*I felt like a Youtuber writing that*
Per usual, its been a while since my last post. But, here we are. So, since I received so many questions on my last post, specifically about the last photo I posted (New Year’s Eve & curls), I guess it is only right that my next post be about that.
Right before Graduation, during our last meeting with Michelle (Dean Osborn), she randomly got very serious and then said something along the lines of Khmer culture potentially having some racial/colorism discrimination because of its surroundings and traditional values. Now, I do not remember if I said this, if Dalila did or if I just thought it. But, we were two women of color at a predominately white institution.. I knew that whatever challenges I would face here because of my skin color, would not be something I had not experienced at Union or in my previous school.
Being the first black students to accept The Global Child Minerva Fellowship felt great! I was a little bit nervous because I was unsure of how the students would react to us but, I knew that none of that would deter me from trying to have the best experience out here. I was and am very happy to be one of the first black students to volunteer at TGC because it will pave the way for other black students and show other students of color that this is a safe place! Learning that Dalila and I were going to be the first black students to volunteer here was a little bit heartbreaking but not surprising. I believe that Union has to do better in reaching out to the students of color so that more of us are applying for opportunities like this. I hope that after this generation of Minerva Fellows (Gen 12), there are more students of color that feel comfortable applying for the fellowship because this is a once in a lifetime experience that everyone can benefit from!
My experience here has not been anything like I expected it to be after that conversation with Michelle. Yes, people would stare at us for long periods of time and question things like our hair and clothes choices but I have never felt unsafe because of the color of my skin. Cambodia’s ideal beauty beliefs do exclude darkness and non-straight hair. I remember our first time entering TGC and noticing the kids laughing nervously while staring and introducing themselves to us. Two seconds later, all of the girls rushed towards Dalila and I to touch our hair. At the time, I wore my hair in box braids (protective style) while Dalila wore hers completely natural. Usually, I would not allow random people to touch my hair but the students were so fascinated because they had never seen anyone wear their hair like that before! Our girls are constantly complaining about their own hair because they try to maintain it as straight as possible! During breaks you will even catch them washing their hair either because it is too hot or because their hair got a little frizzy. I believe that what they consider beautiful has changed a little bit because of the exposure that Dalila and I have given them.
Although they always laugh when seeing something new, I swear NO ONE hypes me up and gives me as many compliments as they do!
I remember the first time noticing how important it was for these kids to stay away from the sun. We were at our mentoring program and it was at least 100 degrees that day. The sun was beaming and everyone was drenched in sweat (I say everyone very lightly because for some reason my students can be extremely hot yet, not have a drop of sweat unless they’re actually running around). I remember looking over and seeing most of the students wearing long sleeve shirts and I swear I was having mini heat strokes anytime I looked over at them.
“I don’t want to be black Cha”
They say that every time I would tell them to take off their sweaters/long sleeves whenever they complain about the heat. At first it was very heart breaking to hear because a lot of people here are not light skinned and neither am I! I constantly think about the fact that they might not like the way they look because of their skin color and it does upset me. I have tried to speak to them about accepting themselves and others as being beautiful but I cannot completely change their views in the short amount of time that I am here. I hope that my constant conversations with them about beauty and acceptance does stick with them OR that they at least continue to listen to Brown Skin Girl by Beyonce since I made them listen to & analyze it so many times.
So, long story short, some khmer beliefs do discriminate against darker skinned and non-straight haired people. This stems from the light skin privilege that has developed over time whereas darker skin is connected to poorness, ugliness and inferiority. Through my short research and exposure here, I do believe that things are changing!
I do not change my hairstyle very frequently but when I do, I get the same exact reaction as when I first arrived. Here are a few photos of the different hairstyles!
If you have any more questions about this specifically please feel free to contact me because I will not be writing about this again!