by Christine Okoro
She is a gentle soul that calms the roaring storms—she is Gbemi Orundami. Gbemi was born in Nigeria and raised by very ‘traditional and strict Nigerian parents’, as she puts it. Gbemi shares her experiences about being a Nigerian dark skinned girl in elementary and middle school.
“Kids are brutal man. I received a lot of backlash because I’m Nigerian and my name is weird and it’s spelled weird .And I’m dark skinned and quiet too, which made me an easy target for kids to pick on,” Gbemi said.
Black American kids were mainly the students who teased Gbemi for her dark skin tone and Nigerian culture. She remembers being called offensive names like ‘African Booty scratcher’. She says that when her classroom teachers turned the lights off, kids made the following remarks, ‘Gbemi, we can’t see you!’ Gbemi says that neither white nor Hispanic kids treated her this way. And for that reason, Gbemi made friends with more Caucasians and Hispanics than Blacks during her adolescence.
“Most of the negative comments that I received came from Black boys. It wasn’t white nor Hispanic people doing that to me. That was just really hard for me to deal with because I couldn’t understand why black people were making fun of another black person. It was tragic,” Gbemi said.
Gbemi cried many times for being made fun of. As a ‘sensitive and gentle’ person, she did not retaliate. However in the 8th grade, Gbemi became talented in sports, which allowed her to gain more friends.Due to being teased for her looks, Gbemi did not see beauty in her dark skin tone nor facial features. Gbemi says her mom also made negative comments about her skin, which further made it difficult from Gbemi to love and appreciate her looks.
“I played basketball and ran track so every time I would come in the house, she would say, ‘Why do you look so Black? Maybe you shouldn’t be outside that much’. I instantly thought about bleaching my skin, thinking that maybe if I lighten up my skin a little, I would be prettier,” Gbemi said.
However, Gbemi never took action towards the idea of bleaching her skin. In high school, she began to dress up, wearing dresses and makeup to compensate for her dark skin tone. She figured that if she dressed up and maintained her outer appearance, more people would notice her outfits and begin to think she was pretty. Gbemi gained validation when fellow students complemented on her clothing. She eventually overcame the negative thoughts about herself and started to believe she was beautiful.
Currently at age twenty, Gbemi, most importantly received approval from Jesus, her Lord and Savior. Gbemi’s beauty is defined through Christ and is not determined by the opinions of others. Gbemi believes in her relationship with God and knows that he created her in the likeness of his own image. Gbemi acknowledges Jesus as the creator, which makes her confident that he created her beautifully. As a result, Gbemi now understands that beauty is internal and is not determined by the external or outer appearance; it comes from within. She believes that each person is an individual with unique life experiences, morals, and beliefs that influence how they live their life, which allows one to contribute to life in a distinct way. And to her, that is beautiful.