter what I wore. From the age of ten, my curves began to shape and I realized men looked at me differently. They spoke about my body as if it were an item.
5. A white girl can be praised for doing something; black girls look ghetto for doing the same.
If I yelled or used slang, I was a ghetto, angry black girl. When my white friends did the same thing, they were trendy and funny. Braids were cute on my friends but when I wore natural braids, I looked like a "prison dyke". When my white friends twerked, they were skilled and sexy but when I twerked I was being ratchet. When my white friends got extensions it was perfectly fine, but if I got extensions, it was called a weave and I would be teased for it.
6. Black girls should be ashamed of the things that make them different.
I learned to avoid pool parties because the water reverted my hair back to it's natural afro-state. I woke up earlier than the other girls at sleepovers to hide the fact I needed to tie my hair down. If I didn't tie it down, it would be nappy and I'd even have more questions to answer in the morning.
I was severely embarrassed when asked about my braids, and opted against weaves because the other black girl in school were mocked for it.
7. Black girls are a "bucket list" item for men.
Growing up, I was one of four black kids in my grade. So my dating options weren't plentiful. People constantly expected me to hook up with the other black student because we were a "perfect couple." When I considered other races, schoolmates taught me that a white guy was only interested because he had a "thing for black girls" and would soon lose interest.
Finally, a crush of mine expressed interest. He nervously took my hand in math class and whispered that chocolate was his favorite candy, while attempting to wink. I thought it was funny and held his hand. Then leaned over and whispered, "I've always wanted to try a black girl."
When I asked him what he meant by "try," he said, "You know what they say about black girls being freaks." And he winked again. In all of two minutes my almost-first date proposal was over.
8. Many blacks still consider you an outsider, even if you're the same color.
My speech, education and upbringing made me a traitor who was trying to "act white." I remember when a soccer ball landed near the benches where a few black girls stood. They cursed and snapped with a series of hand waves, believing the ball had purposely been aimed at them.
When they yelled "them white bitches," the entire team looked at me, urging me to get it from them. When I stepped forward, they yelled traitor and "oreo bitch." We never got our ball back. I spent a lifetime running from those stereotypes and never imagined I would be mocked for not being a stereotype.
9. Only certain body types are considered beautiful.
My pear-shaped body wasn't proportionate and my arm muscles were too big. I was sporty with naturally muscular arms but realized guys were intimidated when I scored a point on them or ran faster. I learned that I should be dainty and soft to attract male attention.
10. Dark-skinned girls are ugly and unwanted.
#TeamDarkSkin and #TeamLightSkin taught me that even my own community looked down upon my dark skin. I was often called "pretty for a dark-skinned girl" by many black boys. Both races used, "I don't usually like black girls, but you're gorgeous" as a pick-up line. It wasn't until college that I realized what an insult it was to black women.
11. Black girls are at the bottom of the dating pool.
Even many black guys said they "didn't date black girls." I learned that I wasn't dating material; for a person to "sink down" and date a black girl, there were conditions.
12. Nothing you get is earned, especially education or jobs.
People would say I was only accepted because they needed a black person, a "token black." Of my friend group, I was the only one accepted into the gifted middle school we had all applied for.
When I was standing in the school yard with my best friend, her mother leaned over and said, "Your people always find a way to smuggle in where they don't belong." My mother leaned back over to her, a Jewish woman, and said, " Well, we don't all have the ability to blend in and pass." That was the end of our friendship.