10/07/2017 03:58 SAST | Updated 10/07/2017 03:58 SAST

Beauty Exists Beyond One's Skin Tone

She looked at me in the eyes with a teary face and said: “They do not want to play with me because I am ugly”.

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As I passed by the school, I saw her sitting in a corner. I called her but I could see she was hesitant, I mean who wouldn't if you are living in a country where women and children are treated like creatures. For the love of children, I was patient and managed to get her closer to the fence. I could see so much sadness in her eyes. I asked her for her name and she said she was Mpho. My follow-up question was simple, 'Why are you not playing with other kids?' She looked me in the eye with a teary face and said: "They do not want to play with me because I am ugly." I was taken back in an instant to my primary school days and I could not ask any more questions because I knew that being dark-skinned in South Africa is treated as a contagious disease.

I think I have grown a tougher skin over the years but I still get a lot of those "which country are you from?" questions. They offended me for a long time but I am used to them now. I am Kenyan today, Sudanese tomorrow and an African forever. The thing about colour shaming is that it starts from an early age, hence I was able to quickly relate to Mpho. Having a darker shade of skin in South Africa, in my experience, is associated with negative connotations such as one is a witch, thief, monster and an unintelligent person. To my surprise, the shaming is mostly from black people, who often identify or call dark skinned people "black". I have heard them all and I am still going to hear much more of them.

However, my concern is with the younger children. I know how it feels to be sidelined and unwanted. I know how it feels to hate break times at school because of how you look. We deal with things differently and such acts in our society are the ones that catalyse some of the most detrimental issues in our communities. I was fortunate, my misery was taken out on books. But I know for a fact that there are those who have committed suicide, dropped out of school or pushed to be drug addicts because of their skin tone. The stigma attached to dark-skinned people not only reduces a person's confidence but can also destroy a person for life.

In my country, there are different kinds of black people, the supreme ones being the so-called "yellow bones". I hate the term and it is not because of envy or anything but the fact that it classes people and creates inferiority, especially among children. To this day I am seen as a lesser person to a South African. I get to banks and they ask for my passport, and in the streets I am accused of polluting South Africa and stealing jobs. I have carried the name "lekwerekwere" in most cities in South Africa. But I am grateful, I have first-hand experience of not being wanted and of what it really feels like to be a foreigner in South Africa. And I mean a foreigner in the holistic sense, as things like being disabled, gay or suffering from albinism makes people total foreigners.

My questions are simple: What does a South African look like? Is it really fair to define a South African just by their skin colour? Do people have to aspire to have self-made skin like Khanyi Mbau and Mshoza in order to be accepted by society and be South African? Do I have to rape, abuse and kill woman in order to be South African? South Africans, stop being ignorant. There are more pressing issues in this country that need attention than shaming people based on how they look or where they come from.

To people like Mpho, we are beautiful people with our melanin-rich skin. We are capable and we shouldn't let any person make us feel any lesser. It is good to be a different South African, we all need to focus more on growing as a nation that sees beauty beyond skin colour. After all, there are "black" South Africans.