One-On-One with Faye Muhammad
Ebony S. Muhammad (EM): I want to talk to you about a subject that came up in class a while ago about your experience growing up as what we call a “light-skinned” sister with “light eyes”. You mentioned that it wasn’t all what most people would think it would be just based on what we were mis-educated on. So could briefly give me your background and experience with that?
Faye Muhammad (FM): I think that a lot of people have a huge misconception that it is a lot better and there are a lot of advantages, but I really want to point out the other side of that and let people know it’s not all what’s it’s cracked up to be.
Growing up being fairly light-skinned, having light colored eyes and long hair, I’ve always been the stereo-typical light-skinned girl. Being from the south it was more so prominent especially since my family is from Louisiana. I was actually born in Houston. So there’s this big misconception that all people from Louisiana are what they call “Geechie” or “Mulatto” or “Creole”. Well, a lot of that has some validity and truth, but a lot of it is not true. For instance, both of my parents are from Louisiana, but my mom is a light brown skin and most of her family is dark-skinned. My dad is very dark-skinned and he has a couple of siblings that were darker-skinned, however, he also had some siblings that were fair-skinned. My grandmother was fair-skinned with long black hair. Therefore, people who did not know my parents or have never met my parents would automatically assume, when they see me, “you must be from Louisiana” or “both of your parents must be light-skinned”. That’s absolutely incorrect and a major misconception.
If you see my sister she’s darker than I am. She’s a light brown complexion like our mother, so to look at both my sister and I we look completely different. She’s always had short haircuts, because it was always becoming on her. Her body type and my body type are very different. I’ve always been slender my whole life, so I just completely fit the whole build of those stereotypes between Black people of light-skinned.
I wanted to give you a little bit of history, because I found myself having to correct people a lot and let them know this is my sister, whenever we were out. My sister and I are very close; we’re about four years apart and we did everything together. She’s my sister and we both have the same parents. She looks exactly like our mother and I look a lot like our dad’s mother, who’s passed away now.
One of the things that was discouraging for me is how we’re always together and we look so different, people would always say, “you must have different fathers” or “you must not have the same mom” or “how come she don’t look like you”. These comments are from Black people. For me it was very discouraging because that’s my sister. Both my sister and I found ourselves having to explain things to people, and I more so felt that I had to explain things to people, because I felt so pre-judged all of the time.
Another thing is my hair is not only long but it’s a light, light sandy brown with natural blonde streaks, and my sister’s hair is a dark brown almost black color. So people continuously assumed, “you must have different dads” or “you must be mixed with something”. I got that all of the time. My sister and I always had to defend our relationship and I had to continuously prove to people that she is my sister and I am her sister. One other thing that would always happen is people coming up to me and asking me “what are you”. I got that growing up. I don’t have very many features of my mother, but as I get older many people say I’m starting to look more like her. My mom and I don’t have the same body-build, we’re very different. I have all of my father’s family’s features. Therefore being around my mother when I was younger and people asking me what am I, I thought to myself, “You gotta be kidding! What do you mean what am I”.
So for me being light-skinned I always had to prove my Blackness. That’s the other side of it, and I’ve felt that way ever since third or fourth grade. I was very much teased in school. We grew up in the “hood”, however my parents were always about education, especially since it’s just us two girls. They were trying to keep us focused and always involved. My sister didn’t have the same problems nor did she battle the same issues I had to. Her battles were very different. Her body type and the way she’s shaped was what she had to deal with. For me I had to deal with the way I looked. Unfortunately, there weren’t a lot of people that I could identify with except for a few people. There were those people in my school, while growing up, that were the light-skinned girls that always hung together, but I never hung with them. I always felt like they’ve played into the stereotype and they took advantage of the “power”, but was really no power. So now that I’ve grown up I can look back and see that they played into the ignorance of Black people, and I couldn’t be a part of that.
I appreciated the way that I looked, but I had very low self-esteem even though I was the stereotypical light-skinned, light eyes and long hair girl. I got a lot of compliments and I’ve always been very appreciative of all of those compliments that I’ve gotten from men and women. It was very hard, because I felt like people were insulting me at the same time. Therefore, being younger I didn’t want to play into that role of being with those girls.
From second to about seventh grade I had very low self-esteem. I felt like I had to try to fit into a box that I really didn’t want to fit into. I was teased, I was followed from school and they would pull my hair; they pulled my hair all of the time. They would push me around, and these were all the girls who thought I was trying to talk to their boyfriend. That was never the case. I can count the boyfriends I’ve had on one hand. I just wasn’t that type of person. The guys might have liked me, but I didn’t like them. I really felt like I wanted to completely change the way I looked, because I felt tormented at times. They would want to fight me. They would say, “You think you pretty. You think you all that”.
That’s what I had to deal with growing up. All of my friends looked very different from me. My best friend in high school was overweight, but that was my friend. I can’t even count the number of girls that I hung with that actually looked like me. All of my friends looked very different from me, because I always felt that people’s beauty was very different. I learned to appreciate that at a very young age. I understood that there’s beauty outside of my own, which probably attributed to my self-esteem. I had very low self-esteem probably all the way up until ninth or tenth grade. It was then that I began learning how to appreciate me for me and learned how to deal with people. For example, the guys called me “yellow hammer” and “yellow-bone”, which was very insulting to me. You’re calling me a yellow hammer! That’s really a bird! I would hear, “Come here red-bone”. That was horrible to me. I couldn’t stand it, it was so disrespectful. I have a name, therefore, why don’t you ask me my name? These are the things I dealt with growing up, and if you don’t know me you would think that I had all of the advantages.
I was with a friend who guys would come up to and say, “You’re cute for a dark-skinned girl”. I was just as offended and she was when the guys would tell her that. Either you think she’s pretty or she’s not. Why would you have to say you look pretty for a dark-skinned girl? Yet, I found myself trying to prove that I was Black. People would say, “You don’t have nappy hair, you have good hair” or “You can do this because of your eyes”. Are you serious? I’ve seen some light-skinned girls that are not cute, and I would see guys that would date them just because they were light-skinned! I would think to myself, “but she is so ugly! She has a mustache (laughing)…”. I’m sorry to be so frank, but she would be so ugly! I’ve seen light-skinned girls with ugly personalities. Just because she’s light doesn’t mean she looks good.
It is our mentality, we are so enslaved. My grandmother would tell us, “Don’t come and bring no dark Negro to my house”. However, when I got older I realized that all my grandmother ever dated were darker-skinned men. My daddy’s nick-name is “Minwi”, which means midnight in French/Creole. That’s what they called him in Louisiana. He was the darkest of all of the children. His sister who was probably a shade lighter than him was called “Noir”, which means Black in French.
The last thing I would like to share, and this is kind of funny, is a couple of years ago a good friend of mine, who is dark-skinned and is an absolutely beautiful sister, who has all of my characteristics except for the light eyes. She has this long, flowing all the way to her butt hair. She and I went to Puerto Rico, and normally she would get the comment that she was pretty for a dark-skinned girl, but on this occasion we were walking around and two single men came up to us and started speaking Spanish, to us both.
We just looked at each other and told them that we didn’t know what they were saying (laughing). Both men ended up speaking English to us and they said, “You both are very beautiful. We just assumed that you were both Spanish women”. You see, in Puerto Rico every person’s color is completely different. It happens in other countries where you have the “light-skinned and dark-skinned”, because of what the white man has done to us, but in Puerto Rico they don’t really judge. They’re definition of beauty was for both of us. It was funny to us, because we never got that in America. Both of us are beautiful, but we’re different shades of beauty, and they were able to appreciate us equally.
You don’t see Black people appreciating beauty equally. That’s just my science on it and my experience with that whole “light-skin and dark-skin” issue.
EM: At what point did you completely overcome those complexes, or have you completely overcome them?
FM: Yes, most definitely. Being in the Nation of Islam has completely changed me. College started the process when I started learning about Black people and taking my first real Black history class, and that’s when I became okay with it and I can learn to appreciate who I am. I understand why I look the way I do. I’m not going to let this completely overtake me, because I can’t always tell people “don’t ask me this or that”. I can’t always be in defense mode, if that makes sense.
EM: Yes ma’am!
FM: Either you’re going to appreciate the way I look and like me for me, or you can go along with your stereotype and I just won’t play along with that. You’re not going to make me think that I am better than my sister, because I have long hair, light eyes, light skin and because I’m thin. I am who I am, I can’t change the way that I look. I had to learn about my history and why I look the way that I look. My family, in Louisiana, was enslaved. I was told that my Great Grandmother was raped by a white man. So when I spoke to my father and to my grandmother before she passed, I learned that I’m Black and a third white. Therefore, when I learned that I didn’t feel that I had to prove my Blackness. I also found out that I have some Native American in my family.
EM: That is amazing! Thank you so much for sharing your experience and for clearing up those misconceptions that are, unfortunately, still among our people as it relates to being color-struck. May Allah continue to bless you and your family!
FM: All praise is due to Allah! It was my pleasure!