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This story was written by William Dekker from KENYA.

In a family of five siblings – two older and two younger – I resemble no one, dark and black. This is my story:

In those childhood days, the majority of us were too naïve or innocent to think of what set us apart. We mingled together with little or no regard to colour, shape or size. Until maturity set in.

On my first Saturday in college, I auditioned for a play that was premiering the next month. At the end of the day, seven contestants auditioning for the same role had been eliminated. Two of us were left in what appeared to be a tie. It was late in the evening and the judges had to make a decision. In a very outrageous tone, one judge whispered, “since the play will be performed during the nights, we are better off with a lighter guy than the dark one”. Immediately the role was awarded to my competitor, whose skin was much lighter than mine.

That evening I returned to my hostel room, rejected and dejected. For the first time in my life, my skin colour had worked against me. My complexion had denied me the chance to showcase my talent. The chance was taken away from me, not because I was incapable, but simply because I was darker than a fellow contestant. It haunted me for months.

For the first time in my life, my skin colour had worked against me.

At that time, I had joined college to pursue a degree in Information Science. I could major in Information Studies and specialize on Media Science, which would lead me to broadcast journalism – my passion and aspiration for years. The incident at the theatre audition played in the back my mind over and over and haunted me for a long time. I imagined that the same would be the case when I get to the corporate field. That I would be denied broadcast jobs because I was too dark for the camera. It was at that point that I made one of my biggest decisions ever: to immediately quit the course and change to a degree in IT.

But that was not the end of my pain. Throughout my four years on campus, I continued to suffer in silence. I became overly cautious of my complexion. I turned photophobic, thinking I was not good for the camera. I resisted group photos like the plague. In unavoidable situations, I would stand behind people to shelve myself from visibility. Not many friends invited me for photos too. While some would pretentiously ask me to join them, they would later delete the photos as “I always made them look bad.” Others would instead keep the photos and mock me whenever it gave them joy to do so. At one point, a colleague wrote a 450 word article to mock my dark complexion. But by then, I had slowly grown resilient.

Even though I had quit the Information Sciences course, I still remained a good communicator. I just changed tact. I could not be seen though; instead I was heard and read. I broadcasted in the university radio while also publishing articles in the campus student press. I rose to become the Chairperson of the press club. I engaged in other clubs and societies – the majority of which I chaired, became the President or an executive committee member. Due to the consistent exhibition of diligence, I was later appointed into the student council and put in charge of university communications on student affairs. It became one of my last responsibilities before leaving campus.

Just before finishing university I got the privilege to sit among the country’s great entrepreneurs, captains of industry and corporate bigwigs as an honorable judge for the regional Hult Prize Competition. The Hult Prize is a global student challenge in which the winner takes home $1,000,000 for presenting the best business idea in line with the year’s theme. But you see at that time I was still black.

After the event, which I considered my greatest achievement to date, I posted a photo of myself on Facebook with the event’s caption. The first comment to the Facebook photo post was meant to be an ironic mockery but instead, it has remained my biggest motivation to date: “YOU ARE DARK BUT YOUR FUTURE IS BRIGHT.”

The first comment to the Facebook photo post was meant to be an ironic mockery but instead, it has remained my biggest motivation to date

Of course I was dark in the photo. And still I may be dark today. But they were right – my future is bright. Since then I have gained confidence. Today, my colour is my pride. I no longer scorn myself for the melanin I have. My blackness will never stop me from achieving whatever I desire in life. Neither will it prevent me from mingling.

So you think you are too dark to mingle? Who told you dark is obnoxious? Why not the reverse? Remember Malcom X’s questions: “Who taught you to hate yourself? Who taught you to hate the texture of your hair? Who taught you to hate the colour of your skin?”

Conventionally, it is of greater advantage to be content with your appearance. The happier you are with yourself, the happier other people feel around you. This is my experience; when you learn to love and accept yourself, you will feel more peaceful, more confident and people will find it a pleasure to be around you. You become calmer because you feel more connected within. It even becomes easier to connect with others too. That is my biggest secret to being attractive. Today I have more friends who at no point show any negative reaction to my complexion. In fact the question of colour does not even play on their minds.

You see, in the end, neither dark nor light skin is abnormal; every complexion is normal. Every physical appearance is normal. ‘Normal’ spans a wide range and that is where you fall. That is where we all fall. You may be dark, I may be dark, but guess what…the future is bright!

This story was part of Safety First for Girls (SAFIGIs) #SharingNotShaming campaign.

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