Surprisingly, my only recollection of the Bahamas is of a moment that didn’t even take place on the Bahamian land; but in an elevator shooting us back up to the Disney cruise ship.
The elevator was small, transparent, and it was air conditioned so it served as a great escape from the desiccating day. I don’t quite remember how it connected the land to the ship, nevertheless, it did. Nearly full, my family squeezed into the right side avoiding the guy about my dad’s age at the back of the elevator. Another girl, about my age, and her father were to the left of us. The square prism was tense from stiffened extremities, soft groans, and a little bit of body-odor seeped into the air from the suppressed Bahamian activities that happened just moments before our entry into the elevator. The girl that was my age and I, had one thing in common: we both had our hair braided. She had blonde hair that was braided with beads, perhaps a little souvenir from the Bahamas. My hair was braided, but without beads, with American hands, and it wasn’t a souvenir but a style that was worn frequently, it was a part of me. As the elevator air started to thicken, a voice from the back said, “your braids are beautiful, I really like them.” I turned to thank the man for complimenting both me and the blonde girls’ braids, but my smile quickly faded as he gazed only to the other girl, completely ignoring my presence. The cool air that once made the elevator comfortable was immediately gone. I bit my lip, turned around, and tried to swallow but my throat was too dry. He was just complimenting the other girls’ braids, it was simple, her hair had beads and mine didn’t. But, for some reason I felt extremely uncomfortable. Perhaps this discomfort stemmed from when my mother’s hand tensed on my shoulder; and when my dad stiffened a little more, opened his mouth as though he wanted to say something, but instead held his tongue. The moment was brief but left me feeling a feeling I had never felt before. I knew I had to be strong for some reason, but I was lost in my confusion. Why were her blonde braids beautiful and not mine?
I kept replaying the scene in my head over and over again. With each subsequent time I convinced myself of another resolution: perhaps he didn’t see me, maybe he was just tired, her hair had beads in them and mine didn’t. I was convinced that it was definitely the beads. I tucked the memory deep deep down inside, and instead of my main focus being on the cruise, the cruise became a distraction. This was the first time I remember my beauty being confronted, the first time that yellow meant something different. This was my first recollection of the child-like joy starting to fade, just a little bit. My eyes opened, and my skin cringed from a new feeling that I now know to be as feeling insignificant. That moment in the elevator heading back to the Disney cruise was pivotal, because I realized I didn’t look like the princesses I admired, their hair was blonde and their skin was white. The other girl looked like the princesses, she was beautiful, I was not. That one elevator moment was the origin to my feelings of inferiority, my first exposure to societal beauty, and how me, and my skin did not fit the status quo.
Despite my battles with beauty and struggles to understand the objectivity of black bodies,
I am encouraged and completely believe in the fact that:
“I praise you because I am fearfully, and wonderfully made; Marvelous are Your works, and that my soul knows very well.” Psalm 139:14
I chose to let this moment, and many others, not just break me down, but elevate me.
by Sascha Enders