I’ve come to believe that life is all about acceptance. As humans, we crave love from each other just as we all crave a place in the world. No one enjoys feeling rejected. It’s almost as if the feeling is an entire shock to our bodies; it’s something unnatural. Going online and seeing your friends hanging out without you, opening a college email to find out you’ve been denied, finally finding the courage to ask out your crush, only to find out they are dating someone else, the list goes on. None of us ever feel good after a rejection. Not only might we feel offended, but confused. Why me? What is so wrong about me? We ask ourselves, what could we have done differently for them to finally like us? What could we now do to change?
Ever since I was rejected by my second grade crush, Everett, these questions have circulated in and out of my mind for years. I find it amusing how such small questions can be pondered by a seven year old. I realize now that they probably weren’t as complex as I now pose them to be, but simply followed along the lines of, “Should I wear my sparkly flats instead of my sneakers for Everett today?” or “Should I ask Mommy to bring me to the hair salon so I can look pretty?”
Year after year, I developed a new infatuation with a different boy, though with each one, I never quite got the courage to make my move. As a light-skinned biracial girl, I knew that many of them were enamored by the beautiful, tall, skinny, blonde-haired, blue-eyed Liza. She was a true product of beauty. Though despite the attention, she was never amused nor entertained by a single boy over the years. Instead, I remember Liza for her impressive work ethic; one which she had maintained ever since we were five. She simply did not have the time, nor the desire to flirt with the boys the way many of us did. Maybe it was because she knew she didn’t need to. She simply drew them all in without a drip of sweat. That was Liza; effortlessly irresistible and undeniably un-rejectable.
I would be lying if I told anyone I wasn’t jealous of her. Of course I wanted to be loved the way she was loved; fawned over the way she was fawned over. I never realized it then, but Liza became my goal, the pinnacle of beauty. Liza was no longer a person, but a construct. To look beautiful, to feel beautiful, and to be seen as beautiful, I had to look like Liza. So I did, or at least I tried. I started off with my hair.
Every graduation, singing performance, winter concert, spring orchestra recital, or class presentation, I straightened my hair. These were “special occasions” and I had to look “nice.” I never questioned why my biracial hair had to be straightened for it to look “nice.” What was so unprofessional, so un-beautiful about my natural curls that they weren’t worthy enough to bounce on a stage? I didn’t mind it though. In fact, I loved every appointment my mother made. Coming out of the salon after sitting through hours of intense heat and a burning scalp, I finally felt beautiful. Not only beautiful enough to perform the piano piece I had been working on all year, but also beautiful enough to finally eat lunch with Everett.
Internalized misogyny and internalized racism can be described as damaging beliefs that we perpetuate against ourselves and those in our own marginalized group. As a girl of color in a predominantly white high school, these harmful beliefs lead me to engage in misogyny against girls and women as well as racism against Black people. In other words, internalized sexism and racism allow me to perpetuate misogynistic and racial oppression against other Black girls and women, including myself, rather than actively fight against it. As a result, my obsession to reach white beauty standards is a direct example of internalized racism as well as internalized sexism. If I could change myself to essentially look more white, I could be more beautiful; I could look like Liza. But beautiful for whom?
A more everyday social media term for a girl who willingly lives out her own internalized misogyny is called a “pick-me girl.” Urban Dictionary defines a pick-me girl as “a woman who acts misogynistic because she wants men to be attracted to her.” Taking this even further, I would define a pick-me girl of color as a girl or woman of color who acts racist as well as sexist because she wants white men and boys to be attracted to her.
This adds a new intersectional layer to the meaning of pick-me girls that I can identify with on a much more meaningful level. Over the years, I have sought not only the validation of boys but also and more specifically, the validation of white boys. A part of me feels as if this behavior has resulted from attending predominantly white institutions (PWI) and schools all of my life, so I was surrounded by white boys every place in which I have grown up. They have always been the ‘rulers’ of the school. They are the ones who make the most noise and always voice their opinions. They are the ones who flirt with the most girls and end up ignoring them a few weeks later. They are the ones who thrive in sports and are the captains of teams. They are the ones who make their presence known because they think they deserve it.
And do I fight against them? Do I stand up for myself? Do I dress the way that I want when I see them? Do I act the way I want to when we talk in conversations? Even in more intimate encounters such as sex, do I put my comfort and pleasure first?
I remember that every time I change myself for any male’s gaze, I too am embracing my internalized misogyny rather than fighting against it. I laugh at jokes I’ve never found funny, I wear clothes to parties that show more skin, I put on makeup before greeting boys, I stop talking after I’ve been interrupted over and over again. I constantly poke and prod at my body all for some far away future when I am finally enough. But in a world where I have constantly had to change who I am to fit these categories, how could I ever feel like enough for anyone?
Critical race feminist theorist Kimberlé Crenshaw writes in “Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Color” that, “race, gender, and other identity categories are most often treated… to exclude or marginalize those who are different.” This is why so many of us crave to be accepted. So many of us who don’t fit the standards are marginalized and excluded. The outline created for us has been so heavily ingrained into this country that it becomes almost impossible to live outside of it. And for those of us who do, we are invisibilized; we aren’t seen.
I have lived my entire life in black and white, outside and within my own body. I have grown up with a Black mother and a white father, two people who couldn’t be more different, yet no matter which racial group I turn to, I still face rejection. When I am around my white peers even for a few careful minutes, I know that I am passing. I know that just maybe for those precious moments, they see me as their equal. But then after a few fleeting minutes, I remember that I’m not, and they remind me of that.
That’s when I turn to the other side. I hope that maybe amongst other Black people, I can find the community I am lacking. For a little while, once again, I fit in; I know that I am accepted and a part of the family. We laugh at racist Karens and share stories about breaking our hair brushes. We cry when watching the news and yell at protests until our voices break. For some moments, I feel whole. But it never lasts. After a few minutes, I remember that I am not their equal. I cannot sit with my Black and Latinx friends and share stories about when I’ve also felt threatened by police officers, because I’ve never felt threatened by a police officer. My skin protects me in ways that could never protect them, and for that sole reason, I am reminded that my skin color has power, a power that they will never have. And that is when I know that I am different. That is when I know that I am alone.
But still, I cannot sit with my white friends and pretend that I can understand them either. I can’t pretend to understand how it is okay to date a racist boy, or for them to nervously cross the street when a group of Black children appear at the end of the block. I cannot pretend that I am like them anymore than I can pretend I’m not.
And it’s lonely.
It is no surprise to me that I have become a pick-me girl. In a life of constant struggle for acceptance, wanting to be “picked” has become my second nature. I want to be chosen and I want to belong. I want to be loved and I want to be adored. I want to finally find my place in the world, but even more, I want to find a mirror.
In Sister Outsider, Black feminist Audre Lorde explains that “…hatred and our anger are very different. Hatred is the fury of those who do not share our goals, and its object is death and destruction. Anger is a grief of distortions between peers and its object is change.” Nothing I have ever done to change has ever been for me. It’s easy to look back at these memories in my life and hate myself for what I did, or more so, for what I didn’t do. While I was growing up, I didn’t have the power or the tools to create a better reality for myself. I didn’t have the language. But now, I know that I am angry. I want to change who I am and learn how to truly love myself in the ways that I have craved. It’s time for a change in my life and I’m ready to make it.
I admit that I’ve searched for this acceptance in the wrong places. I’ve thrown myself at men, hoping that their validation would finally be the missing piece to solving my puzzle. But I see now that it never has, and never will be. The satisfaction I feel after finally getting a boy to like me never lasts, and the validation never comforts. In the end, I somehow always end up feeling worse than I began. I end up feeling used for my body and my emotions, rather than genuinely valued as a person. The same thing follows for white people. When my race is ignored, I feel invisibilized. When they make racist comments assuming I don’t care, I feel hurt. When my Black aunt says something I can’t relate to, I feel alone. When my friends beg me to come to our affinity space, I feel like a fraud.
I don’t want to feel like any of this anymore. I want to be confident and feel beautiful. I want to be seen and I want to be heard. I want to be satisfied with myself, me, and find acceptance in my own body, hair, and skin, and never let go. I don’t want to feel rejected, I want to feel accepted.
But most of all, what I want more than anything, is to finally learn how to pick myself.