The older I get the more I am thankful for the awakening I’m witnessing in black America—an awakening that involves black adults specifically passing on a love of blackness to our children. One such adult is Lawrence Lindell, a Compton-based illustrator who created a picture book which expresses affection and admiration for girls of color. With each purchase of the book “From Black Boy With Love,” Lindell sends the following regards:
“This book is for all the girls of color across the world who have been made to feel uncomfortable in their own skin. You are life, you are important and you matter. From this black boy with love. –Lawrence”
Released on March 20, the 24-page collection of positive, uplifting messages directed at black and brown girls to refute and perhaps prevent the race-based taunts Lindell often hears children hurl at each other—particularly those insults boys often direct at girls. Working as a youth art educator, Lindell says the barbs start early.
“I teach ages 6 through 12 and those kinds of taunts start as soon as first grade. It is usually things they learn from home, the internet and television. Kids are like sponges; they soak up whatever they hear and are exposed to on the regular,” Lindell explained in an email interview with CurlyNikki.com.
I remember that kind of mockery all too well from my childhood.
At school: “You little skinny black spot with your fish lips” and “you’re black because you’re burnt.”
At home: “We’re all still waiting for the rest of you to grow into those lips” and “we need to do something about those can’t-cha-comb-‘em-don’t-cha-try naps on your head.”
I wanted so desperately to receive any sort of confirmation that my attributes were actually okay and even beautiful. In my mind, I created my own “you are beautiful too” bank account. Any time I saw a kinky-haired, dark-skinned female with full lips on television, I made a deposit. Akosua Busia who played Nettie on The Color Purple. BerNadette Stanis who played Thelma on Good Times. Roxie Roker who played Helen Willis on The Jeffersons. Poems like And She Was Bad by Marvin Wyche, Jr. and Ego Tripping by Nikki Giovanni went into that bank account. Songs like Ebony Eyes by Stevie Wonder and Liberian Girl by Michael Jackson went into that bank account.
Yet as resourceful as I was about grasping onto every available source of self-pride, how I would have loved a book like From Black Boy With Love on my bedroom book shelf. As much as those boys (and sometimes girls) tormented me, I still wanted to be accepted, appreciated and loved by them. I wanted them to understand that there was so much more beauty in the world than light skin and long, straight hair. I wanted them to see what I’d seen on television, read in books and heard in songs, and I wanted them to believe it as much as I did.
At some point in my early teens, I realized that the girls who shared my uniquely black characteristics, but somehow avoided the teasing, were the ones who were considered “sexy.” These were the girls who exposed a little more skin that the rest of us, sported hickeys with pride, and let boys’ hands linger on their budding bodies. Looking back, I can say now that I appreciate having been such a late bloomer. If I had’ve developed certain assets early on, I would have been right there with those other girls collecting what I thought was a suitable substitute for actual love and respect. In reading the excerpts from Lindell’s book, I felt as if his messages would have helped me to better identify the kind of attention I should have looked for from a young man.
Lindell says it wasn’t necessarily intentional that his book moves readers away from the notion that women of color must be considered sexy to garner any positive attention but he does value the fact that the book succeeds in doing so.
“I simply made a book to celebrate women of color,” he says though he also views sexualization of women as a longstanding problem also warranting attention.
“In my grandmother’s days, they were marrying off women at 15 and their purpose was to bear children and take care of the household. To me, telling a young girl that her purpose is to bear children and serve is sexualization. This is nothing new; the youth are following suit.”
While Lindell is up against myriad reasons as to the how and why of the way men view and interact with women, he’s still motivated to contribute to a new paradigm.
“Patriarchy, religion, upbringing, culture. It’s no secret that this world is not set up for women. It’s just not. And most of the time when we ask why, it boils down to ‘this is the way things are done’ or ‘this is what men do.’ It comes from women too. ‘I want a real man; someone to take charge.’ As men, we barely have to take accountability for our actions and often have too many outlets to excuse them.”
One of the pages of From Black Boy With Love reads: “Black girl, your skin is magic, your voice is power, you are life!” If this is the first step toward a shift in the relationship between black men and black women and the end of misogynoir, I can’t wait to see what’s next.
From Black Boy With Love is available for purchase here.
Nikki Igbo is an Atlanta-based freelance writer and political junkie. She holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Political Science from California State University at Fullerton and a Masters in Fine Arts of Writing at Savannah College of Art and Design. When not staring in disbelief at the antics unfolding on CSPAN, she enjoys philosophical arguments with her husband, 70’s era music and any excuse to craft with glitter. Feel free to check out her freelance services at nikigbo.com and stalk her on twitter @nikigbo or Instagram at @nikigbo.